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Me, myself and the internet: the many faces that make up my online identity

Cover image: ‘Faces’ by muffinn (CC BY 2.0) sourced from Flickr (adaptations made to size of image) 

The traditional understanding of identity is no longer the only understanding. Interaction through the internet has developed a new perspective on what identity is and can be. An exploration of my own online identity highlights the variations in defining identity online and in the physical world, authenticity in identity construction online and anonymity.

Online identity 

Up until until now, my previous understanding of identity was simply just as a person’s attributes and preferences. Internet Society very eloquently defines it as: “You are who you are and what you do…your identity is the sum of your characteristics” (Internet Society 2011, para. 3).  Some characteristics never change, such as your date of birth, nationality, and birthplace, whereas there are other characteristics that can change over time, for example your hair colour or shoe size (Internet Society 2011, para. 3).

Moving from the physical world into the online world, however, the definition of identity begins to change. Andrew Wood and Matthew Smith define it as “a complex personal and social construct, consisting in part of who we think ourselves to be, how we wish others to perceive us, and how they actually perceive us”. (Wood and Smith 2014, p. 52). Irma van Der Ploeg and Jason Pridmore also mention that it is the “outcome of processes, practices, social interactions and on-going construction” (Van der Ploeg and Pridmore 2016, p.18). The construction of online identity is an ever-evolving process that changes according to your interactions with various online platforms.

For example, the tweet below is from one of my old Twitter accounts. If find it to be an interesting observation about how my preferences and interests changed over time, which influenced the way I felt about my online identity in the past. Our online identities can change over time, just as we do in the physical world.

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A tweet from my a Twitter profile I no longer use (Twitter screenshot from: Anastasia Fountain)

Although both identity in the physical world and identity online both evolve over time, the two are not the same thing. The Internet Society states that “Your online identity is not the same as your real world identity because the characteristics you represent online differ from the characteristics you represent in the physical world” (Internet Society 2011, para. 5). The things you share about your identity both online and in the physical world are the same, but the process of identity construction differs.

Identity construction online is done so rather selectively. I only represent certain things about myself on some websites and not others, whereas in the physical world I can of course represent the same characteristics or attributes, but it is harder to be selective in such a process. For example, in the physical world I don’t have the ability to pause mid-conversation and consider how to alter an interaction with someone according to how I would like it to be perceived. Online, however, there is the ability to construct myself the way I like, by way of ‘stage management’ for the purpose of self-presentation (cited in Poletti and Rak 2013, p.75), with the computer or other electronic device acting as a facilitation device for construction (Wood and Smith 2014, p. 51).

The selectivity involved with online identity can also be referred to as ‘partial identities’ (Internet Society 2011, para. 5). For example, LinkedIn is like an online version of your curriculum vitae, and a representation of one of my partial identities as a teacher. In the process of creating my LinkedIn profile, I selected information to share on my profile that is specifically related to my experience, skills and strengths related to teaching and education. The fact that I like watching cat videos on YouTube or that my favourite colour is purple has nothing to do with what I am trying to achieve as a job seeker and is therefore selectively excluded because such information does not fit with this partial identity.

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The content I have included on my LinkedIn profile is specific to who I am as an employee (LinkedIn screenshot from: Anastasia Fountain)

Facebook, on the other hand, is a social media platform designed to connect and interact with others, with the ability to share digital media content. The purpose of Facebook is different to LinkedIn, and so I manage self-presentation according to a different partial identity: a more care-free, happy and relaxed persona. Through the use of digital media, I am able to select the aspects of my identity which I would like to share with people in an attempt to influence how they will perceive me.

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An image from my Facebook account conveying a happy situation with friends. (Facebook screenshot from: Anastasia Fountain)

Authenticity

There is often the discussion about whether or not online platforms are authentic representations of identity. It’s easy to take everything we see online as truth just because of the way something may appear in an image or other form of digital media, but it is important to remember the ability to ‘stage manage’ and set something up in an attempt to control other people’s perceptions. According to Richard Allen, Facebook’s director of policy in Europe, “photos are a very instinctive and powerful way to confirm authentic identity” (Krotoski 2012, para. 4). The level of authenticity can also relate to the choice of labels or names one can use to represent themselves online.

The tweet below is from my current Twitter account. I have included my actual name both in the Twitter name and handle, with a clear image of my face. I choose to do so because I prefer to present myself online as ‘authentically’ or as genuinely as possible in relation to who I believe I am. I also feel comfortable with publicly owning the things that I share.

Twitter screenshot 3
The content shared in this tweet relates to my interests, an aspect of my identity as a teacher (Twitter screenshot from: Anastasia Fountain)

I also choose to use my real name because that is part of how I view authenticity in relation to online identity. It was not always the case, however, for me to use my real name, as I sometimes chose to remain anonymous.

