Topic 2

Topic 2: Online Identities

Your ‘online identity’ is the sum of your characteristics and interactions with the web (Internet Society). This is not limited to social media, but also includes aspects of online shopping, banking, gaming etc. An online identity is made up of several partial identities, or personas, that represent different characteristics based on information that ourselves and others provide. These concepts are summarised below.

Figure 1. Summary of online identities.

As Blascovich (2011) expressed in his TED Talk, most of us have multiple online identities made up of several different personas, an idea he referred to as ‘fluid identities’. For example, I tend to use Facebook to keep up with friends and family, Twitter for current affairs, Instagram for all things aesthetically pleasing and Snapchat for the boring bits in between. Although my audiences in each case overlap to some extent, they are not the same, and thus I adapt my personas to suit. Whilst at first glance the idea of multiple identities may appear deceptive or manipulative, it is a multifaceted issue that has sparked a huge debate among online communities (Krotoski, 2012).

Authenticity vs. Anonymity Debate
Figure 2. Opinions of key influencers in the ‘authenticity vs. anonymity’ debate.

An obvious benefit of having multiple online identities is the ability to freely express personal content, whilst still having control over your professional appearance (Henry, 2012). This keeps your friends from making fun of your CV and prevents your boss from seeing those compromising night-out photos. Furthermore, multiple identities are beneficial for brands that wish to tailor their content to specific platforms and audiences. Multiple identities also allow for anonymity, enabling those who wish to hide an aspect of their identity to do so. For example, many writers and bloggers use pseudonyms in order to express themselves without being judged and to maintain a sense of privacy (Faith et al., 2011).

However, with regards to authenticity, having multiple identities may lead people to think you are untrustworthy or that you have something to hide. Due to the control we have over what we share, our online identities are increasingly curated, widening the gap between our online and offline selves (Casserly, 2011). The anonymity that appeals to many online users also creates an environment where cyberbullies, scammers and sexual predators can thrive. An example of this includes the hacking scandal where indecent images of celebrities were retrieved from Apple iCloud and subsequently posted on 4chan, an anonymous image sharing forum (Buchanan, 2015).

Overall, having online identities, whether one or multiple, authentic or anonymous, depends on our motivations and goals for using the web. Whichever side of the debate we stand, being aware of the benefits and drawbacks of multiple identities is important in our navigation of the digital world (Costa & Torres, 2011).

(438 words)


Blascovich, J. (2011). Digital freedom: Virtual reality, avatars, and multiple identities: Jim Blascovich at TEDxWinnipeg. YouTube.

Buchanan, R. T. (2015). Jennifer Lawrence nude pictures leak sparks fear of more celebrity hackings: ‘A flagrant violation of privacy’. The Independent.

Casserly, M. (2011). Multiple Personalities And Social Media: The Many Faces of Me. Forbes.

Costa, C., & Torres, R. (2011). To be or not to be, the importance of Digital Identity in the networked society. Educação, Formação e Tecnologias, 47-53.

Faith, J., Siren, S., Marks, A., & Lee, A. (2011). The Pros & Cons of Your Online Identity. Independent Fashion Bloggers.

Henry, A. (2012). Should I Keep My Personal and Professional Identities Completely Separate Online? LifeHacker.

Internet Society. Online Identity Overview.

Krotoski, A. (2012). Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important? The Guardian.

Figure References

Figure 1: Self-produced using Slideshare.
Figure 2: Self-produced using Piktochart and the following images: Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Allen, Christopher Poole, Andrew Lewman, Michael Heyward.


9 thoughts on “Topic 2: Online Identities

  1. Hi Patricia,
    I found the topic of online identity to be a complex one surrounded by controversy, intangible ideas and a host of new terms. Your post is extremely lucid and well thought out and significantly aided my understanding.
    Broadly, you seem to support the notion of individuals possessing multiple online identities. You claim that your social online presence constitutes separate identities as opposed to a consistent identity across many platforms. While I understand that you tailor your behaviour depending on the platform and the audience, surely these are very subtle tweaks and a single social identity rings true across Twitter, Snapchat etc.? The same name and personal information imply the same identity. Check out this blog post: The Self in Selfie: Identity in the Age of Social Media. It makes the point that social media is about forging an idealised digital version of ourselves which in itself might constitute identity multiplicity.
    (word count: 155)


    1. Hi Catherine,

      Thank you for your kind comment!

      It’s interesting that you picked up the single/multiple identity issue because upon reading other blog posts, I have found that people’s interpretations have varied. You are right in thinking that whilst I do adapt my behaviour on different social networks for different purposes, I try to maintain a single overarching identity across these platforms. A key way in which I do this is through the consistent use of my real name, the same profile photo and similar profile information. In line with Zuckerberg’s opinion, I suppose my online behaviour stems from my motivation to portray an authentic online identity.

      Thank you for sharing that article with me. A key point I took from it was about how people’s online and offline identities are becoming further apart due to the increased use of social media. This has a huge impact on self-perception, as individuals constantly compare their online and offline identities and put pressure on themselves to be more like their idealised online self. Although in Topic 2 we have mostly explored the pros and cons of multiple identities in terms of anonymity and authenticity, from a psychological perspective, I can see how these issues can have implications for mental health and wellbeing. What do you think?

      Thanks again,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for responding, it’s great to hear your thoughts.

    Yes, so in that sense your online social presence could be viewed as a conglomeration of identities, a single overarching identity, or both!
    I also found that other students had different interpretations of online identities, although reading these actually helped me to better understand the topic’s complexities and my individual opinion. Such as Rebecca’s blog which suggests that a new identity comes about when an individual actively decides to compartmentalise their life, for example, choosing to separate an educative blog from an established social identity. Maybe there is no right answer and, as you highlight in your post (Piktochart), it is dependent on your way of thinking.
    Mental health and wellbeing is definitely a strong concern connected to online identity, not only in extreme cases such as cyberbullying and identity theft but also on an everyday level. In the past few years this has led to the rise of the ‘digital detox’ holiday: a complete ‘switch off’ from technology. You might be interested to read this recent article challenging which instead promotes a ‘mindful’ use of the internet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Catherine,

      I agree that there are numerous ways of perceiving online identities and various perspectives from which to look at them. I notice this is something we both picked up on in our Topic 2 reflection, so I am glad we shared these thoughts!

      I think where mental health and wellbeing is concerned, this can also be viewed from two angles. Issues such as cyberbullying and catfishing have an impact on wellbeing, with the source of the harm being external (others are being abusive, causing worry or anxiety in the individual). In contrast, issues such as social media and self-esteem also have an impact on wellbeing, with the source of the harm being internal (individuals themselves place huge importance on the online identity they are portraying, leading to worry or anxiety). Thus, this further reinforces the complexity of the issues we have explored in Topic 2.

      I am looking forward to what Topic 3 has in store for us!


      Liked by 1 person

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