Digital Media and Culture Yearbook 2014/Chapter 2: Online Identity

Introduction edit

The internet was not originally built as a “personal communication medium, let alone a way for fans to connect around their objects of pleasure, for people to find potential romantic partners, for employers to find or investigate potential hires, or any such social process. It was developed to safeguard military knowledge."[1]

The term online identity has obvious connotations of the profiles people hold on social networking sites such as Facebook. However, the realms of online identity are not isolated to and focused purely on social networking sites, and include a plethora of online sites that provide an outlet for expression and representation of identity online.

Thinking about online identity and how we use it, and how it consequently uses us, allows for thought on a range of topics including: how social media technologies help mobilize our identities; the way we communicate with each other; how the narratives we construct through our online identities relate to our culture; how we present ourselves to others in the social media world; and the nature of production and consumption of digital representations.

Online identity is argued by many theorists and critics as being another outlet for the expression of identity, and a fair amount of focus is granted to the modification process that accompanies it. It is a contentious issue as to whether our actual identities align with our online identities or whether it is more complicated than this, and this too is explored by theorists in order to try and obtain a greater understanding of the broad spectrum that is online identity.

Main Concepts edit

Forms of Digital Representation edit

Narrative edit

Understanding narrative is vital in understanding the impact online identity can and does have on the individual and the 21st century. Narrative in this context needs to be described in a much more critical sense than just 'narrative has something to do with stories'. Whilst it does involve the process of storytelling and description, narrative is a very old form of communication that is powerful; it can work in simple forms or on a sophisticated level. It is not the same sort of storytelling found in literature as it is independent from fiction. It exists in the real world and is how we make sense of our lives and the world around us. Putting and displaying our narratives online preserves it, makes it more real and helps us feel more human by providing us with proof. Facebook statuses, pictures and albums are a prime example of this. Narrative is independent of ‘tellability’: you can tell a story, but narrative has a psychological component as it involves the listener’s or observer’s participation in ‘filling in the gaps’ of the story. These gaps can be the back story, intertextual references, characterisation and even generic familiarity. Narrative and realism are dominant in the production of digital representations.

Van Koten argues that narrative and realism are dominant forms of digital representation in terms of production.[2] Online identity is so closely linked to (and in essence is) a form of self expression. Essentially, creating an identity for oneself online and presenting ones narrative to the world is one of the ways in which we create platforms for ourselves. This platform has allowed for self-expression of the identity we want to have and want to present to the world.

Behaviours and Narrative on Facebook edit

Facebook is something that might be used by almost the entire world, but how we use our individual page is a different matter. Facebook is a place where narrative exists as people post about their lives through photographs, status updates and events. In fact, Facebook has even evolved to give people their own timelines, and one can look back over their story to see how their existence has developed and how it has been documented and shared on Facebook.

A book my Gemini Adams looks at the idea of how people view Facebook posts in different ways [3] Adams suggests that there are two forms of Facebook narrators; the ones who put everything on, and the ones who are more selective about their posts: For example some people use Facebook to talk about everything such as: What they eat What film they are watching If they’re happy or sad If they’re enjoying a lecture or falling asleep Who they are angry with The fact they are frustrated walking in the rain or waiting for a bus All the photos from nights out whether they are of quality or not This may not seem like an issue and Adams notes that these, “superficial,” details are not very harmful. However, it is believed that some people have a very different approach to Facebook and see it as an almost sacred space to be used only for important or useful updates such as: I’m getting married What is the best way to cook a chicken? I passed my exams Can anybody suggest the best taxi firm in the area? I’m buying a house I went on holiday, here are my pictures I’m getting a new job

Therefore, Adams shows that the subjects of narration on Facebook differ depending on the school or “sharing levels,” that a person belongs to.

However, the book also points out that the detail of the given narration is also dependent on how people view Facebook as a forum for publicising information. For example, some people may announce on Facebook that they are pregnant without telling friends or family first. Some argue that this is natural as Facebook is now a normal and common form of communication. However, others are concerned that Facebook has forced a loss in the intimacy of communication and eradicated the need for making the effort to contact people. It is also suggested that some events in a person’s life are personal and it is inappropriate to share it with the large group of, “random acquaintances,” that make up a large percentage of people’s Facebook friend group.

Overall the book raises the idea that Facebook is a site of narration, but users adopt it in different ways and choose to share their stories in a mixture of styles which raises controversial questions and theories on communicative behaviour.

Narratives and Online Chat Rooms edit

Online chat rooms are a place where people can open up and develop their true character due to the freedom of anonymity. However, because in a chat room one speaks to a stranger who one may never meet or come across again, there is an extreme temptation to create a false narrative for the sake of: fun, experiment, emotional liberation or exploitation.

A book by Dr Monica T. Whitty and Dr Adiran N. Carr which looks at romances online explains that people are restricted in real life by the baggage of reality that they find oppressing or problematic. [4] Similarly, using teenage subjects in a chat room setting, Lynn Schofield Clark observed the way they acted towards strangers online and concluded that chat rooms are often used only for "fun" and not the pursuit of serious relationships; the attraction of this being the lack of consequences within their cyberspace narrative. [5] Internet chat rooms offer an escape from this as users have the opportunity to invent new lives, new back stories and to rid themselves of unwelcome details which they wish they could remove in reality.

It is questionable as to whether this is a positive or negative ability as there are both advantages and disadvantages to it. One could say that having the freedom to have an invented narrative could allow one to express themselves and explore emotions or ideas that seem impossible in ordinary life. It may reduce the likelihood of mental illness as a person has a forum to be experimental and play out confusing issues. However, it is also arguable that this stops people living in reality and dealing with their lives in an active and healthy manner. False narratives encourage deception and also allow for people to exploit and harm vulnerable others through the use of abusive manipulation and emotive stories.

Regardless of the ethical arguments, it is evidential through exploring studies on online chat rooms, or even through personal use, that they do provide users with the chance to either voice their own genuine narratives without fear of being known. But chat rooms also let people invent new or fabricated narratives which can potentially be beneficial to their own development, or indeed harmful to themselves and to others.

Impression Management edit

Online presentation of the self is an expression of identity, but also a careful management process, through visual representation, that seeks to modify the impression that others have about our personalities

The World Wide Web gives users the ability to present various forms of the self to others at a distance. With the presence of an online identity that has the potential to be distributed and viewed across the globe, how you are presented and judged can become a major issue for many people. This can affect self-confidence and may lead to some people manipulating real-life events prior to making a record of them available online (through editing of photos, posts, etc), but also the ability to keep elements of your life separate; e.g. professional and social life, how you present yourself to family and how you present yourself to friends, and the expectations that come with the aforementioned. Thus, impression management could be said to be the act of selectively presenting and hiding sides of one’s own identity.

Due to the increasing likelihood of one's online identity affecting real-life events and circumstances, Impression Management is arguably more important now than it has ever been. The vast majority of executive companies have been using search engines to perform background checks on applicants and potential employees since 2006.[6] Eight years later, not only has that percentage risen, but employers are twice as likely to eliminate a potential candidate for a position due to negative information found online. Additionally, over one quarter of executives placed into positions by search firms in 2012 were initially contacted or identified on a social network, meaning not only must potential applicants remain increasingly vigilant, for possible negative aspects of their online identity, but must also proactively work toward presenting oneself as being employable. [7]

Anonymity edit

Disembodiment effect edit

The disembodiment effect regards the agency of online users, able to interact and communicate online, exceeding the limitations of their physical bodies. The digital environment seems to disregard the idea of a connection between one’s self and one’s body. Users are able to use make use of language, avatars, pictures, amongst other social cues, and use SNS’s to manipulate their various social cues and affordances to create disembodied online entities which can operate in ways perhaps different from how they would act socially in person. Where anonymity is an affordance of a particular SNS, users are capable of behaving either in accordance or against the norms of their social behaviour. Some can behave maliciously and deviate from their usual civilised, socialised behaviour under the allowance of anonymity.

Disinhibition Effect edit

The disinhibition effect, where online users shed their real time social inhibitions in their anonymous, invisible online identity, is thought to be broken down into 6 explanatory factors: dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection dissociative, and minimization of authority. Disinhibition is usually categorised as either Benign or Toxic, the former referring to the way in which people can often act nicer than they do in face-to-face situations and the latter describing the way in which people can rally against socially-accepted moral norms and explore darker domains.

Dissociative anonymity edit

Where usernames and email addresses are the main information we have of one another as users, people can remain relatively anonymous online: some having fake names, and others having no names. In representing such a limited amount of data about one’s self we are able to operate without accountability. By dissociating one’s online actions from one’s self and real identity, people are less hesitant to vocalize any thoughts or opinions they have, and self-disclose freely. One can avoid assuming ownership of their online actions, and can even convince themselves that such behavior is separate from them and “not me at all.” [8]

Invisibility edit

Being not physically present or seen when interacting online can add to the disinhibition effect in that one has the ability, and capacity, to roam through and view data in various different online areas; chat rooms and online interactions. Although we can understand a lot about a user’s identity through our online interaction with them and their self-disclosure, we still cannot physically see them. [9] By eradicating the physical social cues present in physical interaction, such as facial expressions and reactions to an unsettling statement, or how one looks when uttering a controversial aside, this ultimately can eradicate one’s regard for how such a statement makes them look or how it is received by others. [10] Ultimately this invisibility can effect how we portray ourselves, and how we interact with others in such a disinhibited mode of behavior.

Asynchronicity edit

Interacting online, we do not have to communicate in real time – we can wait hours, days or even weeks before responding to one another – whereas in real time interactions we need to deal with others’ immediate reactions to what we say and do. Having to consider others in our real time actions inhibits us to conform to social norms and respond with social regard for the other person. When these social cues are lifted in the anonymous, invisible online realm, we can bide our time and allow ourselves to develop our thought processes and opinions, giving rise to structured and articulate responses benign and toxic disinhibition that avert social norms.

