The site is “chill,” he told me

The site is “chill,” he told me

Zeke does not have any active social-media accounts with his full name attached to them, but he is in many Discord servers pertaining to his interests, including art, writing, and science. He spends a lot of time there sharing interesting or funny photos of animals, and he met his longtime boyfriend while Discord-chatting under a pseudonym that is a play on Kermit the Frog. The servers that he likes best have 100 to 200 users, so the conversation is always lively, but it doesn’t get out of control or competitive. Sometimes people anonymously say disgusting things-the worst things he has ever read! (That well-established tendency has contributed to the collapse of anonymous social platforms in the past.) But mostly they just drop cool pictures and funny memes, and discuss or riff on them. “There’s an understanding that, like, you’re not going to kick each other, you’re not going to judge each other,” he said. “You’re not here to represent your identity; you’re just here to chill.”

The surprising recent popularity of Discord suggests a nostalgia among members of Gen Z for IRC and forum cultures that existed mostly before they were born. The return to Tumblr reflects a longing for the more recent past-just before the age of the influencer. “I’ve been on Tumblr for about 11 years because I was 11 when I got it,” Maya, an aspiring artist and photographer, told me. She asked to go by her first name only, as she does on Instagram. On Tumblr, where she feels most comfortable, she goes by the username coldstonedreamery-a reference to an episode of This American Life that she heard long ago in her mom’s car. She remains anonymous partly for artistic reasons: Being an enigma is good for world building and creating a mystique around her work, she said. She wants to be known for her point of view, not for her face or even her personality. “I mean, there are embarrassing YouTube videos of me playing guitar when I was 12 under my real name,” she added.

He also observed that anonymous accounts, by foreclosing on the possibility of becoming a personal brand, come off to some viewers as more “authentic,” or as “a new source of genuineness” online because they aren’t selling anything or trying to become stars

Being an enigma can produce strange results: Teenage girls on Instagram sometimes borrow selfies of Maya that don’t have her face in them and present them as their own. “I probably get 20 anonymous messages and questions a day, and I feel fine answering them and exposing all these intimate details of my life,” she said. “The people asking the questions probably don’t know what I look like, probably don’t know where I am or how old I am. I feel safer. There’s like a cloak over me.”

Even on Instagram, classic influencer culture is falling out of style. Among the well-known, generally beautiful faces who go by their real names, there are now thousands of niche meme accounts run by anonymous proprietors. Members of this latter group sometimes reveal their true identities when it becomes financially appealing hyppää tГ¤nne to do so-if they’re offered a book deal, for example, they have to reveal themselves to someone. If they land a profile in The New York Times’ Style section, then everyone is in on the secret. But many more of them just post away from behind a curtain. (The more niche the content gets, the less likely it is that financial incentives will be in play, and the more likely the anonymity will last.)

Most of the time, though, Maya sees her anonymity as being cozy

The 24-year-old meme-maker behind an Instagram account called makes pop-culture-inflected collages overlaid with parodies of online political discourse. (His profile picture is of the meme-literate musician Phoebe Bridgers.) He asked to remain anonymous for this story because he doesn’t want to limit future job opportunities and because being anonymous is part of his whole deal. The people who come across his feed can appreciate his work for its own sake, he told me, and they don’t care who he is. The internet’s prizing of authenticity has gone through the looking glass.

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