With every action we take online we begin to create a picture of ourselves, whether this is intentional or not. Artist Jonty Hurwitz was able to encapsulate this idea in his piece ‘The Meta Ego’ (displayed below) and provides a brief explanation in this video.
The face represents our online identity and is comprised of ‘strips’ that could be classified as our partial identities, profiles and personas (Internet Society, 2016). But perhaps Hurwitz’s work would have been more accurate, had he considered making multiple ‘Meta Egos’ within this piece.
More people are now creating numerous online identities, which can be untraceable and do not coincide with their ‘real world identity’. Facebook alone has estimated that there are around 170 million fake profiles on the site (Parsons, 2015).
So why would somebody want to create anonymous multiple online identities? As with most topics, the media has predominantly highlighted the negative explanations – for example the phenomenon of ‘Catfishing‘, which has even received its own television program, as well as the use of the ‘Deep Web’ for the exchange of illegal goods. When I was at school, I witnessed a fake social media account that was used to write offensive comments about people – known as trolling. This gave me a first hand insight into the way hiding behind the mask of an online identity can be used destructively.
But the subject of course runs deeper than this. I feel that more light could be shed upon the way people can use this tool for positive purposes. Therefore, I created this infographic to highlight some instances.
To understand the topic further, we must also appreciate that it is akin to the subject of online identity and anonymity. Christopher Poole speaks in this Google Ideas debate, explaining that users of his anonymous service 4chan would “seek to interact with likeminded people they may not encounter in their day to day life”. To me, this sounds like no harm is being done – allowing individuals to reside in a space without prejudice, which will not affect their offline lives afterwards.
I would therefore distinguish having multiple online identities as neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’, but would instead question the motives that lie with the user behind them. In communities such as 4chan, deception is eliminated, as members understand they are communicating with somebody using a pseudonym (Krotski, 2012). However on Facebook the expectation is that each profile represents real information about an individual. Instead of eliminating the ability to posses multiple online identities altogether, I feel more should be invested into regulating the conditions of certain sites, based upon the potential impact multiple online identities could have upon them.
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Internet Society. (2016). Online Identity. Available: http://www.internetsociety.org/online-identity-overview. Last accessed 26/10/2016.
Krotoski, A. (2012). “Is online authenticity or anonymity more important?”. The Guardian. [Accessed 24 Oct. 2016]
Parsons, J. (2015). Facebook’s War Continues Against Fake Profiles and Bots. Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-parsons/facebooks-war-continues-against-fake-profiles-and-bots_b_6914282.html. Last accessed 25/10/2016.
Seife, C. (2014). The Weird Reasons People Create Online Identities.Available: https://www.wired.com/2014/07/virtual-unreality-the-online-sockpuppets-that-trick-us-all/. Last accessed 26/10/2016.
4chan founder: Anonymous speech is ‘endangered’. SciTechBlog. CNN.com Blogs. February 12, 2010. http://scitech.blogs.cnn.com/2010/02/12/4chan-founder-anonymous-speech-is-endangered/. Last accessed 27/10/2016