Solipsistic introjection edit

Through not interacting face to face, online interactivity between users can blur boundaries of the self. People can feel connected psychically with the thought processes and messages of the user they are speaking to, as they are devising a voice and image of that user speaking inside their own mind, and introducing the other’s thought process and ‘voice’ into their own psyche. The online user then becomes one’s companion inside one’s inner psychological world, where one can entertain continuations of online conversations and say things they perhaps would not say in person. In reading a companion’s messages online listening to the voice constructed for them inside one’s head, one may hear one’s own voice and take what their companion is saying as their own voice speaking to their self. In hearing one’s own voice when interacting with another user online, as if having a conversation with one’s self, one is likely to be disinhibited and say whatever comes to mind - as speaking to one’s self inside one’s own head feels perfectly safe. [11]

Dissociative imagination edit

One may come to believe that the characters created for other online users inside their own head, along with their idea of their own online self, live in a different spatial dimension; an online dimension. In supposing that these online components live in a separate space, one may separate online activity and behavior from offline accountability. It can be argued that some treat the Internet and the online realm as a game in which the usual rules of social interaction do not apply, and another set of governing maxims of acceptable behavior reign. [12] This has resulted in something of a legal grey area, evident in the fact that sentences and articles that would be considered libellous if published in a newspaper or magazine can be delivered to international readers through websites and blogs with little controversy most of the time. In South Korea forty per cent of the population play the game Lineage, and the city of Seoul even has its own ‘cyber crime unit’ which reports at least one hundred real life attacks a month that result from game world interactions alone.[13]

Minimization of authority edit

One’s offline authority is coded and communicated through various social cues such as modes of dress, body language and position within society in everyday society. Without these social cues of the physical world, one’s authority can be dramatically diminished online in the realm where users feel equally capable and entitled to express their views. Anonymity enables a type of freedom, and this freedom can have obvious personal benefits if the material being generated, shown or shared is transgressive.[14] Where fear of punishment may govern someone’s decision to speak their mind in person, these limitations can disappear online where people feel free to disclose the beliefs of their elevated, entitled online identity. As the online realm depends on articulation of text, not necessarily immediately in response to a user but whenever one feels to do so, those who can manipulate language in a sophisticated manner can elevate their own status and authority online by seeming of superior intellect. In this the lines of authority can be blurred online. [15]

Cyberbullying edit

Since the beginning of Social Media, there have been issues with cyberbullying or ‘trolling’ as its also known. The severity of this form of bullying can range from flippant remarks to organised acts of violence and invasion of privacy. Whereas most bullying targets people based on gender, sexuality, race, or class, the ease with which comments can be sent has led to people of all types being subject to online intimidation. Most often, people create new online identities just for the purpose of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying means sending or posting harmful material or engaging in other forms of social aggression using the Internet or other digital technologies [16] . This can be done by a single bully or multiple ones, and primarily takes place on social networking sites. It’s also common for people to create fake profiles on online dating sites and to pretend to be someone they’re not, which is referred to as ‘catfishing’.

Cyberbullying can sometimes be worse than real life bullying, since the bullies usually hide behind the mask of anonymity offered by false online identities. The ability for individuals to cover up their digital trail by using alternate accounts under different guises, often with other IP addresses or personal information other than their own, makes it hard to estimate exactly how much a person can be held accountable for. Furthermore, because of the lack of face-to-face contact, the bully might not know the effects their bullying might have on the victim and thus are unable to realise the gravity of their actions [17]. Anonymous bulling might have serious consequences. There have been numerous cases in which the victim has even committed suicide as a result of the torment they have faced from an anonymous source. Especially with teenagers, cyberbullying is hard to prevent since the victims usually don’t alert family to the fact that they’re being bullied out of fear that their parents might take extreme precautions to prevent further incidents, such as confiscating their computers and mobile phones [18].

One of the most tragic examples of cyberbullying was the case of 13-year old Megan Meier from Missouri. In 2006, Megan started talking to a teenage boy who introduced himself as “Josh Evans“ on the social networking site MySpace. After a few weeks of being in an online relationship the nature of their communication abruptly changed with Josh starting to make insulting comments. Eventually, their correspondence resulted in Megan’s suicide. Months later the true identity of Josh was revealed as being set up by a friend of Megan’s as well as her mother Lori Drew and her colleague Ashley Grills. The federal district court convicting Drew of a misdemeanor violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The case of Megan Meier pushed forward legislation for the criminalization of cyberbullying. [19]. The recording of conversations and comments made through social media has been deemed draconian, yet a positive aspect of it is that it can be utilised in cyberbullying investigations to find out the perpetrators of online harassment.

Online Presence of Catfish edit

The term Catfish has been used to describe someone who is not truthful about their real identity and acts behind an online masquerade, typically in a quest for romance or deception. Identity is hidden by concealing personal details such as appearance, for example through the use of photographs of a different person to represent the self. The popularity of the term was due to the success of "reality thriller" and documentary film Catfish, which charted the search for one man's online lover in reality. Fundamentally the show highlighted how easy it is to lie about your true identity via social networking sites, although Catfish mainly focused on the presence of Catfish on Facebook.

Multiplicity edit

Just as one has various roles and identities in everyday life – mother, employer, daughter, sister – so too, one has the flexibility to create multiple roles for themselves online. As social beings adapt their approach to suit whom and what they are interacting with in life, this is also true for the identities we construct of ourselves online, depending on the context in which we are interacting. We can take our overall self and extract various attributes of ourselves to exaggerate and base an entire identity around – and since we are all more than one attribute we can fashion various versions of ourselves across various outlets within the digital environment. One can create multiple identities online depending on the medium they are using i.e. a ‘fun loving, youthful and inspired’ blogger discussing music and travel, a sophisticated and insightful Twitter account posing political and moral questions, an informal and honest Facebook account tailoring to a specific, familiar audience of ‘real-life- friends whilst maintaining a perhaps academic website. Many people consciously alter their sentence syntax and way of typing depending on the website and the situation, much in the same way that we tend to speak formally or informally depending on who it is we’re conversing with. Separating these characteristics of one’s self, much like one does with the self and the body in the disembodiment effect, allows one to construct various identity out with the realm of the" one body one self" idea held by in real, mortal society. [20] Multiplicity has serious implications for the responsibility of users online as some can use their fluid and multiple identities online to behave inappropriately without accountability.[21]

Jonathan Vanasco expands on the idea of multiple identities in his work on "Meta-identites and identity facets". Vanasco asks the question that if we act differently around separate social circles within our life then shouldn't we be able to do so online? When people talk about internet activity, they generally think about their life online, - not their lives online. People tend to tailor their online identity to the given personality that each SNS tends to give off. As mentioned before Twitter is seen to be sophisticated, while blogs such as Tumbler/Instagram are seen to be more creative and youthful, whereas Facebook which started off with a more preppy personality has since evolved into a more casual all-round site for social media. So, in the end the world of our multiple identities becomes quite complicated, as we are:

  • Sharing different facets of our lives with our friends, our family and our colleagues.
  • Tailoring these facets to the personalities of certain networks.
  • Experiencing overlap between the facets (And this is where multiple online identities encounters problems)

With the ever-evolving nature of SNS's they are becoming more and more linked with one another. Many social media companies now contain the option to update all of your online profiles all at once and allows people viewing your profile with links to your other social media accounts. This is making things harder than ever before to keep multiple online personalities separate from one another as social networks continue to push for realism in people's accounts.

The Ubiquity of Identity edit

Jonathan Vanasco believes that our online identity is becoming increasingly more omnipresent in everything that we do. Today people have multiple social networking accounts, emails, online gaming profiles, education sites, workplace profiles, music streaming profiles, social calendars like Renkoo and even retailers are now going social like Amazon, eBay etc. People continue to create and accumulate multiple identity facets again and again. It is synonymous with the idea of ubiquity that our online identity is part of our new found Always-On Culture. People stay constantly connected to social media in order to keep up their image and representation of themselves to the people they allow to see it. This has increased dramatically over the past few years with the integration of smart phones and wireless internet all over the world.

See Always-On Culture's section on Danah Boyd and Ubiquity for more on this.

Symbolic Interactionism edit

Goffman argues that performers can form their audience’s impression of them consciously, for instance by learning their speech or coordinating their movements in certain ways, however sometimes they might make unconscious moves, such as tripping or forgetting their lines, which are still part of the overall impression of the performer.[22] Goffman’s theory about consciously and unconsciously given signs can be applied to the online representation of people. Facebook users, for example can manage their friend’s impression of them by selecting the images they upload or the personal data they share. However some information of them can be still given away unintentionally, for instance when they are tagged in pictures or statuses they did not wish to, and it also shapes their self-performance and therefore this is also part of their persona.

Chat Rooms and Anonymity edit

Statistics show that there are over 1,200 chat rooms on the internet that are easy to enter and are not regulated by a censoring body. [23] As a result, people of all ages, genders, races and backgrounds can have access to chat rooms where they can potentially speak to anybody in the world. There are concerns about whether this is safe and healthy and Davidson’s book focuses on the harm and abuse that comes from unprotected communications. The film, “Trust,” by David Schwimmer looks into this idea as it focuses on the concern of many parents have that their child will become involved with a dangerous adult who emotionally manipulates them and abuses their trust. [24]

However, writer Rolf McEwan argues that chat rooms actually allow people to be more confident and natural as they don't feel afraid of rejection from people they don't know. [25] Amongst friend groups people can have concerns about rejection if they say or do anything that the others won’t approve of. This theme is explored in the recent television series, My Mad Fat Diary, which looks at how a girl with mental health issues struggles to be herself in a group of new friends who expect her to behave in a conventional manner. [26]

McEwan’s argument is that although chat rooms might encourage anti-social behaviour or even false identities due to no accountability, it also gives people the freedom to explore their natural personalities through talking to another person whose opinion or reaction will not have such a problematic consequence to life, and therefore encourages self-conscious people to relax. Because users have the ability to engage in conversations without the other person having preconceptions about them or directly viewing them, they may feel as if there is none of the baggage that is tied to interaction elsewhere. For many, typing can be an easier way for them to get things off their chest, eliminating the unease of speech and giving an opportunity to thoroughly think through a statement or topic before bringing it up.

