Identity is a slippery word.
Krotoski’s article tells us about how Facebook is cracking down on those “fake” profiles where the use is not “authentic”. How do we define authenticity online though? Is it genuinely through the amount of photos you post? Where you “check-in”? Does all of this show that you are active and therefore “real”? Huffington Post revealed that in fact, 80 million users didn’t exist. But why delete fake profiles? Isn’t it better to have more sign-ups to a site even if they are fake? Doesn’t that boost investment, attract more users and build an even bigger empire? Well, Facebook argues that “the move is intended to make [it] a more attractive place for advertisers, by making it easier to target advertising at genuine users.” Separating professional and personal online presences is something I engage with, limiting Facebook to private social interactions and using my LinkedIn and Twitter accounts for professional purposes. This separation of services allows me to control my online presence, with privacy settings playing a key role in what I want to be shared and with whom. However, as someone who is more of a Digital Resident, it is definitely difficult to keep these two identities separate, something which Costa and Torres (2011) have also noted.
Meghan Casserly argues that Twitter for example, is quite effective as it sorts all your relevant interests into one place, creating a “niche audience”. In essence, social media can help our identity be compiled into our own slot on the web.
The Internet Society videos show that by signing up to an online service each time, you are in fact leaving a “partial identity” behind. An example of this is online banking, which monitors your behaviour and is automatically alerted if there are any suspicious transactions.
This brings us to the Zuckerberg vs Moot argument:
I watched a video on Poole’s argument. Christopher “moot” Poole created 4chan in 2003 as a message board for people interested in Japanese culture, anime and cartoons.
Anyone can come in to contribute, there are no structural barriers,” said Poole. It’s also ephemeral: “There’s no archive… posts that are created fall off within minutes.”
As a result, users have what he calls “fluid identity,” where there’s no risk of failure, so experimentation flourishes.
“The cost of failure is really high when you’re contributing as yourself,” he said. “Those mistakes are attributed to who you are.”
Anonymity, allows people to be creative, and search things they might not usually do. Multiple online identities offers a sense of “protection” and a layer of anonymity. The use of a pseudonyms or invented personas allows people to discuss sensitive topics they might otherwise not be comfortable/able to. For example, someone suffering physically abuse or struggling with their sexual orientation, might use an anonymous persona to seek advice or help. However, there is a dark side to its security and privacy. This article touches on cyber-bullying, identity theft and catfishing, some of the most problematic areas of online presence today.
However, the issue of identity is further complicated when you consider using different accounts to register for services and portraying yourself as a different person in different spheres. I take Ludovico‘s point of view: if you start to divide up your online identity in different ways, will it not blur your offline identity as a whole?
There are a range of definitions of identity, not all of which make sense. For me, identity is a set of assertions made by yourself that you can allude to. In a way, everyone only has 1 identity but we expose different scales of our claims depending on our circumstances. Kieran Healy’s blog argues that “nobody puts their membership in AA on their CV” yet it still a part of you, you alone choose how to manage it – be it successfully or not.
The New York Times wrote an article pre-Facebook era alluding to the fact that identity and having a secret are in fact quite closely related, and not just for superheroes 😉
Carey, Benedict (2005) The New York Times “The Secret Lives of Just About Everybody”
Casserly, Meghan (2011) Forbes “Multiple Personalities and Social Media: The Many Faces of Me”
Healy, Kieran (2010) “Actually having one Identity for yourself is a Breaching Experiement”
Krotoski, Aleks (2012) The Guardian “Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?”
Ludovico, Alessandro (2014) “Multiple Identities in Social Networks”