Charity, Anonymity, and the Power of the Heroic Crowd
Gach, Catherine Zoan
In the changing landscape of online communication, charitable nonprofit organizations address new challenges in connecting with audiences. Public forum conversations can drastically affect a nonprofit's reputation and work, as evidenced by Invisible Children's controversial campaign, Kony 2012. This raises the question: how should charities address online platforms, specifically user identifiability and anonymity, in the digital age? Using a combination of digital ethnography, grounded theory, and discourse analysis, this thesis addresses conversations about two nonprofit organizations on three different public forums to determine how identifiability affects the civility of the online experience in these contexts. This comparative analysis sheds light upon the variety of cultural elements that affect the human experience of online conversation platforms. More specifically, the data suggests that real name policies do not prevent harassment or personal attacks, but place identity (rather than ideas) at the center of conversation. As participants in charitable campaigns are typically motivated by altruism, of which anonymity is a key element, fostering idea-centric conversation may be more conducive to the success of charitable campaigns. The study concludes by offering an alternative content strategy, suggesting that charities allow, defend, and engage with online anonymity in order to harness the generous altruism of humans on the Internet.
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