This week I have been tasked with discussing the pros and cons of having multiple online identities. The question is too blunt, it ignores the nuances and the contexts in which we express multiple identities virtually. The issues facing a varied online presence are multifaceted and all virtual interactions have virtues and failings.
Warburton asserts that our “virtual self” is just an accumulation of electronic data – ” the things that we say about ourselves, the things that others say about us” or our interactions with electronic machines online. Our online identity is what we post on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, of course that means that our professional and personal identities are different but the boundaries between them are being blurred.
Facebook and Google are the faces of the personal data economy, collecting and selling our personal information for profit. This is one reason why they insist on creation of an authentic identity, being anonymous doesn’t generate content. Christopher Poole, the creator of 4chan where users post anonymously and there is no archive, dismisses the notion that having multiple identities is “lacking in integrity” like Facebook executives have suggested. I agree with him when he suggests that “identity is prismatic”, because we as humans adapt and evolve our identity based on which social groups we inhabit.
Having an authentic identity doesn’t mean that people are in fact genuine. People behave online like they behave offline, self-censorship is rife and frank thoughts can often be suppressed. In other instances authentic identity has not been a barrier to trolling and vitriolic abuse (generally aimed at women and minorities).
Edward Snowden’s revelations about the mass surveillance and collection of metadata has made the general public more aware of how much our privacy is eroded on the digital world. The more info we give away on the web the more vulnerable we get and herein lies one of the main problems of having multiple identities. The following video is a prime example:
On one of my regular forays into the darknet I came across people who offer whole new identities which are obviously stolen from the data gathered from the web and public records, US Passports/Green Cards go for as little $500, credit card information is even cheaper due to the amount of personal data available to dedicated hackers. There is also a forum dedicated to posting login information stolen from dedicated servers.
This year I have been constantly reminded by colleagues, during my internship, to have LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. This makes you more visible online and employers can infer a lot from my posts and connections about my personality and scan the feed to perform a background check.
It is therefore prudent to have multiple identities online to create a segmented virtual presence, it’s better to limit the extent to which our personal and professional existences interact. For the people concerned about data mining and privacy intrusions from governments and corporations some practical solutions may be in order like using the Ghostery app on Firefox to prohibit websites from collecting data and installing cookies. If you are mildly paranoid you can use the TOR browser to make yourself anonymous online everywhere.
- Krotoski, A., 2012. Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important? Guardian UK. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity
- Warburton , S., 2010. Digital Identity Matters, London, UK: King’s College London. Available at: http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/rhiz08_DigitalIdentityMatters.pdf .
- Sullivan, M., 2012. Data Snatchers! The Booming Market for Your Online Identity. PC World. Available at: http://www.pcworld.com/article/258034/data_snatchers_the_booming_market_for_your_online_identity.html