We now live in a world where, as Cristina Costa and Ricardo Torres describe it, “not wanting to be part of cyberspace is almost an unrealistic deed”. As the web has developed from a top-down controlled information-retrieving system to a much more interactive tool involving an abundance of networking and sharing, ordinary web users have become content producers in their own right. WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook are just a few of the mainstream sites that allow users to sit in the driving seat and not only create content, but also project their own online self-brand. And let’s face it; such social networking sites are now considered an essential, both for our personal use and for professional progression. If you weren’t on Facebook you’re likely to miss out on an invite to an event you’d have loved to attend, and if you weren’t on twitter perhaps you wouldn’t have as much inside information on your favourite company that would give you that extra added advantage in an interview situation. If it wasn’t for your LinkedIn account how would you find out about graduate opportunities that are being premiered on the site?
So, it’s pretty much confirmed, being an active participator is considered by many a necessity in 21st century Britain, and therefore so is creating and cultivating your own online identity in some form or way. The question at hand (which has recently been a focal point of discussions in our University module “Living and Working on the Web”), is, given that we have the opportunity, should we aim to develop more than one identity online?
As Jeff Jarvis highlights in his blog- a primary reason to create more than one online identity is so that you that you can have more control over your online life. For example, if you create a LinkedIn profile which reveals only the more professional aspects of your offline persona, you will prevent potential employers from seeing the more immature/silly side of you that you might want to keep within your Facebook account and share solely with friends. A good example of how adapting and controlling the visibility of your various profiles could prevent problems is illustrated with the case of a U.S. student teacher’s “drunken pirate photo”. Stacy Snyder (featured in the infamous picture below) was deprived of receiving her teaching diploma after officials at Millersville University discovered this photo, which she posted on Myspace alongside the caption “drunken pirate”.
However, on the other hand this was quite an extreme reaction from the Millersville officials, and other private sector employers may appreciate a little bit of flair, personality, and evidence that we have a social life present in our online identity. What is more, if we keep our online profiles consistent across the various platforms, we may be working to create a more credible and authentic persona. Evidence of a string of disjointed and partially hidden fragments of an identity may not be trusted or valued as much as a reflected image of a real person, seen to be interacting with other real people. Obviously the annoyance of having to dedicate more time to the maintenance of multiple online identities is also an issue to consider.
Personally, I would suggest that it is beneficial to adapt your online identity for different situations to please different target audiences, and to ultimately avoid situations like Stacy Snyder’s – a strategy which only reflects how we display, monitor, and control our personalities and actions for various different social situations in real life. That said, the creation of entirely new fabricated identities is on a completely different level, and if you’re not bi-polar offline, why take the time and effort to reflect this online? Especially as your falseness and inconsistency could potentially be uncovered in the future, which would ruin your online reputation.
As more and more areas of our lives are being carried out on the web, this topic definitely provides some serious food for thought…
“To be or not to be? The importance of digital identity in the networked society” by Cristina Costa and Ricardo Torres: http://eft.educom.pt/index.php/eft/article/view/216/126
More information on Stacy Snyder’s story: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/crime/college-sued-over-drunken-pirate-sanctions
Jeff Jarvis, “One Identity or More?”: http://buzzmachine.com/2011/03/08/one-identity-or-more/