Anonymity

Global perspectives

When using the internet, people can choose whether or not to reveal who they are. The tweet below is from several years ago when I preferred not to use my name for online accounts where I shared some of my writing and photography. Of course my nickname is included in my Twitter name, but aside from the name and my Twitter profile picture, I preferred to remain slightly anonymous.

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Changing names with identities (Twitter screenshot from: Anastasia Fountain)

This tweet also highlights the ability to ‘choose’ who we want to be online according to how we construct out identities at a certain point in time. I no longer feel the same about those old usernames because I don’t feel that they are an accurate representation of my identity as I see it today.

However, when I did function online with a ‘hidden identity’ or pseudonym, the ability to remain anonymous but still interact and share things online as I normally would enabled me to interact online with the knowledge that the perceptions of other people had no effect on who I really am in the physical world; “Because [pseudonymous users’] handles aren’t based on real names, they can deliberately delineate their identity accordingly, and reinstate anonymity if they wish” (Krotoski 2012, para. 11).

Overall, however, the thoughts and opinions I express, the digital media I share, and the interactions I have (anonymous or not) – and whether or not these things change over time – is all a part of what makes up my identity online: “the result is that you have one true identity and many partial identities” (Internet Society 2011, para 6). Some things I can control in relation to my online identity (the things I share or post), but others I cannot (others’ perceptions of me).

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My broader online activity in relation to the unit: 

The activity I have conducted online in relation to the ALC708 unit began slowly. I was hesitant at first to post things on my Twitter account because I was unsure about how to best get involved. But over time, I gained the confidence and understanding of the unit and have posted multiple blogs on my WordPress site relating to various weekly topics, including Creative Commons, social media and identity, identity construction and exploring the process of making a podcast. Most of the content that I have shared or created myself has focused on the issue of online identity because I think it’s an important thing to be aware of when using the internet and digital media.

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Resources and references:

Internet Society 2011, Understanding your online identity, Internet Society, retrieved 7 April, 2017, https://www.internetsociety.org/sites/default/files/Understanding%20your%20Online%20Identity%20An%20Overview%20of%20Identity.pdf

Krotoski A, 2012, Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?, The Guardian, retrieved April 8, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity

Poletti A, Rak J 2013, Identity technologies: Constructing the online self, The University of Wisconsin Press, retrieved 7 April, 2017, Ebook Library database

Van der Ploeg I, Pridmore J, 2016 Digitizing identities: doing identity in a networked world, Routledge, Taylor and Francis group, retrieved 7 April, 2017, Ebook Library database

Wood A, Smith M 2014 Online Communication: Linking technology, identity and culture, Psychology Press, Taylor and Francis Group, retrieved 8 April, 2017, Ebook Library database

Youth IFG Project, Global perspectives on online anonymity, Youth IFG Project, retrieved 8 April, 2017, http://www.youthigfproject.com/uploads/8/5/3/6/8536818/global_perspectives_on_online_anonymity.pdf

Images: 

Cover image: ‘Faces’ by muffinn (CC BY 2.0) sourced from Flickr (adaptations made to size of image)

LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter screenshots from the accounts of Anastasia Fountain

Infographic created by Anastasia Fountain. Information sourced from: The Youth IFG Project 

Digital media: the building blocks for identity construction

The big question: Has contemporary digital media culture fundamentally transformed the ways in which people construct their identities? 

Well, first of all, what is identity? And how do you define it? Does this definition change in the context of digital media? How does the use of digital media influence the way people construct their own identities?

Join me on my somewhat winding and intricate virtual exploration of what identity really is, the ways in which people construct their own identities, and the level of authenticity that is associated with such identity construction.

 

Image: Anastasia Fountain

Identity online: how does it differ to real life?

It’s not unusual for me to spend hours scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, caught up in looking at what others have posted and flicking through their new photos. I don’t know why but I find it so fascinating to look at how people present themselves online and the things that they choose to post.

Week 4’s topic for ALC708 (social media and identity) got me thinking about the importance of being aware about identity and how that actually fits in with social media. Are people aware of how they present themselves online? Is there a certain way that they do that? Why do they do that?

I’ve created a short Slideshare with some things that I think are important when thinking about how identity can change when using social media:

 

Stepping out of my comfort zone: making a podcast

Well it was bound to happen eventually given that I am required to make a podcast for an assignment, so I thought I may as well give it a crack and test it out!

The first thing I needed to do was find and download some free audio editing software  that I could work out how to use and wasn’t going to be too complicated. I spent a good while serching Google Play and testing out different apps and it actually took me longer than I thought to find something that I liked and could use (of course finding decent apps that are free are always going to be a little tricky).

After I had worked out the bits and bobs of the editing software there came the daunting task of actually having to record something. I was stuck on what the topic should be and considered talking about something completely unrelated to the ALC708 unit but settled on talking about podcasts in general. This, I actually found a bit interesting, because I had to do a little bit of research and I ended up learning new some things. When I was doing the recordings I was always conscious of trying not to sound too monotonous or like I was reading straight from a script or something. Given that it was my first attempt I hope I did ok! But practise makes perfect, as they say, and there are certainly things I can improve upon.

