Multiple Online Identities: who are you really?

Whilst some individuals are wary of revealing merely one online identity, there is much debate over having multiple. Many (including Facebook creators) believe that authenticity, which describes the genuine nature of one’s online persona, is greatly important in online networking. Others believe that we are multifaceted; which is creatively reflected when anonymity is maintained, and allows people to explore avenues when not restricted by their names or “real” identities. Anonymity permits individuals to have multiple identities whilst interacting on the web (Krotoski 2012).

Casserly (2011) believes maintaining several identities through social media is one of the most useful powers of the web.

identity

Multiple identities. Photo credits

[Multiple identities can be used] as a marketing tool, in order to reach the most valued niche audiences possible, [therefore] fragmenting your interests into separate social media accounts seems worthwhile. Why water down your message with unfocused or unwanted content?”

– Meghan Casserly, Forbes, 2011

giphy

Voldemort, HPP. Photo credits

Using the example of Richard Laemer, marketing executive (and owner of 5 Twitter handles, 6 blogs and a Facebook group), Casserly likens this ability to having J.K.Rowling’s “horcruxes”; splitting one’s soul to increase the odds of survival.

Personal and professional development are integral aspects of medical school training, and it is argued that separating your personal and professional lives is beneficial. As I discussed previously, White(2013) stressed how common it was for healthcare professional students to blur the line between these boundaries through social networking, and this may be “in conflict with requirements of professionalism and confidentiality”. A suggestion of this article was to integrate networking policies into our training, but I feel this will be difficult to employ.

Photo

Some of my colleagues who have changed their Facebook names

In actual fact, there has been a recent shift towards creating separate social identities. I have observed many colleagues changing their Facebook names from <FirstNameSurname> to <FirstNameMiddleName> as an attempt to preserve social anonymity.

Here is a TEDxTalks about the matter: 

Conversely, multiple identities allow for malicious, negative online behaviours such as “trolling”. In the past few years, Ask.fm has received some spotlight with regard to cyber bullying. Knibbs (2013) comments on how Ask.fm’s focus on anonymity is problematic as it increases the chances people are going to troll and abuse each other. Multiple identities may make people question an individual’s authenticity; especially due to the recent phenomenon of “Catfishing”.  Casslery (2011) makes the point that online personality “jugglers” should beware of the social toll of spreading themselves a little too thin, as fragmenting your personality makes it difficult to be a person “offline”.

References

Alex Kroski, 2012. ‘Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?’ Guardian Technology. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity [Accessed 23rd Feb 2016]

Meghan Casserly, 2011. ‘Multiple Personalities and Social Media: the Many Faces of Me’. ForbesWomen. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2011/01/26/multiple-personalities-and-social-media-the-many-faces-of-me/#4823643f5e5c [Accessed 23rd Feb 2016]

Multiple identities image – Indulgy

Voldemort GIF – Giphy

Jonathan White, Paul Kirwan et al, 2013. ‘’Have you seen what is on Facebook?’ The use of social networking software by healthcare professions students’. BMJ. 3(7). Available at: http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/7/e003013.full [Accessed 23rd Feb 2016]

Facebook screenshots and correspondence. Consent was given for the use of these screenshots.

Kate Knibbs, 2013. ‘Is Ask.fm the internet’s neverland, or just a haven for adolescent bullies?’ Digital Trends. Available at: http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/ask-fm-cyber-bullying-epicenter-or-just-another-social-network/ [Accessed 23rd Feb 2016]

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13 comments

  1. I love this original blog post, I particularly like Casserly’s analogy you included of multiple online identities acting like Horcruxes! However I do not agree with his point. Personally I find that minimising the online identities I have to say simply just Facebook, allows me to limit identifiable information about me on the web. If I was to increase my online identities to multiple different sites (such as LinkedIin), even if anonymous there would still be more potentially identifiable information about me in the public sphere. If you have read my blog post you will know that through cookies, it is not really possible to truly anonymously browse the web (except if using a non-traceable browser), therefore even anonymising your identity on these websites is not always possible. Krotoski (2012) notes that Facebook removes non-authentic profiles, again this is another barrier to online anonymity. Because of this I find that through limiting my online identities, despite being authentic I can maintain my privacy by controlling the public exposure to a mere few identities. What are your thoughts? Do you agree that multiple identities allows you to maintain your anonymity prevents it?

