Discuss the arguments for and against having more than one online identity

This post primarily focuses on online personas, arguing that in terms of professionalism, there is value in having multiple online identities and potential drawbacks to being anonymous.

An online persona can be defined as ‘a partial identity created by you to represent yourself in a specific situation’.[1]  Examples of personas include social networking accounts, such as Facebook, or online blogs.[2]  Julia Allison argues ‘we should maintain many identities – one for work, another for school, another for home, another for friends’.[3]  In terms of professional and personal online personas, I can relate.  I use LinkedIn to maintain a professional, online relationship with colleagues and contacts and the content and information I share is different to that on Facebook (where I have created a personal online persona).

We’re always being told (and warned) that potential employers will be looking for us online.  Our digital identity is formed of both presentation and reputation, where management of our personas ‘can impact our activity both face to face and online’.[4]  Digitial Trends has a great article here showing how poor digital management of online identity affects employment. However, what we’re not told is that being anonymous online is met with equal suspicion.  This is since Facebook successfully promoted the idea of transparent identity as authentic identity.[5]

Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

Though no one is ever truly anonymous whilst using the internet, (Internet Society comments how partial identities are formed every time we use the internet in an ‘exchange’ of information), Andrew Lewman argues for total anonymity over any online persona.  He argues anonymity ‘gives people control’.[6]  A refusal to create an online persona is a characteristic that hints to digital visitors, whereas people that have multiple online personas seem behaviourally more like digital residents (as discussed last week).  The positives of embracing multiple and open identities is allowing greater engagement with larger online communities. Costa and Torres similarly argue it ‘advance[s] knowledge’ (50).

Having multiple online identities can even grant fame.  More than ever, people are being ‘internet famous’, launching a career through blogging or vlogging.  Two of my housemates love Tuula – an online travel blogger, whose website links to her other online personas: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.  Though many like her become famous due to their ‘personal’ online personas rather than ‘professional’ ones, their online presentation and reputation is certainly not overlooked.

[1]               Internet Society, ‘Online Identity Overview: What is Partial Identity’,<http://www.internetsociety.org/online-identity-overview>

[2]               Internet Society, ‘Online Identity Overview: What is Partial Identity’, <http://www.internetsociety.org/online-identity-overview>

[3]               Jeff Jarvis, ‘One identity or more?’, (2011) < http://buzzmachine.com/2011/03/08/one-identity-or-more/>

[4]               Cristina Costa and Ricardo Torres, “To be or not to be? The importance of digital identity in the networked society”,  (2011), p.49.  <http://eft.educom.pt/index.php/eft/article/view/216/126>  Subsequent references are to this edition and are given in parentheses.

[5]               Alex Kroski, ‘Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?’, (2012)<http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity>

[6]               Alex Kroski, ‘Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?’ (2012) <http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity>

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7 thoughts on “Discuss the arguments for and against having more than one online identity

  1. aaaliyu says:

    Interesting article, Sarah. I like the idea of how you merged your knowledge of what was discussed last week into this week’s topic. In your blog you wrote, “A refusal to create an online persona is a characteristic that hints to digital visitors, whereas people that have multiple online personas seem behaviourally more like digital residents”. Just a rhetorical question for you: do you think that is always the case? A hacker for example might have multiple online personas but perhaps just “use it as a tool”- a characteristic of a digital visitor. As he/she might just come on the web, achieve what they want and simply log off.

    • Sarah Kyle says:

      Hi Aliyu! Thanks for your comment, you raised an interesting point about identity. In topic 1, it was highlighted that digital ‘residents’ and ‘visitors’ work as a continuum and are not separate categories, though they certainly have different characteristics and digital habits.
      A ‘hacker’ (or perhaps an internet ‘troll’?) to me would be someone that lives a percentage of their life online, even under different identities – a characteristic typical of a digital resident. Yet I agree with you that they may use the internet as a tool, as typical of a ‘visitor’. They fit directly between the continuum of digital ‘residents’ and ‘visitors’.
      So back to your original question, I wouldn’t say that this is always the case. However, people that create legitimate online personas (as opposed to hackers or trolls) hold more similar digital habits to digital residents, as they are more willing to ‘live’ on the web.

  2. Hayley Matthews says:

    I really enjoyed reading your blog, I thought it was well written and brought into discussion both last weeks topic on ‘Residents’ and ‘Visitors’, as well as your views and experiences regarding multiple identities.

    I wondered what your views are on businesses using social media to screen possible employees. A LinkedIn account allows an employer to view information regarding grades, skills and achievements, much like a CV all the information is supposedly an honest representation. Whereas Facebook, though ideally used to interact with friends, can also be viewed by employers – as the personal data used (e.g. name, age) is usually accurate. From these sources, an employer can see both your personal and professional identity, thus providing a well-rounded perception of an individual. However, do you think that they should be able do this? As this technique gathers favour, do you think that more ‘false’ identities will be created to allow social freedom, without fear of repercussions from employers.

  3. Sarah Kyle says:

    Hi Hayley!

    Thanks for your comment! I think businesses do have a right to look at a potential employee’s professional and personal personas online. At the end of the day, a person’s online reputation can impact a company’s.

    I believe people have nothing to be concerned about if they have the correct privacy settings and manage their online presentation properly. Facebook’s privacy settings, for example, can limit who can view photos and personal information.

    Though this may be something people argue they shouldn’t have to do on the internet, the reality is it should be something to be aware of. It’s not about hiding who you are, it’s about controlling who can view you, and what impression people, or employers, make of you.

    Your point about false identities is an interesting one. I think, instead, there may be a rise in ‘adapted’ identities. For example, I know of someone who changed their surname on Facebook (once their authentic identity had been established amongst Facebook friends) in order to avoid being found by potential employers. All other personal information remained true, including tagged photos, so I wouldn’t consider it a ‘false’ identity.

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