Topic 2: Reflection on Online Identities

After reading and reviewing other people’s blog posts, it’s clear that what constitutes a separate ‘online identity’ has a subtly different meaning for different people; some took this to mean that if their Facebook and LinkedIn ‘persona’ were different then they had multiple identities. I’d taken a different tack, assuming that an identity was only ‘separate’ when it was fragmented and disconnected (which really can only happen by design).

Both interpretations are valid, but if I’d recognised the different ways the questions was going to be approached then I would have presented a clearer rationale in my original blog.

Given my interpretation of ‘separate’, my blog expressed my reservations about the darker uses of such separate identities – and although no one challenged me directly – it is clear that I’ve been slightly narrow minded – as Nicole Odofin noted, professional bloggers need a private space to avoid their personal identities getting overwhelmed, while Saber Hamidi makes a similar point regarding TV personalities such as Christopher Poole’s TV interview. It is true that I’d be more interested in establishing different identities if I had a more newsworthy life.

That said, I still feel people are too keen to hide rather than exercise common sense – often expecting the law to provide an alternative to acting responsibly. Hence my question to Cheuk Sun, asking whether we are really clear enough about what is right and wrong to be able to legislate. And in similar vein I asked Bartosz Paszcza if he would be proud or ashamed of developing a tool that could hide your online identity.

Bartosz Paszcza also made an entry on my blog, challenging why I’m not more concerned about faceless government employees accessing ‘my’ data. I did have an inward debate when creating the original posting whether to include (and ridicule) such concerns by referencing a YouTube video: 

Perhaps, in hindsight I should have included it.


Topic 2: Me, Myself and I – Multiple Online Identities

When we go online we leave behind a digital footprint; information about what we have accessed and posted. This can be used by individuals, organisations and governments, to assemble a picture of the persona we adopt on the web and, potentially, what we are like in the real world.

So, to what extent should we be concerned – and should we create different online identities to protect ourselves?

If a shop assistant remembers me, and recommends something that I might be interested in, then I’d regard this as good customer service. But when a computer does the same, people argue that it’s an invasion of their privacy.

Further, if a computer scans my e-mails looking for key words, such as names of chemicals used to make a bomb, then I don’t object because I know that this is done as a form of crime prevention but many see this as a perceived erosion of our freedoms.

Eben Moglen
Scull image from Fotolia, Artweaver used to add text.

So what are the threats that might persuade me to create duplicate online identies?

  • Identity theft – where criminals use spam, guess passwords and use computer viruses to access your bank accounts, or clone your identity. The FFA estimates that in the UK alone £247.6 million was lost to credit card fraud in the first six months of 2014.
  • Loss of privacy – where the information you post is used for purposes other than that you intended. However, work is being done to protect our privacy online, for example, new laws are imminent outlawing posting “revenge porn”.
  • Loss of religious and political freedoms – when authoritarian states track electronic communication to curtail protest.

The last point, while not a concern in the UK is emphasised in this Amnesty International posting. Also a number of Iranians were arrested for recording and posting a version of Pharrell Williams’s “Happy”:

Of course, in reality we can’t avoid creating different online identities; the persona you present on LinkdIn will be different from that on Facebook.  But should you go further and deliberately create separate, fragmented persona?

I have explored the advantages and disadvantages of having multiple online identities in a Slideshare presentation:

So, living the UK, should you deliberately fabricate separate online identities? Personally, I don’t think so, but I do follow these tips:

I agree with Costa and Torres: “If we are to encourage people to develop several personas, are we encouraging a responsible environment, or are we creating new playgrounds? Furthermore, how much can we trust a person who ‘owns’ different characters online?” Emphasising these concerns, this article by Awais Rashid talks about internet bullies hiding behind false online identities.

In a sense this is nothing new, we have always had the opportunity change the way that we behave to suit the situation. But pretending to be someone you’re not – online or in the real world – is, in my opinion, not genuine and therefore should not be condoned.

An interesting topic – I suspect we will see very different views.


Christopher Soghoian: Government surveillance — this is just the beginning

Cristina Costa and Ricardo Torres, To be or not to be, the importance of Digital Identity in the networked society, Revista Educação, Formação & Tecnologias, n.º extra (Abril, 2011): pp. 47‐53.p, (p. 51)

FFA, Customers Urged to be Vigilant as Fraudsters Increase Spam Attacks,

Awais Rashid, Director of Security, Lancaster Research Centre at Lancaster University, With the Right Tech, Online Bullies can be Outsmarted

Amnesty International, The Internet and Human Rights,

Topic 1: Reflective Summary

The first topic introduced some relatively simple concepts ….’Visitors’, ‘Residents’, ‘Natives’ and ‘Immigrants’.

