ALC201: Presenting multiple identities online

 ALC201, Module 1 Exercise

American computer scientist Jason Lanier suggests that Web 2.0 reduces individual creativity to general ‘mush’. (Gauntlett 2011, p. 197) However, in my experience the opposite is true. Web 2.0 allows for more choice and more creativity than ever before. There are now a multitude of websites available where we can share and create different versions of ourselves. My own online identity is formed through many different social networking websites, all of which have different options and opportunities for self-presentation. These online ‘personas’ are shaped largely by the audience they are intended for and are therefore complex in structure.

In the graphic below I have recorded a list of social media websites I currently use, along with an estimate of the percentage that I use each. While this is an incomplete list it provides a snapshot of what platforms I use to form different online personas. Each of these social media websites has given me the opportunity to ‘try out different’ versions of myself (Smith, S and Watson, J 2014, p. 75).

 

https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2466846-create-your-own-infographic An infographic showing my approximate usage of social media websites.

https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2466846-create-your-own-infographic
An infographic showing my approximate usage of social media websites.

Through Instagram I am able to share different images of things I find interesting and important in my life, thereby giving other users a snapshot of my identity. Similarly I use Twitter to tweet to others about things that I think are interesting and important. However, like many others my main source of self-presentation and online identity construction is Facebook.

Through Facebook I am able to share different aspects of my identity through status updates, sharing, linking and posting images, (which coincidentally, are often shared from Instagram). The identity I present through Facebook is also interactive. Others are able to comment upon it and learn things about me from it and I am also able to edit posts based on these interactions. Self-presentation here is directly linked to the people I am constructing my identity for. Therefore I find the need to be as authentic as possible in the representation of myself as my audience is largely friends and family and they will know when something is an inauthentic representation.

Smith and Watson, argue, the reason people feel this need to be authentic online is because appropriations of realness in online environments reinforce social norms (2014, p. 76). This is further reinforced by Chester and Bretherton who suggest: “although online contexts provide unique opportunities to manage impressions, for the most part these impressions were based on socially desirable aspects of offline personality and a desire to present an authentic impression” (cited in Gradinaru, C 2013, p. 105). Therefore I suggest online identity is largely influenced by social norms from outside of the online environment. Looking at my own Facebook page this point is rings true. My Facebook profile page is a reflection of my everyday life which adheres to social norms. The pictures shown are appropriate reflections of my identity. My profile picture is of a cat and I, which would suggest I like cats. This is true. It is also an appropriate image which shows my face, revealing me as an authentic person and adhering to social norms.

However, the influence of social desirability in constructing online identity is dependent on the platform that is being used to construct identity.

Blogs such as WordPress allow for some anonymity in the online environment. I can choose to use a pseudonym when writing blog posts and therefore protect one of the most vital aspects of my identity-my name. However Web 2.0 means that bloggers can now also include a variety of multimedia features such as photos, videos, widgets, links to other social networking websites and ‘friends’. Bullingham and Vasconcelos, argue that all of these features “allow bloggers to present a wide range of identity indicators,” (2013, p.102). Looking at this blog itself it is hard not to notice the fact many of these features are currently being used and give some indication as to my identity. These identity indicators however are largely influenced by the audience this blog is aimed at. You will notice that I have included that I am a student and this blog is for assignment related work. The colours-basic black and white also reflect this academic approach and therefore also the academic aspect of my identity. The allowance for creativity on this blog also makes it a good platform for presenting this aspect of myself.

However, some of the other blogs I currently have do not reflect the academic aspect of my personality. In fact, by “maintaining multiple blogs I can create different personas to suit each blog, and so the self is effectively broken up with its varying readerships receiving different information,” (Bullingham and Vasconcelos, 2013, p.102). This means that in the online environment I have the opportunity to create different personas. These personas are effective in that I am able to shape them according to how I want myself to be perceived in different online environments.

Through Tumblr, I am free to reveal different aspects of my identity I would have been restricted to because of social norms on Facebook. I am also able to delete versions of my ‘digital self’ with minimal consequences and the possibility to rebuild another online ego (Gradinaru, 2013, p. 101). This freedom to represent myself and means that social networking websites are effective in establishing my online identity in the way I wish to be perceived by my intended audience.

References

Bullingham, L and Vasconcelos, A. C, 2013, ‘The presentation of self in the online world’: Goffman and the study of online identities, Journal of Information Science, 39, 1, p. 101-112, doi: 10.1177/0165551512470051

Gauntlett, D 2011, Making Is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0, Polity, Cambridge and Malden, pp. 194-204

Gradinaru, C 2013, ‘From Multitude to Convergence: Contemporary Trends in the Study of Online Identity’, Argumentum: Journal The Seminar Of Discursive Logic, Argumentation Theory & Rhetoric, 11, 2, pp. 95-108, Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 7 August 2014.

Smith, S and Watson, J 2014, ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 70-95

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