Unmasking the problems with anonymous surveys in addressing digital aggression

Digital aggression (DA), the use of information communication technologies to inflict harm on others, has emerged as a concerning public health crisis.

It is evident that DA leads to increased anxiety, depression, aggression, and even higher rates of suicidal ideation and attempts among its victims. As educators and researchers seek to understand the origins of DA, there is a growing concern about the role of anonymous surveys in exacerbating the issue. This article argues against the use of anonymous surveys in addressing DA, pointing out their limitations and potential negative consequences on both survey outcomes and participants’ well-being.

The nature of digital aggression

Digital aggression takes various forms, including harassment, flaming, and exclusion, and it occurs through different information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as cell phones, computers, tablets, and across various platforms. DA has been particularly prevalent among adolescents and emerging adults, contributing to serious mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and even suicidal tendencies.

The prevalence of anonymous surveys

Anonymous surveys have become a popular research tool to study sensitive topics like digital aggression, as they are believed to encourage more honest responses and higher participation rates. However, the use of anonymity in surveys, especially in the context of DA, raises several critical concerns.

The problem with anonymity

Lack of specificity: Anonymous surveys may lack detailed information about the context and individuals involved in the aggression, hindering researchers from fully understanding the dynamics of the incidents.

Inadequate assessment: Self-report techniques used in anonymous surveys might not accurately capture the extent and impact of DA experiences, leading to potential underreporting or misrepresentation.

Ethical concerns: Anonymity might embolden respondents to engage in harmful behaviours or provide malicious comments that can be detrimental to the well-being of others.

Incomplete insights: The focus on anonymity overlooks the significance of technical versus social anonymity or self- versus other-anonymity in the context of DA. Lack of accountability:

  • Without identifiable respondents, it becomes challenging to address and intervene in cases of severe digital aggression, leaving victims unprotected and perpetrators unaccountable.
  • The case against anonymous surveys in my school surveys

There’s a specific case concerning My School Surveys (MSS) and the concern raised by some principals about the ongoing defamatory and vitriolic comments in the anonymous submissions. The anonymity characteristic of the survey process is seen as encouraging negative responses, which have a detrimental effect on principal well-being.

Promoting constructive criticism and positive environments

Advocates argue that non-anonymous surveys foster trust and encourage respondents to provide constructive criticism within a positive learning community. When respondents feel safe to critique issues rather than attack individuals, the survey can be more beneficial for all stakeholders.


Although some argue that anonymity in surveys encourages honesty and higher response rates, it is crucial to consider the potential negative impacts on participants and survey outcomes. In the context of digital aggression, anonymous surveys may not provide comprehensive insights into the complex issue and might inadvertently perpetuate harmful behaviours. A re-evaluation of the use of anonymity in surveys, especially in addressing DA, is necessary to protect individuals from its toxic outcomes and to foster a safe and respectful environment for all stakeholders involved.

Lyn Caton
Principals’ Organiser