Topic Two – More is better? The arguments for and against having multiple online identities

In this day and age you don’t have to be an MI5 agent to legally have multiple identities. While some domains, such as facebook, are creating a greater demand for authentic identities there are many movements to increase online anonymity levels and create a persona which can remain “separate from real life” (Krotoski 2012).

There are many reasons people may choose to have multiple online identities, with the main intention being to contain certain aspects to one identity. Dave Vronay gives the example of an Apple employee who wishes to leak corporate information, and needs to be known as an apple employee but without their “real life” identity being revealed.

Having multiple identities can be very useful in matching different needs a user may have for the Internet. For example, a person could create one twitter account to express their love for Arsenal Football Club, and passionately discuss their opinions about the club using expletives which alongside plenty of desirable comments can lead to a lot of negative attention being paid to the individual in the form of harmful comments. They may also have a Facebook account which they wish to keep professional and detached from the somewhat controversial arsenal twitter account. This is not the creation of two entirely different avatars, however just two separate reflections of the real person portrayed in different environments, however Torres and Costa (2011) suggest it can be professionally beneficial to have a single open identity.

The use of a single identity is undoubtedly more reliable, especially over the use of several social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Torres and Costa (2011) question the trust that should be placed on an individual who owns multiple online avatars. It can  lead to many problems, such as online abuse where a person can hide behind an anonymous account in order to offend a person, or indeed misleading users of dating websites by creating an often entirely different avatar, both of which can have huge implications on the user at the receiving end. The video below represents some of the problems anonymity can cause in the previously mentioned topic of abuse:

Overall, I believe separate online identities should be encouraged just as in the real world, where individuals will change accordingly in response to the people and environment surrounding them, whether that be on a rugby pitch or in a job interview.

References

A Krotoski, 2012, Online Identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?, The Guardian, accessed at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity accessed 28/10/16.

M Swan, YouTube Video posted 2014. Accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKdH_sTUZ_s accessed 30/10/16

Torres and Costa, 2011, To be or not to be, the importance of Digital Identity in the networked society, accessed at http://eft.educom.pt/index.php/eft/article/view/216/126 accessed 29/10/2016.

D Vronay, The Online Identity Crisis, Wired. accessed at: https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/11/the-online-identity-crisis/ accessed 30/10/16.

Image, accessed at: http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/social-media-identity.jpg accessed on 30/10/16.

Image, accessed at: https://validateuk.co.uk/images/UK-ID-Card/Official-ID-Card.png access on 30/10/16.

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10 thoughts on “Topic Two – More is better? The arguments for and against having multiple online identities

  1. Hi

    I liked the example you gave about the apple employee leaking information and given the word limit I understand why you didn’t develop this point further.

    But this point got me thinking about whistleblowing and the lengths that some people have to go to in order to remain anonymous. I think in this day and age with so many fake profiles out there, how would the police even know if the whistle-blower is legitimate or not???

    At the end you make a valid point about why people might have separate online identities – we are quite different around our friends vs family vs work colleagues, but only slightly different – so this is classed more as multiple partial identities. I think you need to make the distinction clearer, right at the end, between a having multiple completely separate online identities and multiple partial identities.

    Allie

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    1. Hi Allie,
      Thanks very much for your comments. I will agree with you on the multiple partial identity definition, I think this is a very good way of defining it.
      The whistle-blower debacle is an interesting one, although if it were to reach police then surely the persons real identity would have to be unveiled, rather than relying on an internet avatar. This does however raise an interesting point regarding the policing of criminal activity on the internet, what measures can the police take to stop online criminal activity if everyone is anonymous?

      Like

  2. Hi Arthur I liked your witty opening line, it’s a great way to encourage a reader to continue! In relation to actual content I find my personal experience closely resembles that of the Arsenal Twitter account you mention. I have found keeping a separate anonymous account online has been beneficial to me to avoid potential trouble that could arise should the public have access to my identity.

    I really liked the way you showed the pros and cons quite clearly in your post with two clear examples, namely the whistle-blower and the bully..

    I also made a link to cyber-bullying in my blog and a fellow student linked me a website with quite a number of surprising stats stood out for me. Would love to hear your opinion on it.

    Look forward to reading the next one.

    Zac

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    1. Hi Zac,
      I do try my hardest to keep things a little light-hearted! I think it can be very useful to have multiple partial identities, It can prevent people from knowing too much information about oneself. I read the article, very interesting but unfortunately I didn’t find it surprising. I know many people who have been affected by cyber bullying, and several in the form of anonymous accounts which in some circumstances has been even more damaging as they are unaware about the extent of the attack. This is one side of online anonymity that I totally disagree with.

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  3. Hi,

    I really liked reading your post. The example of the Arsenal twitter account raised a great real life example of multiple identities that any of us could have.

    However, would you agree that this could easily become very dangerous as its very easy to cross over from multiple personas and completely fake profiles? For example, the owner of the Arsenal account may take advantage of the anonymity and use it to spread abuse or cyber bully other members of society online.

    Therefore, I believe that there should be a level of ownership for every online profile such as having to use a real name or identification document when signing up. This way, although users can use these profiles to spread their views anonymously, if they abused this anonymity, their actions would be traceable.

    Like

    1. Hi Harry,
      I totally agree with the problem regarding distinction between multiple personas and completely fake profiles, there is a fine line between the two which must be regulated. I imagine it can be easy when using an account for one partial identity to slip into another or perhaps completely fabricate information about the account, another argument for having one online identity. I agree somewhat with your comment about the level of ownership, however as mentioned in my article it can be useful for individuals to remain completely anonymous in certain circumstances. With the ability and prevalence cyber hackers these days you can rarely fully trust a website to retain your private information, look at yahoo a couple of weeks ago as an example.

      Like

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