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In some contexts, allowing users to send posts or comments without disclosing their identity can add value by providing more freedom of speech. Words like "anonymous" and "anonymity" do convey this idea but also add a sometimes unwanted negative touch by shifting the psychological focus to things like suspicion, stealth, risk-free abuse and mottos like "To live happily, we have to hide away".

Do you know any alternative words or phrases to use when telling the potential posters that their identity will not be disclosed that would only convey a healthy and welcome promise of freedom ?

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Slashdot uses "Anonymous Coward" – Mayo Apr 1 at 13:26
Funny but does not really meet the "healthy and welcome promise of freedom" criterion, does it ?... – Pierre Apr 1 at 20:51
No. It's meant as a tongue-in-cheek way of letting someone comment while maintaining anonymity. It fits the site very well but it certainly won't work everywhere. And, of course, it doesn't convey "welcome" to the avg person. But to many /. people anonymity == privacy which is congruent to freedom. – Mayo Apr 1 at 21:12
@Mayo : Well explained, thanks. Agree that this kind of option can make perfect sense in a community where members shares a stance and values. "Anonymous coward" for Slashdot, "Free bird" for another community, etc. – Pierre Apr 3 at 8:59

7 Answers 7

You could pick one from

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I personally love the stealthy aspect of anonymous and would choose something like the following:


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Thanks for reminding us of this great resource ( "incognito" has a friendly appeal but resonates with an idea of stealth and intrigue. "ninja" might sound a bit cartoonesque. I like "unsigned", which is very factual. – Pierre Jul 9 '14 at 16:18
Yea, it would definitely depend on your target audience for sure. – Code Maverick Jul 9 '14 at 16:19
One meta question arises : "Can comments be used to share the fact that you are laughing ?"... Cause I am... – Pierre Jul 9 '14 at 16:29
Unknown, confidential, hidden. – Dirk v B Jul 10 '14 at 4:57
+1 for pseudonymous. On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog, but it's not impossible for someone to figure it out. Also, I'd recommend migrating to for good wordsmithing advice. – John Deters Jul 14 '14 at 21:59

How about using "userxxx" or "visitorxxx" where xxx = some number. Eg. user312 (something similar to what is used here at stack exchange) or visitor312

That way the user who is writing the comment need not reveal the identity and the owner of the post does not get the feeling that some random unnamed entity is commenting on his post.

Here the presumption is that the name is not a link to the commenting user's profile and if it is, I feel even using anonymous won't serve the purpose for that case.

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Interesting. This makes me think of the way eBay tells you that some person bid, some other did too, the first one bid again, etc, with generic made-up names, which act like soms sort of identity shield. – Pierre Jul 10 '14 at 14:42
I second this answer, especially if the xxx stays the same for the same user. If I'm on a forum and three people named Anon. comment, I don't know if its one, two or three people. If I see user123, user3154, user123, the conversation makes much more sense. – Perchik Jul 10 '14 at 14:49

Vox Populi

Literally, "the voice of the people."

If someone wants to voice an opinion, but not speak as themselves, they are contributing to the metaphorical 'voice of the people.' You could label all such contributions this way.

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Good point. I was starting to think of something like "speak for the group" a couple of hours ago... – Pierre Jul 10 '14 at 15:38
Yea, I never thought of this until your question, but not I like it a great deal. it's a positive term that empowers the sense of community. – New Alexandria Jul 10 '14 at 15:52

It depends on how you are presenting the commenter's name (or not), and how verbose (or not) you want to be, but it could be as simple as:

  • "One guest said:"
  • "From a commenter on this site:"
  • "An unknown visitor"

What word would you use to describe the people on your site: Client? Customer? User? Guest? ... Could that word do the job?

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Makes perfect sense when talking to the readers of the posts. I just added a clarification to the question because I'm rather looking for alternative words to use when talking to the writers. – Pierre Jul 10 '14 at 6:44
Hmm... You just used the word "reader". Could that do the trick? – Tim FitzGerald Jul 10 '14 at 12:55
Guest is a great term. Positive and welcoming. – Franchesca Jul 10 '14 at 13:37
@Franchesca Agree, it is very positive and welcoming. One drawback is that it also carries the idea of being temporarily welcome, of being some sort of second-class citizen with less rights (or super powers...). – Pierre Jul 10 '14 at 14:30
@Franchesca and TimFitzGerald : just submitted an answer as suggested in an attempt to summarize all the answers into a global view. – Pierre Jul 14 '14 at 21:54
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Here is an attempt to give a summarized view of all the interesting perspectives that have been kindly shared here.

People vs. content :

When promising or offering anonymity, the focus can be put on the person ("You will be anonymous") or on the content ("Your posts will not reveal your identity"). This already makes a difference as the latter is less likely to convey the idea of being cloaked. Phrases like "leave your post unsigned" can be used for this purpose.

Choose what you prefer :

Being offered anonymity as an option on a post-by-post basis implicitely means that posting under one's real identity can sometimes be fine or even desirable, which keeps the focus away from intrigue and stealth.

Cloak and hide vs. be generic vs. use a cover name vs. speak for the group :

At least four different types of promises emerge, each with a different psychological impact.

  • cloak and hide : the promise is basically "No one will ever know who you are", which conveys the negative connotation of intrigue and stealth. Phrases like "Remain anonymous, incognito" tend to go this way. More neutral alternatives can be found though, like "unidentified" or "private".
  • be generic : the promise is "You will go undistinguished and appear as anyone doing the same", which starts shifting the focus from "You can do bad things without any risk" to "You will be generic and thus will not get personal credit from what you share". Phrases like "Sign post as a guest, a fellow contributor" carry this promise.
  • use a cover name : the promise is "You may use a cover identity that will allow you to appear as a person but will act as a shield". Cover identifiers like "user726, contributor726, visitor726" provide an anchor for the readers of the post to "identify" the anonymous writer.
  • speak for the group" : the promise is "You are part of the group and may speak in its name", which means that the user will blend into the group but be valued and respected enough to be able to speak for the group. Phrases like "Vox populi, speak for the group, send community post" go this way.
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Thanks for putting those together. "Credit" be damned, meaningful answers are what matter. ;) – Tim FitzGerald Jul 15 '14 at 14:26
@TimFitzGerald Thanks Tim. One way to close the loop was to do it through upvotes. – Pierre Jul 15 '14 at 15:32

You could just give them a positive sounding "cover" name. The specific choice would depend on your exact target audience, but I will give you an example of what I mean.

Let's say you are implementing this feature on a learning website. You can allow your users to comment under the name "scholar" as opposed to their real identity. So the options would be presented as

  • Post with your real identity, or
  • Post as a scholar.
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"Post as a ..." does open many new options. Very good ! – Pierre Jul 10 '14 at 15:15
Makes me think of "speak under cover" which does create the unwanted atmosphere of risk and suspicion but has some appeal, I must say. – Pierre Jul 10 '14 at 16:00

Both Spotify and Firefox have something called a Private session. These days users are very much concerned about their privacy, therefor using the term private makes a lot of sense.

enter image description here

Terms like icognito, hidden, secret, invisible, cloaked etc have a negative connotation. It's like the feature that allows you to do bad things without being caught by the police. Private is a much more positive word. It's the feature that you use in order to safeguard your privacy. There is nothing intrinsically wrong or forbidden with listening to ABBA music. You just don't want your friends to know. That's privacy.

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Didn't know the word cloaked (not my mother tongue...). Thanks ! – Pierre Jul 10 '14 at 14:39

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