Social Networking Sites edit

Promotion of Identity edit

The digital domain is increasingly involved in the social dynamics of our lives. Emails, chat rooms and blogging all contribute to new ways of building social networks and provide creative platforms for self-expression. [27] Social Networking Sites (SNSs) are platforms for socially orientated activity that allow for an introduction of the self via public displays of connection. These public displays of connection are used to authenticate identity and introduce the self through the process of association with social circles. Individual and collective identities are simultaneously presented and promoted. SNSs are sites of self-presentation and identity negotiation. [28] Facebook is a prime example of how an SNS can help create and project an online identity. Each Facebook user has a profile page where they can describe themselves, their likes and their hobbies, and narrate their lives. Most users also have a profile picture to help identify themselves. SNSs are unique in combining multiple modes of communication and thus breadth of control over social cues.

Social media use within businesses is growing as a main focus of advertising campaigns. Around 80% of all businesses use, or are planning initiatives to use it [29]. Businesses use social media as a marketing tool – not only is it inexpensive, but effective in communicating with your market. Recent studies have shown that one third of adults under 30 now use social media instead of traditional media outlets such as newspapers or television, which means that social media use within a business is important to keep up to date with how people find information. Social media, for a business, can create an identity which is similar to that of the demographic that uses them – with certain demographics generally tending towards a certain social network[30], a business can strengthen their existing market, or create relations with areas outside of it. Social networks also give a platform for businesses to stray away from professionalism – becoming more 'human like', and giving a company a personal feel to it's structure.

We consciously and unconsciously work to define the way we are perceived, hoping to engender a positive impression of ourselves. Impression management entails putting effort into emphasising certain characteristics whilst diminishing or hiding others, and we are able to post information which presents a desired image. It is about presenting a highly selective version of the self. Even the choice of name on your email is an important marker of who we are. As Papacharissi words it, “The process of self-presentation becomes an ever-evolving cycle through which individual identity is presented, compared, adjusted, or defended against a constellation of social, cultural, economic, or political realities.”[31]

Flexibility of the Self edit

Many people create multiple SNS pages in order to aid their task of impression management. This multiplicity allows only select audiences to see a certain version of that person, or limits the wider world from being able to make the connection between the two as they wish to keep different parts of their lives and personalities separate. Creating multiple pages has a parallel to how we present different versions of ourselves in face-to-face contexts. Identity scholar Goffman argues that the self plays multiple roles in everyday life and cannot be understood adequately as a single unified entity. The self is flexible and multiple, taking different incarnations in different situations.[32] Impression management is about the balance of sharing, withholding and distorting information.

Online identity through textual media additionally offers different ways to get noticed compared to the real world and its social constructs. Physically attractive people will get noticed at a party, but articulate, insightful and witty people who know how to spell will get noticed online. Many use their online identity to achieve and satisfy needs they find difficult in the real world. Online identities allow the opportunity to be yourself or to be whoever you want to be. Liu (2007) examined over 127,000 MySpace profiles and revealed that on average user tended to differentiate themselves from friends rather than identifying with friends.[33]

Self-expression and self-promotion on SNSs edit

Looking at social networking sites it can be seen that they all work on a similar basis: they connect their users and let them present themselves to one an other in a way they wish. The number of SNS have increased and therefore various sites for various purposes can be found. José Van Dijck argues that users have a need to differentiate between their online personas, for most of them there is a significant difference between what they communicate to their friends and their professional persona that they share with their employers and colleagues. [34] For instance while Facebook is used mostly for personal interactions, until LinkedIn is for professional networking. According to Jeff Weiner- CEO of LinkedIn- "The key distinction is that as a professional you want people to want to know who you are. People are searching for you or people like you whether you like it or not.” [35] Comparing Facebook and LinkedIn it can be seen that impression management –even though in a different way, but- implies to both sites. The users try to develop an ideal image of themselves. However, while Facebook was primarly created for self-expression, rather than self-promotion, LinkedIn mainly concentrates on self-advertising and showing off one’s skills. It has been referred as "Facebook in a suit”. By having both Facebook and LinkedIn profiles users can present both their social and professional personas. According to Van Dijck "Many users will try to synchronize their profiles on both sites, even if the interfaces on Facebook and LinkedIn force them to perform different strategies.” [36]

Professional Online Identity edit

Professional online identity refers to a persons ideals, experiences, attitudes and beliefs in their professional career when they present themselves on an internet platform. The management of professional online identity is taking on a bigger role at the workplace, as employees are increasingly interacting with their professional contacts in online social networks that are personal in nature, such as Twitter or Facebook. This can lead to the collision of professional and personal identities. "Online social networks present employees with boundary management and identity negotiation opportunities and challenges. Recent data point to a blurring of the professional and personal domains in online networks, which exacerbates the need for active boundary management." [37] A key feature that differentiates the contact online is that the information available is much less tailored to a particular conversation. In face-to-face and other individualized interactions (e.g. phone calls, emails, text messages) employees can manage the boundary between their professional and personal identities by restricting what and how much of personal information they present to their work contacts over time. And by adapting this disclosure to their particular dyadic relationships in a constant manner. [38] Although SMSs limit the flexibility of self-representational behavior, they also "create[s] new opportunity structures to display identity cues and select interaction partners" [39]

Authenticity edit

The development of social networking sites changed the way online identities are formed and presented. The first online identities in social media were in the form of emails and instant messengers where only thing that was required was a nickname. In 2002 Friendster was launched, which pioneered the online connection of real-life friends and was followed by MySpace and other Social Networking Sites, like Facebook in 2004, which promoted Clay Shirky (2003) to come up with the term ‘YASNS’: Yet Another Social Networking Service.[40] This meant that online identities had to be more authentic, which is why creating a totally new online identity is more difficult. Authentic online identities mean that it has to have the user’s real name, real connections and, increasingly, their actions across cyberspace e.g. posting a Facebook picture via Instagram.[41]

Yet, with the emergence of Twitter in 2006 and Tumblr in 2007 it is easier to create an online identity that is not real. But most users seem to have their Twitter account in their real name, with the people they know in real life following them. This shows how the emergence of authentic online identities makes people want to keep their online identities connected with their real life ones. Furthermore, with the authentic identities available, users have become more untrusting to non-authentic online identities. Despite this, Social Media like Tinder are popular, which shows that the need for authenticity is not a big enough concern.

Complications edit

The process of self-presentation through SNSs is complicated however. With the combination of a variety of audiences, of variable publicity and privacy settings, the individual must engage in multiple mini performances in order to produce a presentation of the self that makes sense to multiple audiences. In day-to-day life many people have the opinion that others should ‘take them as they are’. However, impression management is very contradictory to this stance as it raises questions concerning whether we genuinely think people should accept us as who we are. If this were the case, then privacy settings and account management would not nearly be as popular as they are.

The internet holds a utopian potential for our relationships and our self expression as it has the potential to bridge divides and create meaningful new connections. However, more often than not, the internet and SNSs are accused of leading people to lie about themselves.[42] Additionally, just how much of an individual we really are on SNSs is contentious as SNSs engineer self-presentation by providing predetermined sets of categories through which to build identities. It limits the extent to which anyone can call themselves an individual and fully express their identity.

Jaron Lanier [43] said that the most important thing about a technology was how it changed people and warns of the restrictions of being ‘Locked-in’ to a particular technology. There is support for this concern in terms of online identity within social networks from Geert Lovink .[44] He argues that there is little freedom to present yourself in different ways online and social networking sites only offer users a limited choice of presenting their personal and professional information to the world. He goes on to quote critic Zadie Smith who challenges this narrow choice forced on users by Facebook in saying, “What kind of living is this? Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format”. This seems to crystallise Lanier’s point about the problems with being Locked-in to a particular technology: our online identities, which are a presentation of our lives, are “force-fitted” into a format to enable social networking sites to neatly package users’ information to monetise the content.

Profile Pictures edit

In their book ‘A Networked Self’ [45] Papcharissi and Mendelson investigate Facebook photo galleries and the connection this has with online identity. The study concludes that individuals knowingly and unknowingly seek to define a positive impression of themselves through the use of SNS, and in particular, using profile pictures. Profile pictures are important as it is the only picture that can be viewed by the majority of users online. It is chosen to covey something about themselves which is generally positive, to the rest of the world.

The digital age allows for the creation of virtual communities, where social groups interact with one another and observer individual profiles to gain a sense of their personality. Pictures on Facebook express particular values of the person portraying them. Wells [46] argues , states that photography was previously known for capturing a moment in absolute accuracy, maintaining a faithful and true image of an event. However, as the digital age has intensified with SNS, the use of digital photography allows Impression Management. Therefore, profile pictures are not necessarily a true representation of that person. Individuals can communicate their values, relationships and sociability, in the way they wish the rest of SNS users to perceive them. This entails emphasising and diminishing characteristics of character through editing, creating a perceived persona that may not be accurate. Papacharissi and Mendelson [47] have argued that the use of profile pictures allows for narcissism, creating a culture of self-absorbed individuals. Although profile pictures are understood as being a representation of individuals to the rest of the SNS community, the use of Impression Management risks people creating a persona of themselves, inferring qualities and perpetuating a deceptive performance to their online audience.

