Should multiple online identities be allowed?

As we interact with different websites, each has a different perception of who we are. These perceptions are referred to as partial identities – subsets of our true identity. Take Amazon for example who store cookies to build an identity through the products we buy. This information is then used for our benefit, for example by advertising on Facebook.

In addition, we also present personas online. These are partial identities which are instead constructed by ourselves.

fbsignup
Screenshot taken from https://www.facebook.com

 

Example 1: When creating a Facebook account I used personal characteristics such as my name and date of birth.

Example 2: When creating a Reddit account I constructed an ‘anonymised’ persona with a pseudonym.

 

 

Here I presented two different personas, I feel the reason for this can be explained with notions of presentation (the persona we portray online) and reputation (how other people’s judgements influence our behaviour) as outlined by Costa and Torres (2011). The perceived reputation of our behaviour can in fact dictate how we present ourselves online. On Facebook, I chose to use personal information such as my name as I wanted to connect with friends. On Reddit, I used a pseudonym, mainly because everyone else did. The judgement I may have faced if I had gone against the norms of the community, impacted the way I presented myself.

Multiple online identities raise questions over authenticity, causing social media services such as Facebook to develop strategies to breed trust.

Video based on article found here

Here Facebook felt DJ wasn’t portraying his true identity and so shut the profile down. In any case, should it have mattered if he was using a different online identity? I’ve outlined the pros and cons of having more than one online identity below.

 

procon
Made using Canva (https://www.canva.com/)

 

I support multiple online identities, though I can understand why Facebook consider a single, authentic profile important. Additionally, I understand that multiple online identities can bring issues (see Justine Sacco’s story). However I feel users need to be educated on how their actions online can directly affect their lives offline rather than being limited in how they can behave.

The approach to stick to a single identity is restrictive. Someone may be reluctant to share information through an authentic identity on Facebook but feel happy to do so on Reddit. Surely the analysis of what a person says can paint a truer picture of their identity?

Word count: 393

References

Costa, C. & Torres, R., 2011. To be or not to be, the importance of Digital Identity in the networked society. Educação, Formação & Tecnologias-ISSN 1646-933X, pp. 47-53. Available at: http://eft.educom.pt/index.php/eft/article/view/216/126

Krotoski, A., n.d. Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity

Understanding your Online Identity: An Overview of Identity. Available at: https://www.internetsociety.org/sites/default/files/Understanding%20your%20Online%20Identity%20An%20Overview%20of%20Identity.pdf

Facebook shut me down because my name is DJ: Disabled man left ‘isolated’ after social media row. Available at: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/facebook-shut-down-because-name-9525251

Graphics

Feature Image: Made with wordclouds (http://www.wordclouds.com/) using text from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity

Video made using Powtoon (https://www.powtoon.com)

Pros & Cons image made using Canva (https://www.canva.com/)

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9 thoughts on “Should multiple online identities be allowed?

  1. Hi Callum,

    I really liked the visuals you produced for your post, especially the video about the Facebook account closure case. With regards to that situation, I personally would say that I appreciate the measures in place to ensure our safety on Facebook but I think some form of contact to users before decisions like that are made would probably be less controversial. Did you feel that the closure was necessary or not? Also, you raised a good point about the fact that we portray different identities offline and should be able to do the same thing online. I felt that this implied that you see an alignment between the online and offline spheres, which a lot of people see as completely opposing. Do you think that we should be able to carry out our lives online as similarly as possible to the way we do in ‘real life’?

    Word Count: 149

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Louise, thanks for the comments!
      I feel in DJ’s case, Facebook were wrong. He even sent his driving licence to prove his name! When we look at the process as whole, it’s a tricky one. I understand why Facebook close accounts as the real value in the service comes in the confidence users have over the identity of friends. However, I feel users should be encouraged to instead identify false profiles themselves. What if someone’s ‘genuine’ profile was hacked? Facebook’s closing of accounts wouldn’t be sufficient here.

