Topic 2: Discuss the arguments for and against having more than one online identity

The web is playing an increasingly important role in the ways in which we communicate, engage, work and learn within 21st century society (Costa and Torres, 2011), bringing the idea of the ‘online identity’ to the forefront of contemporary living.

In his work, A Presentation of Self, Erving Goffman analysed how individuals perform to reflect a desirable (or perhaps idealised) image, referring to ‘front stage’ and ‘backstage’ behaviour, and this account can be applied to the topic of online identities (Bullingham and Vasconcelos, 2013).

But what is an online identity? And how is it created? I’ve created this presentation using Canva and information from internetsociety.org to provide an overview of online identities – online-identities-slideshow

Every move we make online contributes to the construction of an online identity, intentionally or not.  As a result of this, many people are choosing to make multiple online identities, to tackle their fears of overexposure (Jarvis, 2011). They believe that these alternate identities are separate from their ‘authentic’ ones (Krotoski, 2012), and can be controlled more easily. However, anonymity on the web is becoming quite a luxury nowadays even for the average citizen (Costa and Torres, 2011), and digital literacy is becoming an absolute necessity… as tiny pieces of our real identities are left behind every time we use the web.

Image result for digital footprint
Digital Footprint (Love, 2013)

As a result, there are many pros and cons of having multiple online identities – I’ve made an infographic to present these in a concise manner, again using Canva.

online-identities-infographic

Note my section on Catfishing. This is where I draw comparisons between Goffman’s ‘front stage’ and ‘backstage’ behaviour, and online identities, and also when considering ‘desirable’ profiles on accounts such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

I myself have seen first-hand what Catfishing does to someone, and the consequences of it (suspension from school!) and thus I believe that FAKE (not alternative) accounts are a negative thing. However, as mentioned, they are not actually illegal.

Therefore, I do not see multiple online identities as either good, or bad – they simply depend on the contextual situation: the intentions (and the digital literacy) of the user.

Also, the concept of digital identity can be considered to be fragmentary so its hard to class them collectively as either good or bad… my online identity as a 21 year old will be significantly different to that when I was 15 – my interests, online behaviours, and websites of choice will have changed and these could all be considered to be various online identities. Some of the online identities created will also be void by now, for example, an account made on a GCSE revision website.

Word Count: 436

References

Bullingham, L. and Vasconcelos, A.C. (2013) ‘“The presentation of self in the online world”: Goffman and the study of online identities’, Journal of Information Science, 3(1), pp. 101–112. doi: 10.1177/0165551512470051. [online] Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0165551512470051

Costa, C. and Torres, R. (2011). To be or not to be, the importance of Digital Identity in the networked society. Revista Educacao, Formacao & Technologias. [online] Available at: http://eft.educom.pt/index.php/eft/article/view/216/126 [Accessed 22 Feb. 2017].

Flynn, E. (2016) What is catfishing and how do you know if it’s happening to you? Available at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1754916/what-is-catfishing-and-how-do-you-know-if-its-happening-to-you/ (Accessed: 22 February 2017).

InternetSociety (2016) Online identity overview. Available at: https://www.internetsociety.org/online-identity-overview (Accessed: 22 February 2017).

Jarvis, J. (2011) One identity or more? — BuzzMachine. Available at: http://buzzmachine.com/2011/03/08/one-identity-or-more/ (Accessed: 22 February 2017).

Krotoski, A. (2012) Online identity: Is authenticity or anonymity more important? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity (Accessed: 22 February 2017).

Love, C. (2013) Make a digital footprint bulletin board – TechnoKids news and Blog posts. Available at: http://www.technokids.com/blog/computers-in-schools/make-a-digital-footprint-bulletin-board/ (Accessed: 22 February 2017).

Raines, A. (2016) Is catfishing illegal? Available at: https://www.quora.com/Is-catfishing-illegal (Accessed: 22 February 2017).

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9 thoughts on “Topic 2: Discuss the arguments for and against having more than one online identity

  1. Hi Madeleine,
    I think the way you have used real world examples to illustrate the theory is just great, especially drawing upon a first-hand experience of Catfishing within a social network of your own. I can’t begin to imagine the devastation the affected person felt! After reading your pros and cons infographic, I decided to do a little research into ‘catfishing’ and fake accounts. I found this article by Cao et al. (2012) on their detection: https://www.usenix.org/system/files/conference/nsdi12/nsdi12-final42_2.pdf. They propose a reactionary solution to false identities that filters accounts and flags them to online social network administrators. Do you think this would be an effective solution to the issue that would allow users to feel more comfortable around the idea of multiple online identities? Or do you think that the only effective solution would be preventative: to (somehow) change the norms of society?
    Brad

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Brad,

      Thanks for your great comment – very well researched! I think the article you found was really good and rather thought-provoking. I feel that the solution they proposed would be effective, but only to a certain degree. I do believe that the average web-surfer would feel more comfortable online under the knowledge that they could report what they thought was a fake account, but this could be problematic because real accounts that are particularly private may get flagged up. Here it could be said that people may be getting ‘punished’ for being too private. Additionally, many average citizens may not have the confidence to report a fake account. Also, the scale of this problem reflects how easy it is to create fake accounts – meaning that once an account gets shut down a new one can be set up almost immediately. I think the strongest and most long-lasting solution would be to somehow change the norms of society gradually, i.e. to truly reiterate the consequences of certain types of fake account… e.g. through adverts, magazine articles, tv shows and documentaries etc. I think that the show Catfish has really laid some foundations for our generation in realising the immorality and consequences of that type of fake account (e.g. with a romantic intention).

      Thanks again!
      Madeleine

      Like

      1. Hi Madeleine,
        I completely agree. While the article itself focused more on a solution that was more automatic, I think that this could also cause more anxiety amongst users. I suppose it depends on what criteria the system uses to ‘flag’ fake accounts. Perhaps a little too much detail for this blog! However like you say, adverts and documentaries may be the best way to portray a message to our digital generation… I might even give it a watch myself someday soon.
        Brad

        Like

  2. Hi Madeline,

    I really reading enjoyed reading your post, it was very detailed and you raised some points I hadn’t considered in your ‘for and against’ section about having multiple online identities. I’m a fan of ‘Catfish’ myself so that was a good example of how multiple online identities can be used negatively. I also agreed with your point about how age makes a difference to the kinds of online behaviours we engage in. The point you raised about there being less online interaction when a user has multiple online accounts is something that we see a lot, especially now, whereby people will have backup accounts for example as fan accounts. Sometimes these are used to further separate people’s personal online interactions, but aren’t necessarily negative. Do you feel as though having less interaction on these types of accounts is usually a negative aspect of having several online identities?

    Word Count: 149

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Louise,

      Thanks for your lovely comment.
      Yes I do believe that people are almost ‘punished’ for having alternate accounts – as I mentioned in my response to Brad’s comment. There’s quite an assumption that people have separate accounts for negative reasons… like they’re hiding something or hiding certain behaviours, when this is not always the case. These people have to deal with getting less interaction on their accounts, simply because they want to be more private, which unfortunately is just the setting of the 21st century online landscape.

      Thanks again!
      Madeleine

      Like

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