    Aleks Krotoski, 2012. ‘Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?’ Guardian Technology. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity [Accessed 24 February 2016]

    1. Hi Richard,
      Thanks for your comment. I think the point Meghan Casserly (she, not he) was trying to make is that having multiple online identities, even if are linked to one overarching identity, increases your chance of being noticed for the reasons you want.
      Ah, privacy is a big issue for all of us, as we alluded to in my previous blog. Have you heard of the American TV show, Gossip Girl? It follows a group of elitist high school teenagers from Manhattan, who all follow the online blog of the elusive “gossip girl” just to have him/her post vicious and scandalous rumours about them all. I think the show highlights that nothing we do is all that private, whether we like it or not.
      I agree with you – having multiple online identities may infringe on your privacy, but there are also many benefits of having those separate identities. Perhaps the issue is not having several accounts, but it is rather that Facebook has to find ways to prevent information leaking?
      Shriya

      1. Yes I have heard of it and I must admit I may have seen a couple of episodes. I do agree with Casserly’s point of the marketing benefits of having multiple identities but for me privacy comes first. Yes I do agree that Facebook should take the responsibility for making sure that individual’s information on their site is secure. If they promote online authenticity and want to most closely match your online to your offline self (Krotoski, 2012) then they need to ensure this information is secure. If you read my blog you may know that Facebook does still have some security issues in which personal data has been stolen (Halliday, 2015), so they still have some way to go. I meant to say in my original comment, I like your example of your peers changing their Facebook name in order to restore some online anonymity. I have also witnessed friends and peers changing their activities on social media, this seems to have occurred as people reach their early twenties and begin their professional lives. Isn’t it interesting how individuals adapt their online identities, as they become more aware of the potential repercussions on their career?

        Aleks Krotoski, 2012. ‘Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?’ Guardian Technology. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity [Accessed 24 February 2016]

        Josh Halliday, 2015. ‘Facebook urged to tighten privacy settings after harvest of user data’ Guardian Technology. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/aug/09/facebook-privacy-settings-users-mobile-phone-number [Accessed 24 February 2016]

  2. Hi Shirya,

    This is a very interesting post- nicely done! I strongly agree with Casserly’s comments and the comparisons drawn to horcruxes paints a very clear description of the topic.

    I think as students we are constantly reminded to be careful with what we are posting online, that the only sensible option would seem to be to not post anything and to abstain from social networking altogether. However, I did this and quickly realised that I was missing out on a vast array of networking opportunities, not only within the ‘real’ world, but also within the university. Therefore I think it is important that we have multiple online identities so that we are fully accustomed to dealing with the boundaries between personal and professional lives. In real life, there are certain things that we would do in a professional setting that we wouldn’t necessarily do when around friends, so it seems strange that our online identities do not replicate this same differentiation which we make in person. As I mentioned in my blog, not only does having one online identity put you at risk to online identity theft, it can cause you to censor things and prevent you from expressing yourself fully due to the fear of tarnishing your professional image.

    Subsequently, on the contrary to authenticity arguments, surely having just one online identity to represent ourselves would make someone less authentic to their real character?

    1. Hi Kemi,
      I completely agree with that – I believe that people have many, many different sides to them (“multifaceted”) and that having only one identity stops you from portraying yourself completely. Whilst putting my arguments together, I read Jeff Jarvis’s (2011) blog post and thought his suggestions were well put together (but I couldn’t include it in my post!!). He thinks that we are actually trying to represent two identities: our real, inner selves and our outer, show selves – and when these come into conflict, we look inauthentic, and that people will find out that we are not who we think we are!

      As I explained in my earlier post (https://spiceytandbz.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/mmedsc-intro-to-uosm-2008-and-online-identities/), the ability to remain anonymous (or remain unfound by my peers) through wordpress has given me a way to express myself in a way I wouldn’t have on FB. So from personal experiences – Yes! Having multiple online identities has helped me greatly to show my true, authentic self, something that having 1 identity could never accomplish.
      How about you – have you found that having multiple online identities has helped you in any such way, other than professionally?

      Shriya

      If you wanted to have a look: Jeff Jarvis, 2011. One Identity or more? Buzzmachine. http://buzzmachine.com/2011/03/08/one-identity-or-more/

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