Multiple or conflicting identities online; to what extend do people make use of them?

Basically, a parallel world to ours, the internet provides us with the chance, and opportunity, to act however we want. A space away from our physical interactions and limitations where we can escape and fulfill the most varied needs and desires that we have, be them within reason or not. But at the same time, the internet is not a place free of judgment and actions that we can take while on it are susceptible to consequences outside of the virtual space, what can make people aware of what they post, comment or share.


To escape those possible outcomes, people have at their disposition many different options; may it be the ‘incognito mode’ that’s present in browsers, changing the privacy settings on social media accounts, or creating different profiles for different social groups. But is it fair to say that this kind of actions make people share multiple or conflicting identities online?

The presentation of self within the internet, as time passes, has developed new opportunities as well as new problems, all because the increase in forms of communication and interaction allowed in the online space has, as a form of society, developed an etiquette that is always evolving (Tashmin, 2016, p.90). Just like the offline self, our online personas are bound to certain rules that if not followed can entail consequences, but at the same time, are allowed a freedom that might not be possible otherwise, as “[…] online environments provide their users with the potential to perform and present different identities. The distance between performer and audience that physical detachment provides makes it easy to conceal aspects of the offline self and embellish the online.” (Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013, p.102)


Second Life screenshot, the game has been online since 2003

According to a research made among bloggers and users of Second Life[1], Bullingham and Vasconcelos have established that, even though user would usually try to represent their offline self within the online communities, they (the user) would focus more on the parts of the personalities that they believe are the best and most relatable. This can be noticed as they say that “[…] there is an espoused desire amongst users to give a true, undistorted picture of themselves online. They do this by including real life details on a blog or designing an avatar to have a keen likeness to their appearance.” (Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013, p.110)


The opposite statement can also be seen throughout the same research made by them. As people might find, or need, that space as a ‘safe area’ where they can be who they really want to. As the research can “[…] show that there are reasons why users choose to adopt personas and particular masks – to conform and ‘fit in’ and to explore the advantages of anonymity. It was also seen that the process can be reversed, with the ‘true self’ being the persona in SL when the user’s offline self is subject to family or societal pressure.” (Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013, p.110). And because of these pressures that the user might feel from any kind of source, the online self would be the best option for the users to be themselves.



Mostly, social media users will try to utilize of the space given to express themselves in ways that can be relatable and of ease engagement within others. As “[…] the individual will act in a thoroughly calculating manner, expressing himself in a given way solely in order to give the kind of impression to others that is likely to evoke from them a specific response he is concerned to obtain […]” (Goffman, 1956, p.3) as – normally – people won’t try to engage with others in a way that would tarnish their persona[2].


Sharing multiple identities while online can be extremely enticing. The opportunity to express yourself in ways that were never thought before and to be able to do so without many obstacles, but what is often overlooked is that “[…] the online self is ‘anchored’ to the offline one, and that disparity between the two selves is minimized. Reasons for this included wishing to be honest and direct with others, and the belief that identity does not really change online, still being informed by the offline self.” (Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013, p.110).


Be it amongst friends, with family, clubs, societies, social media or any other online environment, people will always search for a safe environment where they can act and express themselves freely is something that will never end. Bullingham and Vasconcelos research show us that no matter the space where we find ourselves, we will always be more incline to show our true selves to others, as being honest with others is how we form bonds that can be considered meaningful to us.


The identities that people utilize online can, and will be, conflicting, as they are but a share of the person who we are. The quest for space where we can find people that relate and engage with us within the same intensity that we want to give, or show, is natural of humans. We are sociable creatures that – no matter how introverted you are – like to be remembered and approached – even for just a “how are you”. The online space might give us all the tools for doing and being who we want, but at the end of the day, the person behind the screen and the person within it are still the same.


Anticlimactic, maybe, but so are most things in life. We’ll get used to it.


Word count: 912

[1] Second Life is an online virtual world, developed and owned by the San Francisco-based firm Linden Lab and launched on June 23, 2003. It still has dedicated users in 2021, even though is not as preeminent as it once was. [2] Unless they are trolls.


References:


Bullingham, L. and Vasconcelos, A., 2013. 'The presentation of self in the online world': Goffman and the study of online identities: Journal of Information Science: Vol 39, No 1. 101–112


Goffman, E., 1956. The presentation of self in everyday life. NewYork, NY: Anchor Books.


Tashmin, N., 2016. Art of Impression Management on Social Media. [online] pp.89-102. Psjd.icm.edu.pl. Available at: <http://psjd.icm.edu.pl/psjd/element/bwmeta1.element.psjd-3e6d90b7-c452-417a-a9e8-e506560eb874> [Accessed 4 April 2021].

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