Ma, X. Hancock, J.T., & Naaman, M. (2016). Anonymity, intimacy and self-disclosure in social media. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2016), pp. 3857-3869.


Self-disclosure is rewarding and provides significant benefits for individuals, but it also involves risks, especially in social media settings. We conducted an online experiment to study the relationship between content intimacy and willingness to self-disclose in social media, and how identification (real name vs. anonymous) and audience type (social ties vs. people nearby) moderate that relationship. Content intimacy is known to regulate self-disclosure in face-to-face communication: people self-disclose less as content intimacy increases. We show that such regulation persists in online social media settings. Further, although anonymity and an audience of social ties are both known to increase self-disclosure, it is unclear whether they (1) increase self-disclosure baseline for content of all intimacy levels, or (2) weaken intimacy’s regulation effect, making people more willing to disclose intimate content. We show that intimacy always regulates self-disclosure, regardless of settings. We also show that anonymity mainly increases self-disclosure baseline and (sometimes) weakens the regulation. On the other hand, an audience of social ties increases the baseline but strengthens the regulation. Finally, we demonstrate that anonymity has a more salient effect on content of negative valence.The results are critical to understanding the dynamics and opportunities of self-disclosure in social media services that vary levels of identification and types of audience.