Facebook, anonymity and healthcare are three topics that historically have not been associated with each other. This is potentially going to change. Up until now, Facebook has been a key place where you would go to establish your online identity and to lay out the connections you have to friends and family members. In the words of Facebook’s chief product officer, Chris Cox, sharing your identity is “part of what made Facebook special.” Unlike other sites, Facebook had required members of its community to use their real names as a way to help civilize the social media world by trying to make people feel more accountable for what they say online.
Recently, the company has been softening its stance on real identities. This started after it received criticism from the LGBT community whose members believed that forcing the use of their real names did not consider their safety or their rights. Consequently, Facebook said individuals could use the names they go by in daily life as opposed to their legal names on its site. According to the The New York Times, Facebook is possibly taking another step in the direction of anonymity. Josh Miller, a Facebook product manager, is believed to be working on a stand-alone app that will allow Facebook users to discuss topics covered on the Internet under the protection of pseudonyms. Miller joined Facebook when it acquired Branch, his start-up that focused on developing small, online discussion groups.
This stand-alone app would provide members a forum to offer their perspectives on topics which they may not be comfortable connecting to their real names. Reuters reported that Facebook is considering a move into the healthcare arena by establishing online “support communities” for members who suffer from different illnesses. Since members may feel apprehensive about sharing their true identities while discussing their ailments, this app would be a natural fit. At this point, Facebook is not providing any details about the stand-alone app and how it would link to its main site nor is it commenting on its healthcare plans. Clearly, the steps Facebook is considering in the direction of anonymity and healthcare need to make business sense to justify making further efforts. Nonetheless, it is at least good to hear that the topics are being put on the table.