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Digital identity derives from the practices individuals have been developing online and it centres around two areas: presentation of the persona assumed and reputation. (Costa & Torres 2011:49) There is an idea that, among other dichotomies, users can assume multiple online identities; not just one.
Based on the notion that initiation of any online activity initiates a digital identity, it is plausible in that sense to believe that we can occupy many online personas dictated by the nature of the activity in which we are involved and the purpose of the medium in question. For example, LinkedIn’s purpose is for professional use, so my display picture reflects that, the tone of my profile is appropriate as is the content – it is a digital reflection of exactly how I would present myself in the work place; smart attire, polite mannerisms and work-related discourse. Whereas on Facebook, whose nature is much more relaxed, my pictures are comedic and my language is colloquial, just like my personality around friends in everyday life.
Costa & Torres however, imply that perhaps it is better to maintain one online identity, as they argue that multiple online identities interfere with the credibility of our identity, causing a suspicion among users. From my experience, I disagree – I don’t think it inspires scepticism because different services have distinct purposes and people act accordingly just as they do offline as I illustrated in my examples above. However I do understand the concern that it is difficult to decipher who the ‘real’ person behind the profile is, but I think that comes down to mismanagement of online privacy. Using my own profiles as an example, I think they are consistent with each other even though my personas vary; my social media are of similar tones with each other as they are with my LinkedIn because I am conscious of the digital identity I leave behind in my digital footprint regardless of the online activity in question. My online identity is open, but it isn’t completely open because I am aware of the negative repercussions of over-sharing.
It is debated that a single online identity is impossible to attain, whereas Mark Zuckerberg suggests that it is in fact the exact direction of where the internet is headed towards in the future. “Zuckerberg believes we have one authentic identity and says it is becoming less and less true that people will maintain separate identities.” (Jarvis 2011) So perhaps the fear of reputational damage at the work-place for that photo tagged of you from last weekend will disappear as “we will soon operate under the doctrine of mutually assured humiliation” (Jarvis 2011) and our reputation offline will not be affected by our identity online because our various online personas will all eventually merge into one.
Micheal Zimmer opposes this notion as he explains that we present ourselves differently offline depending on the situation we are in, and that online it is no different, and I for one agree. I adjust my behaviour accordingly depending on the environment; I do not act 100% the same with my parents as I do with my friends nor in a meeting with my academic advisor, but that is not to say that I am not being myself or not being genuine – I’m conducting myself appropriately given the setting. Zimmer concludes, “This is how we navigate the multiple and increasingly complex spheres of our lives. It is not that you pretend to be someone that you are not; rather, you turn the volume up on some aspects of your identity, and tone down others, all based on the particular context you find yourself.” (Zimmer 2010)
So if we have multiple personas offline, surely by presenting one, single persona online, that would be inauthentic, not the other way around.
Costa, C. & Torres, R. (2011) ‘To be or not to be, the importance of Digital Identity in the networked society.’ Revista Educação, Formação & Tecnologias, n.o extra (Abril, 2011): (47-53).
Jarvis, J. (2011) ‘One identity or more?’, online, Available: http://buzzmachine.com/2011/03/08/one-identity-or-more/ [Accessed 28.02.2016].
Zimmer, M. (2010) ‘Facebook’s Zuckerberg: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity”.’, online, Available: http://www.michaelzimmer.org/2010/05/14/facebooks-zuckerberg-having-two-identities-for-yourself-is-an-example-of-a-lack-of-integrity/ [Accessed 28.02.2016].