To introduce this topic, here is a recent TED talk by Ulrike Schultze. She utilises the online virtual world ‘Second Life‘ to illustrate the ways in which online social media can impact on the formation of our identity. Of particular relevance is her summary, between 12:24 and 13:52, that emphasises the fluid nature of identities and alludes to the idea of a lack of repercussions while enacting multiple identities online.
In an era of increasingly blurred public-private spheres, any online activity contributes toward a digital identity (Boyd, 2008). Many concerns exist surrounding the formation of a single identity, let alone multiple. Through assumptions of openness and reinvention, Costa and Torres (2011) argue that creating multiple online identities can be beneficial, but this curation depends on our priorities. See below for a summary of the debate:
NB: Click here for annotations (I have used Canva as a substitute for H5P).
I wish to focus my argument on the idea that online identity formation is a continual process. This idea, presented in Aresta et al. (2015), implies that forming an identity takes time. As we mature, we encounter new ideas, knowledge and networks, and these experiences contribute toward our identity expression. Multiple identities form if the individual realises a need to ‘filter’/‘tailor’ their identity to suit a particular audience.
These identities are also malleable. They can be reconstructed based on future experiences, interactions and self-reflection. A form of experiential learning, termed informal learning, experienced through online observation or collaboration, is believed to contribute greatly toward the formation of identities (Greenhow and Robelia, 2009). Social desirability and the expectations of those around you interfere along this dynamic identity continuum (see 3:30-4:00 in this video), as well as the pressure to become a responsible digital citizen (Greenhow and Robelia, 2009). Yet these standards may act as mechanisms to ensure that identities are sensible and secure. Considering these arguments, it is clear that online identity formation is an ongoing process, particularly if an individual manages numerous identities simultaneously.
Regardless of the number of identities preferred, we remain the curators. We can control how we portray ourselves, but must only do so once the merits and flaws associated with singular and multiple identities are understood, particularly as identity formation is considered a lifelong process (Boyd, 2008). Perhaps an initial question to ask – as discussed earlier – is where on the visitor-resident continuum we wish to position ourselves.
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Aresta, M., Pedro, L., Santos, C. and Moreira, A. (2015) Portraying the self in online contexts: context-driven and user-driven online identity profiles. Journal of the Academy of Social Sciences, 10 (1), 70-85.
Boyd, D. (2007) Why youth ❤ social network sites: the role of networked publics in teenage social life. IN Buckingham, D. (ed.) The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning: Youth, identity and digital media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 119-142.
Costa, C. and Torres, R. (2011) To be or not to be, the importance of digital identity in the networked society. Educação, Formação e Tecnologias, (SI), 47-53.
Cover, R. (2012) Performing and undoing identity online: social networking, identity theories and the incompatibility of online profiles and friendship regimes. The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 18 (2), 177-193.
Fraser, J. (2009) Personal – professional – organisational: three basic online identities. Available from: http://fraser.typepad.com/socialtech/2009/07/personal-professional-organisational-three-basic-online-identities.html [Accessed on 22 February 2017].
Greenhow, C. and Robelia, B. (2009) Informal learning and identity formation in online social networks. Learning, Media and Technology, 34 (2), 119-140.
Internet Society (2017) Privacy & Identity. Available from: http://www.internetsociety.org/what-we-do/internet-technology-matters/privacy-identity [Accessed on 24 February 2017].
The Guardian (2012) Online Identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important? Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity [Accessed on 24 February 2017].
YouTube (2010) 7 Steps to Building Your Online Identity. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UlcOX1fZW4&feature=youtu.be [Accessed 23 February 2017].