The masked demos: Associational anonymity and democratic practice

Abstract

The increased use of anonymous digital platforms raises substantive concerns about accountability in digital spaces. However, contemporary evaluations of anonymity focus too narrowly on its protective function: its ability to protect a diversity of speakers and ideas. Drawing on two examples of anonymous political engagements – Publius’s writing of the Federalist Papers and college students’ use of the social media platform Yik Yak – we develop an account of anonymity’s associational function: the processes by which people generate and negotiate collective identities, discussions, and actions in wider publics. As we argue, anonymity’s associational function can (1) generate conditions under which individuals develop collective interests and identities to foster collective action, and (2) enable novel interactions between these individuals and communities and the larger publics of which they are part. We conclude with a discussion of how attention to associational anonymity can contribute to a more nuanced account of democracy in practice.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and editorial team at CPT for their helpful comments. They would also like to thank participants at the 2016 Association for Political Theory Annual Conference, where an early version of this article was presented.

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Correspondence to Jennifer Forestal.

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Forestal, J., Philips, M. The masked demos: Associational anonymity and democratic practice. Contemp Polit Theory 19, 573–595 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41296-019-00368-2

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Keywords

  • democracy
  • anonymity
  • social media
  • Federalist Papers
  • Yik Yak