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Identity & Technology

Online Anonymity Almost Always Leads to Pictures of Male Genitalia

I recently learned of an app called Fling through a TechCrunch article detailing why they were happy to get kicked out of the Apple app store. The idea behind Fling is that you "fling" a short picture or video (a la Snapchat) into the global network of people using the app, and it is sent to 50 random people around the world. And then you get 50 random flings from other people. After reading the description of the app I could guess what was coming next - "dick pics".

 What kind of a Dick pic were you expecting?

What kind of a Dick pic were you expecting?

Pretty much any anonymous venue on the Internet eventually gets used for dick pics:

"As with any platform that allows any degree of anonymity, we had to deal with another very different type of PR — something we jokingly (kind of, but not really) dubbed ”the penis rate.”

Unless you’re working on something that’s prone to this issue, I don’t think it’s possible to appreciate the frustration. "It was like a perverse game of Whack-A-Mole — we would ban users and delete inappropriate flings, only to have them reappear more creatively named and obscenely photographed than ever. We eventually had a full-time team devoted to keeping dicks at bay. But despite our efforts, we couldn’t decrease the rate of reported flings to a number lower than 10 percent". [emphasis mine]

Online anonymity brings out the worst in people. I don't know why guys do this, nor do I want to research it. But it seems inevitable on the Internet where anonymity and photos/videos are concerned. The article doesn't go into any details about what Fling has done to improve content, but they imply a lot of it was behavior based analysis. I tried the app and went through about 20 random pictures from worldwide strangers before I wanted to kill myself, but I saw no inappropriate content. I do suspect they have invested pretty heavily in manual content moderation because that seems like the only thing that has been successful for anonymous platforms.

However, the problems they are having do highlight the issues we have seen over and over with any anonymous or pseudo-anonymous platform. Without accountability, people will behave poorly. Strong identity solves the accountability problem, but strong identity would never work for a fun app like Fling. No one wants strangers trying to find them based upon their posts of their hometown or whatever. However, you can have accountability and anonymity, as long as you can ensure each person has one account. With this approach Fling could ban someone on their first dick pic, and they would never be able to come back. This would greatly improve the community and dramatically reduce their moderation costs.