Security and Privacy in Social Media edit

With the reveals in 2013 of the NSA's vast monitoring of international internet traffic including social media[48], online privacy and security have been highlighted. Having said that, according to Cisco's 2012 Connected World Technology Report, 91% of all those aged 18-30 believe that "the age of privacy is over". Further more, they found that: " third of the respondents are[sic] not worried about all the data that is stored and captured about them."[49]

These numbers are backed up by similar surveys done by CIFAS, the UK's Fraud Prevention Service, which state:

'88% of people who use social networking sites having shared information that could be used to commit identity fraud'

They further back CISCO's numbers by stating: "Furthermore, only 18% of those interviewed said they were concerned about sharing information on or the security risk of social networking sites, with 10% sharing information about others that could then be used to assume their identities."[50]

It seems then that, especially with younger generations, we do not worry about our data online. There is almost an attitude of "Who cares? How can it affect me?" amongst those who do not believe that we have any real privacy online. On the one hand, this could be true. In the context of social media, and in this case Facebook, there are over 1 billion users[51] and it could at least hypothetically be argued that with that many people's data floating around in that sphere, the chances of you particular data's security and privacy being broken are relatively small merely due to numbers alone. This, however, is only a very small part of the debate around data's privacy as it completely ignores the inherent value of said data - to both you its owner and to Facebook or any company that they may "share" your data with. The current situation regarding social media is akin to a mixture of the concerns raised in both Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, as rather pessimistically it could be said that through social media while our attention is often driven away from pressing matters to leisure and unimportant banter we are having a considerable chunk of our online data observed and collated by it at the same time.

In his book 'Social Media a Critical Introduction' [52] Christian Fuchs argues that Facebook is: "...a typical manifestation of a stage of capitalism in which the relation of public and private, and labour and play, collapses, and in which this collapse is exploited by capital.", exploitation being a very apt term for the current policies adopted by Facebook and similar networking sites. Social media agencies have stated that to advertisers, the monetary value of a Facebook member exhibiting loyalty to their brand has ranged from around $118 to $174. The issue of privacy aside, the practice of selling account information to others is arguably dehumanising, as rather than further an individual’s own unique identity it facilitates the ability of businesses to reduce people to mere statistics.

This idea is backed up by Hannah Arendt in her book The Human Condition[53], where she states that: "The distinction between the private and the public realms [...] equals the distinction between things that should be shown and things that should not be hidden." In the context of Facebook this can be taken multiple ways. Fuchs argues that the main issue of public vs private for Facebook lies in the fact that Facebook has access to and essentially owns all of its users data whereas the users do not have nearly as much access to Facebook's internal workings and its own data. In this context it becomes very much about the equality of privacy measures, where the passage of information from user to supplier is of a much higher volume than that of the supplier to the individual user. When looked at through the prism of Marxist theory, as stated before, it raises issues of exploitation as it is the very data that users are generating that companies like Facebook are making money from. Just as in a factory where the workers are selling their time to create commodities for the factory, the users' are creating data for the company. The major and very important difference lies in the reimbursement of the individual users for their "labour"; which is to say that there is effectively very little of it. The concept of "Free Labour" is one that has risen to the surface in recent years in discussions of online data mining and commodification of users to describe the idea that users are essentially creating the commodity that these companies make their money on (data and information) but are not being paid or reimbursed for it.

Indeed, the exploitation exhibited by social media providers and especially Facebook have drawn harsh criticism from those who are involved in studying social media. Rory O'Connor, author of "Friends, followers and the future." stated in an article for Huffington post: "[Social networking services] profit primarily by using heretofore private information it has collected about you to target advertising. And Zuckerberg has repeatedly made sudden, sometimes ill-conceived and often poorly communicated policy changes that resulted in once-private personal information becoming instantly and publicly accessible. As a result, once-latent concerns over privacy, power and profit have bubbled up and led both domestic and international regulatory agencies to scrutinize the company more closely ... The high-handed manner in which members' personal information has been treated, the lack of consultation or even communication with them beforehand, Facebook's growing domination of the entire social networking sphere, Zuckerberg's constant and very public declarations of the death of privacy and his seeming imposition of new social norms all feed growing fears that he and Facebook itself simply can not be trusted."[54]

The problem, then, becomes one of trust. Not only in the media companies, but in your fellow Facebook or social network users. It is not uncommon to hear the phrase "If you didn't want anyone else to see it, you shouldn't have put it online." in relation to any data that users put online for what is their assumed own private use. The obvious implication being that on the internet, we cannot trust anyone enough to not "leak" our private data provided there is enough incentive. The most extreme example of this are the so called "Revenge porn" sites, but in more day-to-day matters it is all too common to have to ask friends to untag or delete a photo of you that is particularly unflattering on social media. It again raises questions over how much control we actually have over our own data, where it goes and who sees it. After all, a very common chain of events can be a friend posts a picture of you on their timeline, that picture and perhaps the location that it was taken becomes associated with all the other data about you currently held online by the social media provider and is used to target ads at you. All of this happens nearly instantaneously and the only way to really stop it is to stop your friend from posting the picture in the first place.

What this points to is the need for a more active user than the traditionally passive archetype that social media suppliers like Facebook have become used to exploiting for commercial gain - the so called "Prosumer" idea that was first posited by Alvin Toffler in 1980 in his book The Third Wave and then expanded by Bruns to be a "produser" in 2009. Clarke defines a prosumer or produser as: "A prosumer is a consumer who is proactive (e.g. is demanding, and expects interactivity with the producer) and/or a producer as well as a consumer (e.g. one who expects to be able to exploit digital content for mashups)." This proactive consumer is one who is much more likely to demand privacy and security for their data than a passive consumer and this, Clarke says, is likely to push forward a trend of distrust for social media sites and force them to change their privacy and data security policies.[55]

Social Networks and advertising edit

The terms Social network advertising or Social media targeting refer to forms of online advertisement that specifically focus on their presence on social networking sites. Social network advertising involves adverts being tailored to user information gathered from social media profiles. Given the enormous audience size and amount of time regularly spent on social networking sites, companies are increasingly becoming aware of the vast potential lying in SNSs. Consequently, online advertising is experiencing a shift from simply being distributed through websites to efficiently tracking and gathering user behaviour and personal information on SNSs. This enables brands to identify and address their target audience and people that their product might appeal to based on their interests. The fact that this information originates from the customers themselves is very beneficial to companies as personal data can be analysed in detail without having to rely on their own statistical projections. Two strategies used in social network advertising are targeted advertising' and customised advertising.

With targeted advertising, brands aim to shape their product display according to website relevant content or their target group’s interests. While content-targeted advertising is adapted to the particular purpose and content of a website the advert banner is displayed on, targeted advertising tracks the users’ surfing behaviour on the internet. Several websites require users to register with their Facebook accounts in order to later display similar advertising content on the social network site. Through the use of cookies, people can be tracked back to recently visited websites and are therefore likely to be exposed to similar content on other websites. Companies are also able to track whether one of their adverts has been encountered by a particular customer before and are consequently able to avoid exposing the same user to the same advertising multiple times and thus display their advertising with appropriate intervals [56]. A look-a-like function enables the detection of Facebook users with similar interests as the one recently accessing a particular website.

Moving away from simply tracking people’s surfing behaviour via cookies, online advertising has experienced an important shift to placing greater emphasis on using profile information on SNSs to create customised advertisements [57]. Social network accounts sell valuable information about users’ location, interests and social circles to advertising agencies and companies themselves. Likes and links to external websites further give an idea of potential customers that might be targeted in future. Users receive pre-selected adverts that are believed to be most compatible with their demands and interests (as determined through their account details) and therefore should be more appealing to them.

However the massive amount of data generated by “real identities“ via social networks is also centre of the growing debate on the implications of the web 3.0[58]. As Joseph Turow suggests “the new advertising industry is defining your identity and your world“ [59] through displaying user customised advertisements on social networks. In this way commodification, capitalist social relations and market forces increasingly engage in and detemine people’s social life by exploiting the fact that to a large extent social interactions are taking place online [60]. Consequently social networks have to be considered a double-edged sword [61]. While on the one hand being intensely empowering for its users, the fact that their data is under constant surveillance by data mining and analytics companies such as Daily Me, Medicx Media and Rapleaf can also lead to consumers restisting [62]. Thereby, the root of the problem is the fact that boundaries between advertising and content shaping the 20th-century media are being blurred through networking sites [63] . However, the significance of personalised advertising does not only make user data a valuable criteria to shape brands after but goes even further. Through “social sorting“ social networks even impact structures of society in allocating people to “target“ or “waste“ [64] groups based on information published on their profiles. Brands can explicitly filter out the users that are most valuable to them in terms of a responsiveness to their product based on their interests, income or other characteristics. In this way the advertisement that is presented to each individual user is indicating their social position in the eyes of companies, making advertisement become status signals [65]. Nevertheless, companies have to consider the discrepancy between online and offline identity as so far social sorting processes are simply based on personal information generated on SNSs. Therefore customer profiles only limitedly reflect the “real“ person behind the profile, including their demands of a product. While social media’s functionality provide the tools for people to construct an online identity they are also heavily shaped after the economic purpose of the site. Cohen suggests that due to their design and the normalisation of the sharing culture SNSs can be considered part of an increasing commodification of identity through the influence of corporate interests [66].

Reputation Systems and SNS edit

Reputation systems rank the users of a website based on criteria such as number of posts or trustworthiness regarding online monetary transactions. They are often utilized on places of online commerce such as Amazon or eBay, however they are becoming an increased presence on social media where the more Facebook likes or re-tweets a post gets, the more people see it. This is a new communicative concept since human beings do not usually quantify popularity in their day to day lives and it establishes a sort of hierarchy of thought where originality, creativity, and wit are some of the more valuable traits. And while it's arguably a better use of cognitive surplus than mindless consumption, rarely do these reputation systems seem to carry any real purpose or meaning.

