Many of us go through our lives online making use of various online identities without giving it a second thought. However our various activities online create various personas as we interact with websites and people across the Web.
Online Identity is a social identity that an Internet user establishes in online communities and websites. It may also be considered a constructed representation of the user and therefore an extension of the self.
Such identities, although being an extension of the user may be anonymous, with users preferring not to reveal personally identifying information but representing their views, beliefs or affiliations that exist in the real world.
User authentication is usually required by the websites holding the identity and IP addresses as well as cookies may be used to identify users. Therefore users have to register with a website, thereby initiating the online identity and then subsequently login to use the site.
The Self and Online Identity
When people create online identities, they in effect create an alternate version of themselves that is based on their real lives but is at the same time different from it. People will then live their alternate lives that they have created in a manner that best suits them.
People often lie about themselves when giving information in online profiles or at least they tend to exaggerate or sugarcoat some of the details. Information given in online profiles is always intended to present the user in the most positive light even if not necessarily true.
The Internet allows us to present versions of ourselves that seem more appealing to us and others. Take Facebook for example, the profiles and the posts that people make are a part of their online identity.
Because people tend to post their life's highlights, the social network presents a picture of the user’s life that is not balanced, giving a false representation of their actual lives. However, since most of the user’s friends are not in the same location as their friends all the time, this is the version of their self that is perceived.
Online Identity In Context
There are many situations in which online identity is at work. If you can imagine any kind of interaction that goes on online, there is online identity behind it. Any website that needs to know who its users are will be making use of online identity.
The most famous example of online identity is in social media. Websites like Facebook or Linkedin have to register their users and authenticate them every time they return to the site.
Increasingly, learning institution are taking their education efforts online with features like online classrooms or blended learning. This is a good example of online identity at work. It provides a platform where the class could interact at a much higher level through forums and chat rooms.
Business is a subject that is finding use cases online as well. There are websites that are designed to bring people together to do business. In order to achieve this, it is important that the identity of the actors be known and that the online environment fosters trust.
As an example of doing business online, online job bidding sites such as Upwork and Freelancer bring together employers and the freelancers they seek to engage. It is interesting to note how various identities work together to bring about the total experience on such a site. For instance, social media accounts are linked to the site in order to establish authenticity and so are user bank cards.
Concerns Around Online Identity
Online identity provides anonymity that may be gained under the guise of an alternate persona. Not only can people make pretend about their lives, they can also pretend to be completely different people with a different identity altogether.
This can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. For instance, someone might anonymously write a blog in order to protect their identity from parties that my seek to harm them; for example oppressive political regimes.
At the same time another may completely and irreparably damage the reputation of someone else while hiding under the banner of anonymity. This protects the perpetrator of such a smear campaign and absolves them of responsibility.
The Internet can be a cruel place. There are incidents of cyber-bullying that damage the self esteem of victims whilst the perpetrators enjoy the protection of anonymity or feel that they are far from reach to face the repercussions to their actions.
Perhaps that most sinister result of the ease with which people can create online identities comes in the form of online predators. These are often men who pretend to be someone else in order to groom and sexually victimize unsuspecting children.
There are indeed many concerns around online identity, when you also consider the possibility of identity theft, such that this is a matter which should concern us all to the extent that I believe law enforcement should be involved to ensure that people can be held accountable for the identities they create. Of course this is a controversial subject because such interference is open to abuse. What are your thoughts?