Download: Online Identity
Many of us go through our lives online, making use of various online identities without giving it a second thought. However our various activities online create numerous personas, as we interact with websites and people across the Web.
Online Identity is a social identity that an Internet user establishes in online communities and websites. It may also be considered a constructed representation of the user, and therefore an extension of the self.
Such identities, although being an extension of the user, may be anonymous, with users preferring not to reveal personally identifying information but presenting their views, beliefs, or affiliations that exist in the real world.
User authentication is usually required by the websites holding the identity, and IP addresses, as well as cookies, may be used to identify users. Therefore users have to register with a website, thereby initiating the online identity, and then subsequently login to use the site.
When people create online identities, they in effect create an alternate version of themselves, that is based on their real lives, but is at the same time different from it. People will then live their alternate lives that they have created, in a manner that best suits them.
People often lie about themselves when giving information in online profiles, or at least they tend to exaggerate or sugarcoat some of the details. Information given in online profiles is always intended to present the user in the most positive light, even if not necessarily reflecting reality.
The Internet allows us to present versions of ourselves to other people, that seem more appealing to us and others. Take Facebook for example, the profiles and the posts that people make are a part of their online identity.
Because people tend to post their life’s highlights, the social network presents a picture of the user’s life that is not balanced, giving a false representation of their actual lives. However, since most of the user’s friends are not in the same location as the user, all the time, this is the version of their self that is perceived.
There are many situations in which online identity is at work. If you can imagine any kind of interaction that goes on online, there is online identity behind it. Any website that needs to know who its users are, will be making use of online identity.
The most famous example of online identity is in social media. Websites like Facebook or Linkedin, have to register their users and authenticate them every time they return to the site.
Increasingly, learning institutions are taking their education efforts online, with features like online classrooms or blended learning. This is a good example of online identity at work. It provides a platform where the class could interact at a much higher level, through forums and chat rooms where knowing the identity of other users is important.
Businesses are also finding use cases for online identity as well. There are websites that are designed to bring people together to do business. In order to achieve this, it is important that the identity of the actors be known, and that the online environment fosters trust.
As an example of doing business online are online gig bidding sites such as Upwork and Freelancer, which bring together employers and the freelancers they seek. It is interesting to note, how various identities work together to bring about the total experience on such a site. For instance, social media accounts are linked to the site, in order to establish authenticity, and so are user bank cards, that are used for purposes of confirming a user’s identity on the site.
Online identity provides a certain level of anonymity, that may be gained under the guise of an alternate persona. Not only can people make pretend about their lives, they can also pretend to be completely different people, with a different identity altogether.
This can either be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. For instance, someone might anonymously write a blog, in order to protect their identity from parties that my seek to harm them: for example oppressive political regimes.
At the same time, another may completely and irreparably damage the reputation of someone else while hiding under the banner of anonymity. This protects the perpetrator of such a smear campaign, and absolves them of responsibility.
The Internet can be a cruel place. There are incidents of cyber-bullying that damage the self esteem of victims, whilst the perpetrators enjoy the protection of anonymity, or feel that they are far from reach to face the repercussions of their actions.
Perhaps the most sinister result of the ease with which people can create online identities comes in the form of online sexual predators. These are often men, who pretend to be someone else, in order to groom and sexually victimise unsuspecting children.
There are indeed many concerns around online identity, when you also consider the possibility of identity theft, such that this is a matter which should concern us all. Law enforcement should be and is also involved to ensure that people can be held accountable for the online identities they create. Of course this is a controversial subject, because such interference by authorities is open to abuse. What are your thoughts on online identity?
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