      I’d be interested to read a discussion opposing an alignment between the online and offline spheres as you mentioned? Social media is becoming so embedded within our lives meaning the distinction between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ is increasingly blurred. I don’t feel we should be actively looking to mirror our offline behaviour when online but instead acting how we want to, with freedom.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Callum,
        I agree with your point on the Facebook scenario and often times, identifying fake profiles ourselves has become necessary because security measures aren’t always used appropriately when they’re needed. I’ve had this case happen to several friends of mine.
        I also feel as though in a few years, it would be interesting to reevaluate this blurring of boundaries between our online and offline lives, specifically referring to social media, to see how the later generations see it.
        Thank you for your insightful response.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Callum
    I completely understand where you are coming from in regards to authenticity issues arising when a user must validate their identity on social networking sites but to what intents and purpose do you think Social networking sites are doing this? For instance does Facebook make their users verify their accounts to protect them from catfishing or identity theft, or are they doing this for their business model, so that they can pass on accurate data to third parties for advertising or data mining purposes.

    Louise, although you and Callum make a good point about having multiple online identities reflecting offline doesn’t that contradict the fact that there are individuals who do not feel comfortable revealing parts of their identity in the real world, such as transgenders and so must hide it but are free to express and negotiate their identity behind the shield of a monitor.
    Word Count: 146

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ji, thanks for the comment.

      I think fundamentally it comes down to their business model, as you suggested. However they recently announced ‘The Facebook Journalism Project’(https://media.fb.com/2017/01/11/facebook-journalism-project/), focussing on delivering stronger news through Facebook. Authenticity is surely key to doing this. Perhaps this explains why it is such an important issue for them?

      You make a good point about individuals who may not want to reveal their ‘real world’ identity online and this is just one of the reasons why the web is such a powerful tool. Fundamentally I think it again comes down to choice. As I mentioned, I don’t feel we should all be forced to mirror the identity we portray offline, online but the ability to do so should be available. I feel the openness of the web is key to its success and any restrictions on how we identify ourselves could hamper any future developments.

      Like

  3. Hi Callum,
    I found the way you covered DJ’s case insightful: foregrounding how services ‘allow’ multiple identities. As your post highlighted, and Ji and Louise foregrounded, social network providers seem to shape whether multiple identities are permissible: I also highlighted this when arguing applications leave users with little ‘agency’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agency_(sociology) to create and control their own identity, which Krotoski’s article reflects around how 4Chan and Facebook provide varied anonymity https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity. My personal experience, as a visitor in a resident’s world, meant Facebook ‘friends’ could reference me through ‘tagging’, creating a digital footprint http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/D/digital_footprint.html without my choice.
    I agree users require education around managing multiple identities online: this view conflicts somewhat with the view suggested that ‘Facebook are wrong’ to restrict identity: I therefore wondered if you had considered if organisations like Facebook require further education around the changes to make to their ‘platform functionalities’ to allow multiple identities?
    Cheers,
    Wil

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Wil, thanks for your comment.

      That’s an interesting point you raise around being a ‘visitor in a resident’s world’. I can see why one may be quick to suggest ‘Facebook are wrong’ to restrict identity. I suppose their success has to come down to something, perhaps it is this control over user behaviour?

      For Facebook to allow multiple identities, there would have to be a real incentive for them to do so. There are multiple reasons for the use of multiple identities whether it be to ‘whistle blow’ or to separate working life from professional life. Fundamentally, I don’t think many of these reasons warrant a change in behaviour that would bring more success than damage to the reputation of the service. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Callum,
        Thank you for your reply,
        It is a challenging situation, to be a visitor in a resident’s world. There are different expectations around behaviours I have compared to ‘friends’ on Facebook, which, in turn, affects the extent I am expected to adopt multiple personas through my digital footprints, on a service that is supposedly trying to provide one consistent unified identity, as far as a partial identity would allow, of course.
        There is an assumption made occasionally in usage that users would like to unify their identities in the single versus multiple identity debate, as Zuckerberg reflects a push for one identity, when, I don’t think this is always necessarily true.
        Perhaps, Facebook’s success comes down to many factors, including control, but also ‘platform functionalities’ and ‘corporate interests’, that I didn’t have words or space to elaborate on, that affect their success.
        I think multiple identities could present problems for Facebook to implement as part of their architecture, partly because some users would welcome the changes, others would not, thus, as you highlight, affect the reputation and damage of the service. I am sure, however, that such multiple identities occur frequently, as people gamify multiple identities across platforms, as Lee highlights at https://www.engadget.com/2016/03/04/multiple-online-identities/ in outlining how different services are used to construct different identities.
        I could provide a further elaboration, if you would be interested, around these points, and some of the other points I have?
        Cheers,
        Wil

        Like

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