As the “digital residents and visitors” topic taught us, most web-related subjects are not black or white. Similarly, having multiple online identities is not an absolute debate, but rather serves many purposes, given it is employed properly. But what do we mean by multiple online identities?
In this context, its not about simply using different accounts for e-shopping or e-banking. It means portraying different personas altogether. When we talk about identity, we refer to who we are and what we do (e.g. name, DOB, likes, dislikes) (Internet Society,2016). At a first glance, the idea of having multiple online identities might seem deceptive, manipulative or even dangerous. However, as I mentioned before, given the right circumstances it can prove to be a very useful tool. We will attempt to explore both aspects of this topic.
A major benefit of having multiple online identities is anonymity. This enables users to express themselves without fear of being judged which can be very important for the development of the self. Many empirical studies have shown that the willingness to self-disclose is significantly higher in the context of computer-mediated communication than in face-to-face settings, with anonymity playing a catalytic role (Bargh, McKenna & Fitzsimons, 2002; Chiou & Wan, 2006; Joinson, 2001). Dr. Campbell taught the “Cyberpsychology and e-Health” module whilst I was studying at the University of Sydney, and his main research was how the web could benefit therapies for mental disorders. He always stressed that anonymity is the main reason why patients feel comfortable in self-disclosing crucial information regarding their mental health. Thus, having multiple online identities can protect people’s reputation, with regards to sensitive issues, such as health. Furthermore, it allows users to keep their personal and professional lives separate. The last thing anyone wants is their boss seeing a questionable picture of them.
But how safe are we from our bosses seeing that picture of us dancing on a bar? Moby stated in the documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply: “Anything that’s been digitised, is not private”. This documentary emphasises the vast amount of data that is accessible on the web, that we willingly put out there, whether we know it or not. Just think how many times you ticked the box “I Agree” without reading the terms. Moreover, changing your name and picture does not necessarily protect you from people finding out your true identity. The popular TV show Catfish is a great example of this. If this presenter can find out who is hiding behind the computer screen, I’m sure employers possess much more intelligent software which is able to trace anyone’s digital footprint. In fact, comedian Jack Vale used social media to access information about close-by strangers and then pretended to be psychic.
“What if Andy Warhol had it wrong, and instead of being famous for 15 minutes, we’re only anonymous for that long?” – Juan Enriquez
Juan Enriquez ingeniously compares the “digital footprint” to a “digital tattoo” and goes even further, talking about cyber immortality. I think this is a great way of thinking about our online presence and whether we wish to use one or more online identities, we need to be aware of the fact that we are not as anonymous as we think. Undoubtedly, our digital footprint is very important and our personal data may linger in cyberspace for years. Thus, being aware of the privacy settings for the online platforms we use, is crucial.
To conclude the current topic, this Presentation displays the main pros and cons of using multiple online identities and also gives some tips on how to use them effectively.
Featured image retrieved from: https://pixabay.com/en/woman-face-head-question-mark-241327/
Bargh, J., McKenna, K., & Fitzsimons, G. (2002). Can You See the Real Me? Activation and Expression of the “True Self” on the Internet. Journal Of Social Issues, 58(1), 33-48. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1540-4560.00247
Chiou, W., & Wan, C. (2006). Sexual Self-Disclosure in Cyberspace among Taiwanese Adolescents: Gender Differences and the Interplay of Cyberspace and Real Life. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 9(1), 46-53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/cpb.2006.9.46
Joinson, A. (2001). Self-disclosure in computer-mediated communication: The role of self-awareness and visual anonymity. European Journal Of Social Psychology, 31(2), 177-192. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.36