Location-based Real-time Dating edit

Other than the popular online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter which can be used for dating interface, there are now a series of mobile applications that act as not only a social media platform but combine that with online dating. These apps are known as location-based real-time dating (LBRTD) apps and are massively popular within current society. An example of these is Grindr, a dating app that allows homosexuals to find other single people within a close proximity to themselves. However, Jeremy Birnholtz has described Grindr as being a virtual place for singles that "creates tension in users’ strategies for self-presentation as they craft positive identities in an environment where identifiability by outsiders may be perceived negatively."[67] The two big players in this field are the popular mobile applications Grindr and Tinder.

Grindr edit

As previously mentioned, Grindr is a mobile LBRTD app which is aimed specifically at gay men. There is, like with most social media, a problem with identity theft. There is a limited number of photos that you can have on your profile and therefore, since it requires less information to look as legitimate as Facebook, for example. Due to this, it would seem easier to lie about you identity via the app. However, Grindr are aware of this and have set up a complaint policy with regards to imposters and fake profiles.

Users must follow these steps to lodge a complaint:

1. Report the impostor. Tap the gray flag in his profile to report him.

2. Send us your Grindr Account Email Address (or BlackBerry support code). This will help us find your profile.

3. Write your email address on a piece of paper. Send us a clear photo of yourself holding the piece of paper.

4. Send a random photo of yourself. We need to make sure you're the 'real' you.[68]

Also, due to the fact that there is little room for users to expand their personality beyond their very limiting profile, many people argue that this limits identity. "The design of Grindr provides men little room in their profiles to elucidate upon their personality or interests. This tranching of their identities to just physicality has the effect of reducing them to objects, like the models in advertisements."[69] This objectification is what has created the stereotype that Grindr is only for gay hook-ups. This lack of real identity within the app has transformed itself to being looked as being purely sexually charged and therefore, Grindr can be described as being an online social network that almost encourages online identities to be separate from offline ones.

Tinder edit

Tinder is much the same as Grindr, but is aimed at both homosexuals and heterosexuals. It's set up is very similar to that of Grindr, however there are some differences. Tinder's slogan is "Tinder is how people meet. It's like real life, but better."[70] This slogan denotes a few things - firstly, it openly suggests that it is a completely online community as it overtly claims to not be real life, but that it is better. Therefore, this could be actively encouraging users to think of their online selves as being different to their offline selves, and to lose their inhibitions because Tinder and the real world are two separate locations and that the two may never collide. However, this would seem to completely contradict the idea of Tinder, in that it is a dating app that is fundamentally about people meeting and beginning a relationship. Another thing about Tinder is that it needs to have access to your Facebook account to allow you to become a user. Therefore it relies on previously available information to function. Using Tinder also means handing over large amounts of information about your identity to them, and although "Tinder says that they won’t share your private info or activity on Tinder with Facebook or other users, but they’re totally fine with selling it to third-parties and vendors they were work with. Just know they could be shipping off your sexual preference, desired age in a mate, and conversations had via Tinder’s chat feature, to advertisers and third-parties." [71] Therefore Tinder is not as identity friendly as they would have you believe, and users' privacy is not completely contained to the owners of Tinder.

YouTube and Vlogging edit

YouTube is a public video sharing site created in 2005. People of all ages, races and genders use YouTube as a way of forming an online identity. Among entertaining home video clips, and amateur short films, Video Blogging (Vlogging) is one of YouTube’s most popular trends, as it provides a medium to create a publicly accessible performance of “the real me”. Hobsbawn sees the current age as defined by a “hunger for a secure identity” (Strangelove,2010). This then highlights the obvious attraction of Vlogging, as a way for any person with a video camera and an internet connection to document their identity and present it for the world to see. Vlogging is one of the rawest forms of media as it is simply people sharing their feelings and experiences with the world, and as Van Koten states while discussing McLuhan’s theories concerning hot and cold media “...when we peel away the layers of media we ultimately end up with human experience”. (Van Koten, 2009) This closeness to human experience and supposed honesty that people put across in Video Blogs (Vlogs) encourages others to use this medium and share their own feeling and experiences in order to feel like an individual within a community. Mendelson and Papacharissi discuss how Carey (1975) “emphasised a ritual view of communication which helps foster community integration through the sharing of common experiences and values” (Mendelson & Papacharissi, 2011). It is true that YouTube is seen as a community and safe place to share these feelings and experiences and the users of YouTube are regularly referred to as the “YouTube Community”. But why do people use this public video forum to share these inner most confessions rather than keeping a physical diary or having real life conversations. Sherry Turkle states in her TED Talks “Connected, but alone?” that “the feeling that ‘no one is listening to me’ makes us want to send time with machines that seem to care about us” (Turkle, 2012). YouTube provides an instant audience of listeners for any user, millions of people can access a Vlog at any one time, the community of an instant audience must surely play a key factor in why people choose to share their life experiences via Vlogs as opposed though real life social interaction. However, Turkle also states that through her research she has discovered that many feel that a feeling or experience is not valid until it is shared through the internet, usually via some form of SNS “I share therefore I am” (Turkle,2012). So, by sharing these personal/confessional videos on YouTube, not only do users receive and instant audience to listen to their feelings as they try to work out their own identity, but they also gain validations of those feelings through the process of sharing. The idea of being part of a community which also validates ones inner most feelings must surely be an appealing one for many, hence the popularity of Vlogs on YouTube. However, the identities presented on YouTube are not necessarily exact representations of how those users behave in their real world lives. Michael Strangelove in his book “Watching YouTube: extraordinary videos by ordinary people” discusses how “There are hundreds of videos online title ‘the real me’ that explore the difference between videographers on-screen persona and their ‘real’ self.” He goes on to give an example of a video made by college student Kevin Wu with the above title, Kevin explains how he is a different person from his videos, “You don’t know me…you don’t really know someone through the internet” (Strangelove, 2010). The construction of an ideal persona on SNS is seen across all mediums; YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr etc. When discussing the formulation of college students photos galleries on Facebook Mendelson and Papacharissi state that we “consciously and unconsciously transform ourselves before the camera, portraying a version of ourselves we wish to be” (Mendelson & Papacharissi,2011). So, while people wish to feel that their feeling are validated and they as themselves are accepted as part of a community, the common case is still that they present an ideal version of themselves and push that forward to be accepted as their true identity, whether is accurately reflects their real world persona or not.

The Self Discrepancy Theory edit

Edward Tory Higgins (1987) introduced the concept of 'Self-Discrepancy Theory', which can be linked to the idea of the development of and the need for online identities in general. The theory suggests that one's personality is constructed through several different domains. Other than one's actual personality there is a wide range of other 'selfs' that might influence the behavior of this individual, such as the ideal or ought self. "One domain of the self (actual; ideal; ought) and one standpoint on the self (own; significant other) constitute each type of self-state representation. " Any discrepancies between the actual self-concept and the ideal-self states (what the individual hopes to become or aspires to be like) may lead to negative outcomes, such as feelings of disappointment or dissatisfaction with the self and lead to a vulnerable state in which an individual's self-esteem is significantly lowered. On the other hand discrepancies between a self-concept and ought-self states (that is representations of an individual's beliefs about his or her own or a significant other's beliefs about the individual's duties, responsibilities, or obligations) may lead to agitation-related emotions, such as fear or feelings of threat. In order to avoid these discrepancies impression management may be used to control how one sees themselves and is seen by others. After all, online identities are manageable representations of the self that can in fact be manipulated to extents, that largely influence impressions. It does not only allow the impression of outsiders to be altered, but also can function in order to clarify one's ideal self image for themselves. Therefore if online identities are managed this way, not only discrepancies may be avoided that may lead to emotional discomfort or agitation-related feelings, however it may also improve one's idea of their ideal self and may encourage them to alter their behaviors in order to change accordingly.

Belonging edit

Many use the opportunity and possibility of an online identity in order to gain or experience a sense of belonging. Every year more people write blogs, participate in online discussions, share information, music and photos, and upload videos. Making things and sharing them online is a process that creates networks, emotional support and significant social bonds.

In an online community one can get a sense of a shared space, experience rituals of shared practices, exchange social support, and the shared identities all contribute to a feeling of community.[72] Many join groups as already share a social identity such as race, ethnicity or profession.

Blogging edit

Blogging is one way in which a sense of belonging can be and is achieved. Blogging connects people with others who share similar ideas, feelings and topical associations. Research carried out by David Brake revealed that seventy per cent of all blogs are personal blogs.[73] Writing a blog allows you to pursue desires to communicate.

Blogs are not just webpages in the traditional sense; blogging also covers the contemporary social network statuses seen on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. David Gauntlett asked and completed a survey in his book Making is Connecting on why people use Twitter. The main reasons were so that others can learn and be entertained; in a desire to share thoughts and creative endeavours; to chronicle their existence; self-promotion; contributing to and being part of a community; and for a sense of being heard.[74] This research highlighted the importance of warm social connections, recognition and appreciation. These are aspects that are vital in a community and for a sense of belonging. On blogs where response is desired and encouraged, such as on SNSs, the importance in commenting and discussion is focused around warm social connections, recognition and appreciation for those who invest significant amounts of time in the creation of online content.[75] A study was also carried out about why people use Facebook. This research revealed that the combination of low effort and social rewards and connections made it worthwhile.[76] Facebook only requires simple and momentary inputs, and in return you get to be part of an active social network. This all can lead to a sense of mutual engagement and community, and importantly a sense of belonging via online identity.

