Social media’s greatest assets – anonymity, ‘virality,’ interconnectedness – are also its main weaknesses. -Evgeny Morozov
Tumblr is a place where the self can be seen as anonymous. Additionally, this anonymity is a strong presence within the mental health community on Tumblr. It’s easier to share intimate and personal details without fear of public recognition.
Teenagers do share a surprising amount of information on their personal Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. But, “on Tumblr, you can revel in anonymity, say whatever you want without fear of it going on your permanent record” (Reeve). Through that platform of anonymity, users can explore a deeper and personal side of different aspects of themselves.
For adolescents, “anonymous sites offer a place to share more information about their mood and connect with others with similar experiences whereas public sites are for displaying a different identity” (Radovic). The mental health community on Tumblr works as a large space for sharing different types of feeling commonly associated with mental illnesses.
A blog post addressing the success and anonymity of Tumblr further explains that “you don’t tell people your Tumblr URL, you aren’t logging the banalities of your day—you aren’t even you” (Radovic). Again, here is this idea of teenagers discovering and creating their own online identities, identities that exist separate from other public profiles these users create.
The presence of mental health among this issues is not a surprise. “Depressed adolescents tend to be withdrawn, have limited interest, and suffer from low self-esteem…Rejected youth, in turn, tend to cluster together with other rejected youth and form networks of deviant peers” (Obeidallah).
On Tumblr, these networks come in the form of depression blogs, and the vast reblogging of depressive content. At times, these communities can work to enforce or validate negative behavior. But it can also be therapeutic and beneficial to find a space where a user can be themselves, and share more personal details in an anonymous and nonjudgmental environment.
Risky Behavior on Tumblr
Anonymity does not always protect teenagers online. More specifically, these teenagers are putting themselves at risk online and dealing privately with the risks instead of seeking outside support.
According to an article by Tara Haelle, “only in one out of four times that a teen encountered a risky online situation did they tell their parents about it” (Haelle). Haelle’s article mentions a study led my Pamela Wisniewski, Ph.D., at the University of Central Florida. Wisniewski mentions that 9% of teens have experienced unwanted sexual solicitations and 23% have experienced unwanted exposure to pornography (Haelle). Entering keywords like #nude #sexy #hot #naked #nsfw #topless #vibrator #teens open up access to a myriad of nudes and pornographic images on Tumblr.
It’s not surprising that many teens stumble upon these images as they are available to any user of Tumblr (meeting the 13-year-old age limit to enter the site).
As Wisniewski said, “acknowledge that we, as parents, really don’t understand what it is like to be a teen in today’s digital world” (Haelle). This gap makes teenagers hesitant to reach out to their parents about bullying, especially with it’s a profile they’ve kept anonymous, oftentimes for a reason.
Haelle, Tara. “Online Risks Are Everyday Events for Teens – But They Rarely Tell Their Parents.” Forbes, 28 Feb 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tarahaelle/2017/02/28/online-risks-are-everyday-events-for-teens-but-they-rarely-tell-their-parents/#76f62ff3861c.
Obeidallah, Dawn A., and Felton J. Earls. “Adolescent Girls: The Role of Depression in the Development of Delinquency.” National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, 1999.
Radovic, Ana, et al. “It’s your Twitter, so you can just say how you feel: How adolescents with depression and their parents use social media.” Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 56, no. 2, 2015, pp. S20-S35.
Reeve, Elspeth. “The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens.” New Republic, 17 February 2016, https://newrepublic.com/article/129002/secret-lives-tumblr-teens