After recording what I needed, I then tried my hand at importing the audio onto the editing software and played around with the editing tools, cutting dead spaces where there were long pauses and fixing some bits to make it seem a little more coherent. I also chose some music to include for the intro and outro parts just to make it sound a little more like interesting and not just me talking away.

So basically that’s the process I followed, and I know that it’s not perfect; there are moments where I do sound slightly monotonous and am unsure about the content but all in all it was a fun experience and has given me a little more confidence in being able to produce something for the actual assignment.

Creative Commons: what does it all mean?!

 

Right, so. I’ve spent the past few days reading up about Creative Commons – what it is and why it’s important.

It’s one of those things that I don’t really know much about but is actually pretty important stuff, so I endeavoured to make myself understand what exactly it is and why it all exists in the first place.

After a bit of reading and watching and listening I have ended up creating this Prezi presentation as a way of trying to simplify the information I have been immersed in, and I’m hoping that I’ve done it right! (Also, if you’re like me, everything is more fun when colours and pictures are involved).

To view my Prezi presentation just click on the image below!

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The Thinker (Flickr), by Gaby Av, CC BY

 

Fifteen Million Merits: An overview

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Black Mirror – Fifteen Million Merits (Flickr) by Saulo Cruz CC BY-NC-SA

I recently watched an episode of Black Mirror titled Fifteen Million Merits and I have to say, it was somewhat confronting. I think for the most part, the elements that seemed most confrontational were only so because the themes and messages conveyed in the episode are easily transferable to real life.

I started a thread about this particular episode on Reddit to gauge other people’s reactions and thoughts and briefly outlined my own. A link to the thread can be found here – Black Mirror: Fifteen Million Merits 

I’ve decided, however, to explore my thoughts about Fifteen Million Merits in a little more depth, which precisely is what you’ll find below. I’ve drawn on the original points I made in the Reddit thread and expanded on them.

The way we present ourselves using technology and the identity we create

This episode of Black Mirror got me thinking about the way we communicate with each other and the role that technology plays in our lives. Technology has changed rapidly over the years and with is has become integrated in our everyday lives. Along with this rapid evolution came the birth of digital media and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – just to name a few. The thing that often makes me think is the way that we portray a certain image of ourselves to present to other people on these social media platforms.

There is often the discussion that those smiling, happy faces you see on your Facebook or Instagram feeds are not always a true representation of the people who are posting. There is a certain selectivity that enables social media users to pick and choose the content they wish to share with their online friends, thus creating the appearance of an apparently cheerful and carefree life. People are not likely to share with everyone if they have crippling anxiety or severe self-esteem issues (of course some people do, but it’s not necessarily very common). It’s a lot easier for people to slap on a smile and their best outfit and upload some candid shots from a girls’ night out than comfortably admit their insecurities or struggles.

Because of this ability to share selected content in whichever way we choose, we are actively creating an identity we want to share with people that masks the less-than-appealing details that might affect that happy image we want people to see.

The ability to use technology to only present a certain perspective or to manipulate information and the way it is presented

The talent show aspect of Fifteen Million Merits seemed like nothing but a warped, delusional outlet to harvest innocent, young dreamers who are willing to do anything to make a name for themselves, and manipulate them for entertainment. The ‘Hot Shot’ talent show was never about people’s hopes or dreams nor were their best interests ever considered, although the people involved in the show tried to make it appear that way.

Much of the ‘reality’ television our channels are bombarded with is all based on the selection and editing of information. No one’s going to watch hours and hours of straight, uncut footage in the hopes that something interesting might happen. There are teams of editors and producers that manipulate the situations they are filming, and then take it back to the editing room to pick and choose the parts that are going to get the most views.

Even beyond the aspect of reality television, the use of technology enables people to present only a certain perspective of things and manipulate information and the way it is presented.

A comment on people’s obsession with materialism and the value they place on material objects. Are they really that important?

Bing’s speech in Fifteen Million Merits brings to light the arbitrary nature of their doppels and the pointlessness of using merits to buy them ‘things’ (if you’ve not yet seen Bing’s speech or need a refresher, I encourage you to find the episode on Netflix, it’s a ripper). There’s also a lot more other content to his speech but I’m mentioning this particular part to draw on a parallel to our own lives and our apparent need to work towards buying ‘things’ and objects in order to feel like we are successful. People often measure the success of another based on the things that they own, when this is not necessarily true. What does it all mean anyway? Why is that a measure of success? In the end, people are going to remember you more for what you did and how you acted, than the possessions that you own.

There is certainly more I could delve into if I had the time, but it’s definitely an interesting and thought-provoking episode  about a number of relevant issues in the real world today involving technology and information. If you’ve not seen Fifteen Million Merits, it’s definitely worth checking out on Netflx.

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