The concept of wanting to share one’s ideas has been existent for a very long time. However, it is a difficult thing to get your thoughts and opinions published for the wider world to see. Whether it is a factual informative book or a fictional piece, it is challenging to find a publisher who is willing to accept your work amongst the thousands, if not millions of other submissions. However, the evolution of online blogging has changed this and now people are free to promote and publicise their own writing online and on a very big scale. The online space is so vast, endless and accessible that blogging has opened up the chance for endless publications, which do not require the grueling process of being accepted and selected.

Citizen Journalism edit

This is essentially a form of activity which has stemmed from blogging. The ability to participate in media, particularly news, brings a great sense of importance and belonging. There used to be a 'structured break' between news production and consumption and these lines are now becoming blurred. [77] It has created a new variation of web user, the prosumer. If an individual feels they are contributing, it will undoubtedly confirm that their online presence is of value. The monumental shift from audience consumption to participation or even production means that there is a sense of community within the title of 'citizen journalist'.

Technology has contributed to the rising popularity of gathering and producing news online. Wireless internet and smartphones have allowed individuals in the 'right place at the right time' to become an active participant in journalism. By extension, social media has become a platform for news to travel. The content is read, shared, discussed and debated which would suggest users of networking sites can deliver their news on their own terms. As citizen journalism is not bound by conventional journalistic codes, therein lies opportunity for opinion and discussion. Comments are not only optional, they are encouraged by online news organisations to convey that public opinion is of any importance to issue at hand.

Joy Rosen describes the phenomenon as "the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another". [78] This user generated content has influenced some historical political movements, such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and many others. This is a form of power that people can seize and use as they see fit, to benefit what is important to the individual and society.

Performance and Ownership on Facebook edit

Our online identity as well as our online presence is a constant performance and battle for ownership. If one studies Facebook, then it is apparent that the content of a person’s profile is heavily manipulated and edited in order to create a certain persona.

Every Facebook page may seem like a boring repeated formula that has no individuality in comparison to the millions of others. However, Facebook does allow people to note what: music, films, t/v programmes, shops, books and concepts they like. A person can also share personal information about their lives, photographs and links to show that they are unique and different from everybody else.

But, because of technological manipulation, social networks allow people to not show their true, holistic, authentic self-warts and all. Facebook insists that people see a warped and superficial image of identities after they have been carefully manufactured and approved. This behaviour is a result of needing to feel that one’s performance is in line with social conventions and rules of character groups. As a result one’s Facebook page is not entirely owned by them as their submissions are psychologically stimulated by the wider community and what one posts is dictated by the socially accepted principles of one’s given social circle.

In a book by Richard Jenkins about social identities he mentions that social sites on the internet have created a new art of performance relationships and stages for social ideologies. [79] He argues that people feel conditioned by those who view their online presence and participation and their interactions are based on a need to conform due to the pressures of being witnessed by a large and critical audience.

Welcome and Unwelcome Responses to Facebook Posts edit

Facebook is a forum where people can voice their individuality by posting on their own page and editing their profiles. Because each page belongs to a single person then in a sense the content belongs to them and they have a right to share it regardless of other people’s reactions. However, people on Facebook often get responses to their posts which challenge and cause controversy. This is done by Facebook friends being able to, “like,” a post, commenting on it or uploading entirely new material. Some feel that negative responses are unwelcome because the page is representative of them alone, rendering it a safe, respected and personal space for their online identity. On the other hand, others feel that if you post something on Facebook then you are allowing your Facebook friends to see and subsequently you are inviting their contributions and permitting debate.

Fan Culture edit

Online fan communities have grown rapidly with the development of digital technology and social media websites. Originating from the ‘real life’ social groups that congregated together to share in their common interest, fan groups have only developed a stronger presence online that ever before.

Cultural analyst Myc Wiatrowski, studied online fan communities and observed that; “Fandoms, in the information age, have become a well-connected global village capable of coordinated and immediate worldwide contact”.[80] Highlighting how new technology and media has enabled these ‘fandoms’ to develop and also created a stronger sense of belonging.

That sense of belonging is a large factor in fan participation. Without the implications of face to face interactions users are able to freely interact and bond with other like-minded people and can develop an online identity that they choose. There are many different types of online fan communities; however the fastest growing have surrounded popular texts, films and celebrities. Popular young adult novels such at Twilight are excellent examples of online ‘fandom’, in which the texts are re-interpreted and re-written by fans. The monetisation incentives offered by video hosting sites like YouTube, in addition to ad revenue on fan sites, also appear to be actively encouraging the creation of new fan-made product, which in turn acts as free advertising for the media that are the focus of them. The protection of having an online identity and belonging to a large online group allows the fans to share dramatic adaptations they would not normally share in everyday life. Similarly celebrity fans such as ‘The Directioners’ fans of boy band One Direction use their online presence as a ‘protected’ way of contacting the band, with total disinhibition.

The Need for Online Evidence edit

With online culture there is a need to feel like one’s online existence sends a strong message of the self. Theorist Ainslie McDermott who specialises in the reasoning behind online behaviour suggests that in various arenas people choose to post certain material because they feel it will present a positive or specific image of their lives. [81]

For example, when blogging, some people find it important to show that they are culturally aware whether that is through sharing their awareness of: the news, politics, celebrity culture, science, technology or indeed any subject. McDermott argues that the content of a blog is not just about sharing information, or doing an activity because one enjoys it, but more because there is a need to evidence a certain type of character. Likewise, with Facebook, McDermott notes that profile pictures and cover photos are chosen to make a statement about what type of person you are. Uploaded photos usually reveal a great deal. Pictures from a night out might suggest that you are fun and outgoing. Pictures of couples suggest that you are lovable and able to sustain a positive relationship. Pictures of somebody on holiday suggest that you are cultured and even possibly rich enough to spend time away. Also the chosen location often says a lot about the person and what they choose to take photos of. Pictures of somebody doing charity work suggests that they are giving and almost implies that they have no time for superficial fun but concentrate on, “what really matters in life,” as McDermott says.

Lastly, who a person follows on Twitter reflects the type of role model they admire or are interested in. People often feel a need to show a connection to the most socially conventional celebrities rather than those who suggest a more independent character that allows a person to branch out of a social clique. McDermott’s study deems that behind all the reasoning for online activity, the manner in which people participate and the content in which they link themselves with is an attempt to evidence a strong social belonging.

Online Gaming edit

The gaming world allows the creation of personas through the development of virtual identities. In a multitude of games, online avatars can be customised, from their looks, clothing to their personalities. Players can therefore surpass offline identities, such as gender race and political beliefs; they become someone else, in a virtual world where their real character is hidden. Cultural habits can be expressed online, such as class, as well as a sense of cultural community and belonging. Online gaming has been used by some youth as a means for relieving stress, and can be viewed as a positive outlet for pent-up frustration. Conversely, studies have shown that those with pre-existing conditions play more frequently than others, gaming itself does little to solve the existent problems which have led to the escapism, and these more frequent gamers may be inclined to devote their time to gaming rather than tackle any problems head-on. This can lead to further stress, even more attempts to evade stressful situations, and lead to a vicious circle. [82]

Although the use on online identities is harmless to many users, there is the risk of addiction to online identities in the virtual, gaming world. The online identity of those in the gaming world is uniquely experimental [83], with people playing with their personas and personality to become someone they aspire to be, or lead the life they've always dreamed of within the realms of websites and gaming communities.

Online gaming can therefore become an addiction as a direct result of people maintaining the power to control the plot and story of their virtual life for themselves [84]. People step inside a world where they can create situations that wouldn’t happen in the nature of real life[85]. Therefore, one may feel a sense of disinhibition within their virtual life’s, contradicting their real life social being. One may adopt a life secondary to their reality, enabling them to roleplay as a virtual and highly idealised version of themselves. [86]. This can be taken a step further, with users encompassing a dissociative imagination.

The rise of Player vs Player (PvP) gaming has led to many gamers, especially within the game itself, having their identity of playing the game above many offline identities, such as race, gender, political or economic viewpoints becoming irrelevant. This use of anonymity within PvP gaming can reduce or challenge the pre-existing concepts of certain offline identities.

Fashion Industry edit

Similarly, the concept of constant technology has further branched out into other major industries across the world influencing fashion as well as culture and social aspects of everyday living. Zeki (2014) describes - in an interview with designer Tuba Ergin - of how the fashion world and technological world are becoming forever more 'harmonised' with each other, as well as how each compliment one another. Designer Ergin, showcased his designs at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Istanbul in 2014, which all included the new addition of circuit cards into each of his fashion garments including dresses and tops, and furthermore onto shoes and bags. Ergin (2014) mentions how each and every one of us now, as members of society, are fully under the influence of the sheer absorption of technology and this then further allows us to create an online identity. He even goes as far to state that "I believe there is almost no difference between drug abuse and technology addiction" [93] Such a statement allows us to see how we have fully established an online identity with our devices and the extent to which can be compared to such a heavily addictive substance such as drugs due to our online presence. In his interview, Ergin then goes on to discuss the developments of our devices that we are forever always using in our everyday lives such as technological glasses as well as watches. Such advances will allow us to grow our identities online even further. However, he then states that technology in the future will lead into clothes that can react to body temperature and the human pulse, such advancements will allow fitness merchandise to rocket, presumably.

Marketing Industry edit

Technological identity has had a massive influence over the business-orientated world. With people constantly being visible and in-corporated in their online world allows large businesses to make thousands of pounds from these users. The more people make themselves aware of being on their phones and technology devices, the more money companies make. Such large organisations such as Facebook allow their adverts to become more expensive and make great amounts of money on their customers simply through their use online being forever dominant in their world. Cookies and other internet bugs allow marketers to track every move we make online and more importantly, how long we are on a certain webpage for and where our mouse is hovering. Most importantly, our traits and how our personalities can be translated onto our online web activity. Such details allow them to store great information on the everyday user and can show the extent to how intense the everyday person is identified and present online. Therefore, it is clear that marketers are cashing in on ourselves having a constant online visibility.