Having read everyone else’s posts and re-evaluated mine, I suspect we have all failed to challenge the utility of these labels. It was very easy for us to simply categorise ourselves as ‘Residents’ and ‘Natives’. Seeing such self-evidently accurate terms, weve fallen into the trap of accepting them and failing to challenge their nature.

The reality is there are a multitude of different ways of characterising people, for example; do they trust the web or don’t they, do they take the web with them (on their smartphones) or leave it behind them, do they contribute to knowledge (via Wikipedia etc) or just leave social markers, etc.

Before you develop labels you should define their purpose. For example, are you labelling people because you want to identify those you can sell something to, to identify those who need training, or to identify security risks. I haven’t read Prensky’s, White or Le Cornu’s work in detail but nothing I have seen so far defined what the purpose of the labels were.

At this point I’m looking at these simple labels and asking if they are of more than academic interest.

In any case, our blogs, like all collaborative platforms, enabled us to share our views. Andrew Ghiacy’s embedded YouTube video of a baby trying to interact with a magazine was the post that triggered the most inward debate for me, re: the extent to which we might become ‘trapped’ by a mind-set introduced by the web.

For me, the film The Matrix, is the logical extension of this fear.

An example of this is the world postulated by Isaac Asimov (twentieth century science fiction writer) in which people used ‘remote viewing’ to see each other; to actually physically meet anyone was regarded as repugnant. 

Who knows what paths the web will take and what labels we will ultimately need.

Word Count: 320

My Comment Links:

Comment 1

Comment 2

Digital Residents and Digital Immigrants

The concept of Visitors and Residents was developed by David White and Alison Le Cornu:
• The Resident is an individual who collaborates and contributes online, establishing a permanent online presence.
• The Visitor is an individual who uses the web as a functional tool and leaves little trace behind them.

This is a different vision to Prensky’s concept of ‘natives’ (those who were born into the digital age) and ‘immigrants’ (those who weren’t).

In terms of culture and activities this translates to:
• For the Resident THE INTERNET IS A PLACE – where they interact with others and spend time developing their online persona.
• For the Visitor THE INTERNET IS A TOOL – they do not participate in online culture; instead using the internet to find data, pay bills, make bookings, etc.

The basic concepts can be seen on David White’s YouTube video:

However, people can have different relationships with the internet in their professional and personal lives. White proposed the following matrix for mapping our interactions…

Blank Blackboard download from Fotolia, << File: mapping.jpg >>

So Facebook is used by Residents in their personal lives, whereas tools like Project Muse are used in a professional (institutional) role by those behaving as a visitor. Interestingly, YouTube can be used by companies, professional and personal interactions, for example, this video shows Malvern Instruments using YouTube to communicate with its customers:

The Visitor / Resident classification is not necessarily linked with age, so the young are not always Residents. Similarly, Residents don’t necessarily know how to effectively use the internet. For instance, one of the concerns that has been expressed is the naive way in which some people place too much trust in what they see online.

Residents ≠ evaluation and critical skills.

Patrick Wilson, in his book Second Hand Knowledge, (Praeger, 1983), p15 notes that:

  • Until the end of the twentieth century the primary source of information was published books that were subject to professional review before publication.
  • The internet requires no professional review. Instead whether it is ‘liked’ and appears on search engine returns is based on criteria such as appearance and sponsorship, etc.

Many have emphasised the need to establish information’s credibility before accepting its views. “The notion of credibility has two components: competency and trustworthiness” Wilson, 1983. Thus, we need to assess the credibility of what we find on the internet, one approach is shown below.

Word Count: 398


Connaway, Lynn Silipigni, I always stick with the first thing that comes upon Google,

Connaway, Lynn Silipigni, Donna M. Lanclos, and Erin M. Hood, ‘I find Google a lot easier than going to the library website.’ Imagine Ways to Innovate and Inspire Students to Use the Academic Library. Proceedings of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) 2013 conference, April 10-13, 2013, Indianapolis

Fogg, B. J. Web Credibility, Stanford University.

Marc, Prensky. Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1, On the Horizon, Vol. 9 No 5, (2001)

Marc, Prensky. Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 2, On the Horizon, Vol. 9 No 6, (2001)

White, David. Visitors and Residents,

White, David. Visitors and Residents: Credibility,

White, David. Visitors and Residents: Mapping activity,

Wilson, Patrick. Second Hand Knowledge, (Praeger), 1983