Do we really know who we’re talking to online? Is our online identity real, constructed or perhaps both? Considering these questions, this first section of my post will cover a personal experience with catfishing. In high school, a random lady who I didn’t know personally added me on Facebook in a seemingly innocent attempt to befriend me. At first I was unaware that this person was not actually who they claimed to be, and being quite young, I fell for the fake persona. They were using the pictures of a relatively underground American model/wrestler and using an alias. The pictures used were mostly candid and with friends; they were not obvious modelling pictures. After interacting with this person who claimed to be interested in some of the things I had publicly liked on my profile (eg. television shows like How I Met Your Mother), one day I became suspicious. When I noticed that, among other things, they had a very small amount of Facebook friends, I did a Google reverse image search and found I was being deceived with someone else’s likeness that didn’t belong to this user’s name.
This story highlights how simple it is to steal another person’s identity online. As Poster (cited in Poletti & Rak 2014, p.9) contends, identity in modern society is “an aspect of consciousness (an awareness of continuity in time and space) and a complex of media content contained in information machines that combine to define an individual”. Our identities aren’t just what we know or believe about ourselves anymore, they are also comprised of the media we create and share across the Internet. This means that we have a huge amount of potential control over how others perceive us. Even without stealing a person’s likeness, one may be inclined to make their life look more fun and interesting by faking an entire holiday for example. The situations I’ve mentioned thus far may seem somewhat extreme, but the selection and omission of even small details from our online profiles can dramatically affect online identity.
I have three main parts to my online identity. These are my more professional academic accounts, my music related profiles and my personal sites. I approach all of these in different ways, as each targets a specific audience. The following tweets are examples from each of the online personas I’ve mentioned which demonstrate these differences.
In the first tweet I am making a comment about controversial social media that we discussed in class, with the unit hashtag included to prompt discussion with students and teachers. The next tweet is an attempt to promote my band’s recently released EP with the Soundcloud link included. The last example is an entry for a competition to win a free hoodie, formatted in the way specified by the competition runners. Although each of these only portray part of who I am, I have consciously built each one to address a certain group of people and, to some extent, I keep them separate. In contrast to this, to develop a more relatable version of themselves, famous actors often try to merge their private and public selves, or at least make it appear this way. One example is from Vin Diesel who decided to share on Facebook a moment from a
special lunch meeting where my father said something so dead on… He said… ‘Confidence is the most important thing that you can teach someone… if you can teach them confidence, you don’t have to teach them anything else’… Thanks for the love. (Diesel cited in Marshall 2010, p.40)
Marshall (2010) mentions this in the relation to Goffman’s work on performativity, pointing out that celebrities such as Diesel are very aware of how they portray their lives online. The different aspects of an individual’s identity can be separated or combined in strategic ways. I might post memes in rapid succession or reblog niche interests on my private twitter, but I avoid this on the other profiles to avoid annoying or disengaging my followers. A celebrity however, may be more likely to share memes or pictures of their lunch, in order to appeal to the everyman. Essentially, just as one might choose to act friendly and professional through speech and and clothing in a job interview, there are many ways to act or perform our identities online as well.
The more I explore my online identity, the more I learn about how to effectively develop a following. From viewing analytics on my band’s Facebook page, I have seen that we gained the most interaction on performance videos and links to our original songs. Photos had less of a response and statuses that just included text had the least of all (they didn’t even show up on the charts). I’ve also observed some limitations with expressing my identity online, particularly in the professional sense. Although I have a LinkedIn profile, I don’t have much relevant work experience to the field of education yet. As such, I have not had any contact from potential employers on this profile. My page is quite new and bare right now, and I haven’t reached out to people at this point in time, but I do aim to do so in the future. Regardless, it appears that in some ways our digital selves are limited by what we do in the physical world.
Since the catfishing incident mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, I have gotten older, more skeptical and more aware of social media practices. I no longer accept friend requests from people I don’t know. Issues arise however for young people as they are more concerned with immediate emotional rewards than thinking about how actions such as posting a nude selfie could affect their future. Gabriel (2014, p.107) argues that young people “need to learn ethical conduct and are still at risk from the unique issues presented by social media, like privacy, consent and online predators”. I concur with this statement, especially since it is near impossible to remove something permanently from the internet once it has been uploaded. Even though Gabriel (2014) does suggest that part of teenagers’ growth and development comes from navigating the online space and making mistakes, it is still a precarious situation. I believe that parents and teachers should help youths in the learning process to avoid dangers and negative behaviours online. Luckily, I was just left with an embarrassing story, but there’s no harm in educating people when it comes to the exploration our online selves.
My broader online activity and engagement
For ALC203, I have been quite active on my academic twitter account. I frequently find useful materials to retweet, post my own thoughts on concepts brought up in class and engage with other students and teachers. I make sure to use the unit hashtag only for relevant posts and exclude it from anything else I post. I also created an about.me page as a hub for other online profiles. Since creating it, I’ve updated it to express what’s happening in my student life currently, and it has been featured on the about.me twitter page.
Gabriel, F 2014, ‘Sexting, selfies and self-harm: young people, social media and the performance of self-development’, Media International Australia, no. 151, pp. 104-12.
Marshall, PD 2010, ‘The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media’, Celebrity Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 35-48.
Poletti, A and Rak, J 2014, ‘Introduction: Digital Dialogues’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 3-11.