Blended Identities edit

Although the concept of blended identity has its roots in the field of social psychology, it has been appropriated by media theorists in recent years to describe a specific two-part process of identity creation which has been observed online everywhere from fan forums to dating websites [87]. Firstly, a user will create an online persona which blends various elements of their offline identity together with aspects of the online group or environment they have chosen to join. Secondly, when the user meets a person they originally met online in an offline setting; aspects of their online persona will filter back into their offline identity[88].

For many people, there are both positive and negative implications of blending their online and offline identities. On the positive front, blended identities can provide certain people with opportunities to express themselves in ways which they could not do in the offline world. For example, Natilene Bowker and Keith Tuffin believe that the amount of control that an individual can exert over their online identity can allow people with disabilities to cultivate a sense of identity, free from the constraints of the social stigmas that they face in the offline world. So, by taking certain aspects of their offline identities and blending them with an online world which “removes the ocularcentrism governing the way people interpret and evaluate others”, they can be judged in terms of their character rather than in terms of their particular disability[89].

However, on the negative front, the temptation for people to create idealised personas online means that the blending of identities can cause delusional behaviour to spill back over into their offline identities. As a person becomes more absorbed in their online identity and accustomed to the control that they have over it in terms of impression management, it can become more preferable for them to believe that it more accurately reflects who they are than their offline identity does. This can potentially cause tension and distress when they are forced to interact with people – friends and family members, for example - in an offline environment who are unaware of their online identities.

Blended Identities In Fan Communities edit

Andrea J. Baker explores these ideas in relation to online fan culture her journal article: Mick or Keith: blended identity of online rock fans. Over a two year period, Baker studied members of various online fan forums for The Rolling Stones in both online and offline situations, in order to see how their online identities were constructed and how this influenced their offline identities. She found that the presentation of an online persona has three aspects: the username, the avatar and the manner in which the individual identifies with the object of their fandom[90].

Study Findings edit

Usernames typically reflected a users need to closely identify with the object of their fandom. Many users chose to name themselves after a song, a lyric or a nickname of one of the band members. Aside from this, users seemed to appreciate creativity in regards to username selection. While avatars can perform the same general purpose as a username, their primary function tended to be as pictorial indicators of status within the forum, as those who posted regularly often became identified by their avatar rather than the content of their usernames. Finally, all users were identified according to which member of the band they aligned themselves with. This was perhaps the most important factor, as it heavily influenced both username and avatar selection, as well as providing a limited insight into users’ character preferences. For example, users who identified with Mick Jagger tended to view him as being responsible and concerned. On the other hand, fans of Keith Richards saw Mick Jagger as being cold and controlling[91].

When Baker met the users she had been studying in an offline environment, she found that their online identities had profoundly influenced their offline identities; particularly in regards to behaviour. It was noted that both online and offline, men generally try to identify with the band members by showing a deep interest in the music. For example, many male fans obsessively collected obscure recordings from live shows or old demo tapes and spend a large amount of time discussing the guitar playing of Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood online. Conversely, women were generally more focused on trying to bond with the band members. Baker gives one example of a female fan who insisted that she was the wife of guitarist, Ronnie Wood, both online and offline[92].

Secondly, those with particularly memorable usernames were often referred to by their online username in offline environments. Additionally, the online forum of which a fan was a member appeared to influence the way they dressed. Members of the Shattered forum dressed in bright green t-shirts that they made themselves, whereas fans from other groups tried to avoid wearing any clothes that would obviously mark them as fans of the group. Interestingly, those who had actually met the band before tended to fall into the latter group rather than the former. However, the most divisive issue was the extent to which users chose to embrace their role as fans in an offline environment. While some users were happy to display overtly ‘fan-like’ behaviour in public, others were embarrassed to admit to people – especially family – that they were members of an online fan forum[93].

Concerns edit

Although Baker eventually concluded that more research into the effects of online identities on offline behaviour was needed, her study raises some interesting and concerning points about blended identities. It seems to be the case that the online aspects of a blended identity come to overshadow the offline ones. In the context of Baker’s study, this can be seen by the fact that forum users almost always came to be recognised by their usernames and avatars rather than by any particular aspect of their offline identities. Also, the forum community seemed more likely to judge a user’s character based upon the pre-existing stereotypes surrounding their favourite member of The Rolling Stones than by actually getting to know them. Consequently, many users - especially those who did not post frequently - could find themselves being characterised by mass generalisations and the superficial features of their online identities.

The impact of becoming immersed in this type environment was apparent in the behaviour that filtered back into users’ offline identities. Many seemed to feel that it was necessary for them to act out their online identities in the offline world in order to feel like they were still part of the fan community. People such as the woman who believed she was Ronnie Woods’ wife seemed to have had their offline identities subsumed by the sometimes bizarre online personas they had made for themselves. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, some people felt the need to hide any trace of their online identities and emphasize their offline identities for fear of being ridiculed by those outside the fan community. Therefore, it seems that although blending identities is a seemingly necessary part of being in an online community, people run the risk of losing their sense of self as they struggle to find the right balance between online and offline identities.

Blended Identities in Online Dating edit

Online dating is a good example of blending identity as often it involves both online and offline interaction. The idea is that the online and offline identities are to be similarly constructed, if not appear the same. One user is effectively judging another based on their profile page (which usually includes at least one photograph of themselves plus listed personality traits) contained on the dating website they are both using. Should one person find that they admire another's page, they may wish to contact them via a messaging service within the website or through an e-mail address or phone number visible on their profile page.

The intention of online dating is to seek out a potential partner, so should two users think that each other has potential they may wish to meet in a different social context i.e. offline (in the 'real world'). What the user generally hopes for is that the offline identity of their 'date' matches that of the online; for example, not to turn out to be older than they had represented themselves online, or of a different gender. This differs from fan communities as it is often preferred on dating websites that users display their real name and use a photograph of themselves as their profile picture so as not to mislead potential 'dates'.

Multiple Identities edit

The concept of multiple identities started with the first internet generation itself, looking back as far as the Cold War. In early internet culture there was a great desire to create a new self, whether it was simply create a unique username or creating a whole new persona. Forums and bulletin boards were popular outlets for people choosing to adopt a new persona in the early years of cyber culture. Despite the adoption of nicknames and personas, there was still a strong personal connection and arguably a greater responsibility tied to the posts made. Services such as Usenet often had more in common with our modern SNSs, in the sense that many users went by their full name in addition to listing rather personal details such as their alma mater or even their home address (this being well before the advent of satnav and Google Maps, of course).

People began to see computers as an escape from “official reality” says Proffesor of Media Geert Lovink in his critique of social media. He observes people realised they could “design futures, enhance bodies and extend minds.” [94] In the late 80s and early 90s, when what we know today as the internet was still in a relatively embryonic state, many theorists took this idea of bodily enhancement and extension of the mind rather literally; with some raising the possibility of Virtual Reality forming a useful tool in future online communications. Despite perhaps not taking place in the way they had anticipated, their central idea was prescient, namely that the internet would form a means with which to collectively share, compile, edit, expand, and distribute information.

In contrast to popular opinion that social media has only further enforced the notion of multiple identities Lovink suggest Facebook emphasizes a commitment to the “real self”. [95] He observes that this may be due to the feeling of being among friends on Facebook, it seems that Lovink believes the real has prevailed over the fake but also acknowledges this may have restricted our freedom online.

Surrounding this subject founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, controversially said: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity”. This entirely contradicts the influential beliefs of sociologist Erving Goffman who introduced the idea Dramaturgy, which argues that the elements of human interactions are dependent upon time, place, and audience.[96] This concept is still widely used in sociology and media studies today.

Online Identities and Personality Disorders edit

In 2002 Dr Adam Joinson put forward the theory that online participation allows people to pursue various forms of characterisation in order to gratify a range of audiences without causing conflict. [97] For example, a person might have a Facebook page that is suitable for their family and shows them behaving in a responsible and mature way. By on the other hand they may have another closed and private page which reveals a more wild personality which can be accessed by friends. This is done so that the person can explore their multiple personas with freedom, far from the fear of complaint and question.

Dr Joinson also speaks (on page 147) about a blogger called Rae-Rae Darron who has seven different blog sites. The person uses these different blogs to write about: celebrity culture, the concept of popular actors and singers versus talented actors and singers, fashion trends, local politics, the environment, natural science and evolution theories versus religion. Rae-Rae Darron did an interview with the magazine, “Wired,” in 2001 and explained that she had tried to have a blog page which explored all her areas of interest but was told that viewers were bored and unhappy about seeing such a mix and would rather have a page that was dedicated to one subject. Rae-Rae Darron then explained that she felt she could no longer express her holistic and broad personality, but had to box her interests in order to appeal to viewers with different interests and ideals.

In 2010 the incident of Rae-Rae Darron was revisited by psychologist James. F Masterson in a follow on book from his 1990 edition on personality disorders. [98] Masterson argues that people have become so intent on making separate zones of performance on the internet that there is a danger of losing the reality of self. If a person spends so much energy into wearing different social masks, then they begin to forget which one is sincere and which one is most dominant or important. By turning away from the right to hold a natural and genuine personality which is constant in its strengths, weaknesses and individuality, then realism no longer exists and honest identities are no longer known resulting in confused personality disorders transferring from the internet into real life.

