“on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog”
To me, this phrase summarises the endless possibilities that the internet provides us with. The internet allows us to create as many social ‘identities’ as we want. Essentially, an online identity is the set of characteristics that define you online and make you distinguishable from other users. Each different representation of you online is known as a partial identity (internetsociety.org, 2016). I have illustrated mine below.
For many of us, an example of our online identity, would be our real life Facebook profiles. However, out of the 1.71 billion monthly active Facebook users (Noyes, 2016), how many of these are authentic? Profiles that are considered authentic, are tied to the account holders real name and they upload real life images of themselves. The television show Catfish springs to mind. Do you know for certain who you are talking to online? The presenters seek out fake social media profiles that are used to engage online relationships with ‘authentic’ users. This obviously raises a huge security issue.
However, the option to create an anonymous identity online can actually be a positive. One of my first thoughts on the topic was the organisation Anonymous.
This act against terrorism was only possible due to the anonymous nature of the hackers. If their real identities were used then they would have been targeted by ISIS. This shows in some instances, having more than one online identity, is actually extremely beneficial.
Perhaps, these are extreme examples. The reality for many users with multiple online identities is to establish boundaries between their personal and professional life. Warburton (2012) points out that having multiple identities means you can adopt a different persona, different levels and types of control and regulate your behaviour accordingly. A teacher may set up a Twitter page to interact with students and share topic related posts. This same teacher may also have a personal Twitter page, most likely set to private, to communicate with friends. There would be a huge difference in the content of these online identities, despite being linked to the same person.
For future thought, Casserly’s blog (2011) proposed that having so many partial identities actually affects you offline, making it extremely difficult to become a real person. The term ‘real’ used here is perhaps the problem. Offline, which identity actually are we? My only real response to this, is that each partial identity that we leave online is a representation of one side of our personality.
ANONYMOUS (2016) Anonymous to strike back & severely punish ISIS after Brussels attack. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqsOButT_PM (Accessed: 26 October 2016).
Internetsociety.org. (2016). Online Identity Overview | Internet Society. [online] Available at: http://www.internetsociety.org/online-identity-overview [Accessed 25 Oct. 2016].
Krotoski, A. (2012). Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity [Accessed 24 Oct. 2016].
Noyes, D. (2016) Top 20 Facebook statistics. Available at: https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/ (Accessed: 27 October 2016).
Warburton, S. and Hatzipanagos, S. (2012) Digital identity and social media. Boca Raton, FL, United States: Information Science Reference.