Cultural Theories applied to Online Identity edit

Technological Determinism edit

Although much of Marshall McLuhan's pioneering research into the subject of media theory was conducted during the early 1960's - a media landscape vastly different from today's - his ideas surrounding Technological Determinism have shaped how we understand media and are still drawn upon by contemporary theorists, such as Hamid van Koten, who applies McLuhan's theoretical frameworks to the subject of Online Identity in his book 'Digital Visual Culture: Theory and Practice'. In ’Understanding the Media: The Extensions of a Man’ McLuhan highlights the unidentified and almost unnoticeable power of technologies to transform and manipulate how one identifies ’the self’. Applying this idea to the subject of Online Identity, one might say that the main issue raised by the idea of a person having a distinct online persona and its importance to how people interact with each other and reflect on themselves is that it isn't fully – or maybe at all – in one’s control. McLuhan raises the question of whether computers extend to the human nervous system, gaining a control over how people perceive and use media without their notice.

Cultural Determinism edit

At the opposite end of the cultural theory spectrum is Raymond Williams, whose ideas on ’Cultural Determinism’, outlined in his book Television, Technology and Cultural Form have been critical to the formulation of the theory that it is not the medium itself that directly influences the behaviour of individuals, but the pre-existing social and cultural phenomena that were the catalysts for the medium's production. With this in mind, the idea of Online Identities being an integral part of many people's everyday lives can be linked to a user's pre-existing desire for it to exist; perhaps to increase chances of social interactions with others or for individuals to be able to experience life in a way that would be impossible while using their offline identity.

Theorists edit

Hamid Van Koten edit

- ‘The Digital Image and the Pleasure Principle: The Consumption of Realism in the Age of Simulation’ 

Van Koten's main research questions illustrated in this paper come under:

· What are the forces at work in the production and consumption of digital representations? For example what makes digital gaming so popular?

· What are the narrative and representational issues involved, and what do these tell us about our culture and ourselves?

Specifically the paper seeks to uncover two themes: Narrative and Realism as the dominant form of digital representations in terms of production, and the Lacanian shift from the real to the imaginary as the dominant drive towards the consumption of these representations.

In his paper Von Koten argues that video games act as an outlet for forces within the collective subconscious, allowing what Jung called the animus and anima breathing space. Quite simply put, it provides an outlet for desires that we may be unable to realise or satisfy within the confines of “real life”. It could be said that the same is applicable to the internet and social media as a whole. In many cases this can be beneficial, as seen in the benevolence with which people help out or donate to causes that may be hundreds of miles away from them. On the other hand, some may use their online ability and the relative anonymity often comes with it for less-than-positive purposes, such as committing crimes or harassing other users.

Additionally, van Koten cites the work of George Gerbner.

George Gerbner edit

Van Koten refers to a longitudinal study of television conducted by George Gerbner over the space of almost 30 years. Through his research he found that people's perceptions of their world are affected by their television viewing habits. e.g. those who were found to watch a large amount to television each week tended to view the world as a more violent place than it really was.

Gerbner supports the theory that film and television representations of gender, ethnic minority and power relationships are important factors for the construction and maintenance of a social identity in real life, and the same could be said about our construction of online identity. Hence, to a certain extent people model their personal and online personae on what they see portrayed to them through the media. However the counter argument to this is that what is portrayed in the media is constructed from pre-existent social values, attitudes and beliefs.

Jonathan Vanasco edit

- 'Meta-Identities and Identity Facets'

Jonathan Vanasco delves into the idea of how within life people display different personas within separate social circles of their lives, whether it be with their friends, family or colleagues. Vanasco argues that this is then reflected through our multiple online identities that we create e.g. using separate email addresses for different content (private, work, education etc). The same can be applicable when people use different SMSs in different ways while conforming to the conventions of that particular site (Facebook - professional, Instagram - creative, Snapchat - quirky). A detailed explanation of Vanasco's work can be found here -Vanasco's Theory

Jaron Lanier edit

Jaron Lanier is important when looking at online identity. He was one of the original digital pioneers, however he is not a “leading-edge techno-enthusiast.”[99] In his book You Are Not A Gadget he discusses his worry about the particular ways in which the Web, in particular focusing on Facebook, has developed and what this means for online creativity and self-expression.

He argues that the HTML messy homepages of the 1990s were better than the ‘improvement’ of Facebook (where the result is nice neat sets of boxes of pictures and information.) He puts individual creativity and self-expression above all else, and therefore concludes that the diverse, handcrafted personal pages were much more preferable than “formulaic, template-driven expressions of identity pushed by Facebook.”[100] It did not matter that they were messy, had unexpected tones or lacked uniformity - it was their idiosyncratic nature that lent them a distinctly human touch, in strong contrast to the inflexible and sterile pages preferred by major modern SNSs.

Lanier argues that we should always be willing to spend a bit of time making personal representations of our identity and that we cannot allow ourselves to be reduced to a template. One of his key concerns is that digital systems reduce everything to simple bits of information so that they can be processed.[101] He warns that when we reduce our humanity to fit the requirements of a machine we lose something of ourselves. He argues that whilst the uniform nature of Facebook profiles keep things simple and predictable, human beings are worth cherishing because of their distinctive and individual natures- not because they are simple and predictable.[102] He further argues that Web 2.0 reduces individual creativity to general ‘mush’, causing a dilution and silence of individual voice in the name of collaboration.

Marshall McLuhan edit

Marshall McLuhan is a key theorist in the subject of digital media and his main ideas derive from technological determinism. He once said that “the medium is the message”, a phrase which epitomises his approach towards technologies and their influence on society. McLuhan believed that all media is an extension of the human body that cause deep and lasting changes to his environment, describing this extension as being an "amplification of an organ". [103] This can be applied to online identity as our online selves can be seen as an extension of our current identities. Therefore, McLuhan's theory of technological determinism can be argued as being applicable to the concept of online identity. McLuhan also introduced the idea of Hot and Cold Media, with Hot media referring to that which involves a low level of participation (such as radio and cinema) and Cool media involving high participation (daily conversations, TV, phone services). However, due to continuous media convergence this becomes harder to apply to the internet and its related services.

Zizi Papacharissi edit

Zizi Papacharissi is an academic whose work on online identity covers areas including communication technology and communication theory. Papacharissi is currently a Professor and Head of the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her work focuses on 'the social and political consequences of new media technologies'.

Her work on the book 'A Networked Self' saw an investigation into the comparititive links between Facebook photo galleries and the user's online identities. The findings show that participants both knowingly and unknowingly seek to define and refine a positive view of themselves through impression management, done through the constant updating of SNS and profile pictures. See Profile Pictures Below for more information.

JJ Wright edit

JJ Wright, interested in the effects that online activity can have on a person’s identity, asks whether “the field of cyberspace/online activity is complicating or simplifying identity and communications"? He of course answers “both” as online presence has both a complicating and simplifying effect on human identity. He argues that back in the day, before the global village, in a time without modern technology and without the web which holds our precious social networking sites, identity was easily defined via the physical traits that a person held. • Gender • Race • Ethnicity • Age • Weight. These traits which individuals had in common with one another collectively came together to create shared identities. Now however, people are more concentred with individual identity and with complete access to an online world, which offers an endless amount of possibilities when it comes to changing one’s self, it is much easier for people to control their individual identity’s and keep on top of them as they filter what others may see about them online.

While it is very common for individuals to often dabble a little in altering or changing ones online identity, like those of whom gender swap when using online realities such as Second Life or playing online games such World of Warcraft (WOW), on the whole it is thought that individuals tend to rather be more open about themselves, in a sense becoming public online, than they would be offline. The reason for this is that there is a lower risk of negative reaction when socialising or sharing things about yourself online. Individuals may also experience less judgment online of their real characteristics such as race, religion or age, and so in turn be more inclined to share things about their identity which have no relevance to their physical characteristics and thus improving or building on their “project of self”.

A persons “project of self” is essentially ones on going and changing identity. JJ Wright argues that we take our offline identities to online and our online ones to offline which of course all add to our "project of self". For JJ Wright, all the internet does is offers us the chance to break down the barriers which may prevent us from interaction in the real world and become the internet makes this possible it means that people can play with their identities in a way which may have no real negative impact on their offline life’s. The internet then offers a sphere for interaction without judgment of physical characteristics which may have prevented face to face communication. [104]

Find his original article here.

Glossary edit

Catfishing: Pretending to be someone you're not online by posting false information, such as someone else's pictures, on social media sites. The term is inspired by the 2010 documentary Catfish directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.

Cultural Determinism: A theory which instils importance in the circumstances within which technology emerges in addition to the way in which it is utilised. As championed by Raymond Williams.

Customised advertising: A form of online advertising that is shaped and displayed according to the target customer's personal information generated through social networking profiles.

Disinhibition: Lack of restraint manifested in several ways, including disregard for social conventions, impulsivity, and poor risk assessment. In this case lack of restrain due to 'protect' of being online.

Dissociative: Detached, whether from identity or surroundings. In the context of Online Identity, this is often used to refer to behaviour exhibited by an individual online which may differ (moderately or drastically) from what they do in their lives offline.

Offline Identity: A form of personal identity which has been formed in the physical world for the purpose of conducting social, informational and commercial interactions in an offline environment.

Persona: A character or a role that a person assumes through a performance.

Public displays of connection: The showing (off) of friends though Social Networking Sites.

Targeted advertisement: A form of online advertising with companies aiming to shape their product display according to website relevant content or their target group’s interests. This is often done by tracking people's surfing behaviour.

Technological Determinism: The theory that it is technology which shapes sociocultural values and structures society. A somewhat idealistic approach, it was adopted by pioneering digital media theorist Marshall McLuhan.

Transgressive: Breaking a law or moral rule

Prosumer: A combination of producer (in some instances professional) and consumer

Realism: Inclination or attachment to what is real; (hence) the attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly; any view or system contrasted with idealism

Notes edit

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