In a 2009 interview, Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg declared that, “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” (in Kirkpatrick 2010, p.10). According to this stance, many of us should probably be considered morally corrupt, duplicitous and deceitful. Zuckerberg’s attitude seems to have softened since then, however his original statement reflects common assumptions about internet users as “simply representing or expressing their identities through profiles and interaction” (Cover 2014, p.58). It is also characteristic of an approach to identity in general that relies on a fixed and single, true identity. Upon reflection of my online activity, the above themes seem obsolete. A more practical way of approaching how I behave online is by viewing identity as a “moving target” (Smith and Watson 2014, p.72). Drawing from post-modern ideas that reject an essential self, my online identity can be viewed as prismatic and constructed through performance and the way I present myself depending on context and purpose.
Throughout the twentieth century scholars developed approaches to identity that questioned traditional conceptions of identity. Irvine Goffman put forth the idea that there is no essential self and that an individual “performs identity through both of the forms of intentional and unintentional expression” (Cover 2016, p.11). Similarly, Judith Butler describes how identity is an illusion constituted and reinforced by repetition of current discourses or norms (which can be challenged), and fluid depending upon context and time (Cover 2016, p.7).
Extending the above to my participation in online spaces, the contexts and purposes for these activities vary and, as such, so does my self-presentation. The multiple identities I present across my social media accounts are consistent with observations made by dana boyd in her study of adolescents’ use of social media. Boyd discovered a common theme in which users decide to represent themselves “in different ways on different sites with the expectation of different audiences and different norms” (2014, p.38). The content I share, the language I use and the tastes I reveal are dependant upon my purposes and who I am targeting my profile towards.
I have six different profiles that I maintain on various social media which are strategically targeted towards a specific audience for a specific purpose.
I have Facebook for social networking with friends and family. My privacy is fairly locked down and I purposefully keep my friends list exclusive to people I already have a connection with offline. In this space, I perform an informal and personal version of my identity by sharing travel pics, humorous memes, articles and music videos. My language is colloquial, sometimes profane and my opinions are rarely held back.
I use LinkedIn for professional networking and employment. It is a relatively static profile that outlines my professional experience and links to my main Twitter and my WordPress for those interested in connecting with me. The identity presented here is strictly professional and formal due to the audiences I am targeting who expect a cohesive and professional identity and are not interested a funny meme or a picture of me drunk in Paris.
My WordPress is used for blogging and my writing portfolio. The identity presented here shifts between professional in my portfolio sections and informal in my blog. This is to show interested audiences that I am capable of a variety of formal and informal writing styles.
My main Twitter is for study, wider social networking and news. The identity I perform in this context is informal, however, not as colloquial and less focused on sharing personal information or tastes as my Facebook account. The Tweets embedded below demonstrate how I have used my Twitter in an attempt to engage with ALC themes and try to spark discussion.
I also have a pseudonymous Twitter account which I use to make acerbic observations and post opinions that inevitably infuriate alt-right trolls. I am aware that this activity may be seen as transgressional, which is why this account is held under a pseudonym. The version of my identity here is one that is adversarial, fiery and smart-alecky.
Instagram is for keeping a visual diary and showing some of my art portfolio. The images I post are of a lowbrow, sometimes controversial nature. My Instagram account is kept pseudonymous and seperate to each of my other social media profiles because I am trying to build an organic following without relying on already established networks. This version of my identity is informal, irreverent and creative.
The activity outlined above demonstrates my awareness of how I perform various versions of my identity in online spaces. It also reveals how identity formation is an ongoing process that allows and requires individuals to constantly modify, evolve or switch between identities depending upon purpose. Excluding my pseudonymous Instagram and Twitter accounts, the identities I present across my social media are generally cohesive and only slightly modified for context and purpose.
My pseudonymous accounts allow me a space to experiment and express myself free of scrutiny from my more conservative networks. Both dana boyd and 4Chan founder, Christopher Poole describe how people use online anonymity and pseudonymity to enable creativity, freedom of expression and identity exploration without being shackled to mistakes, previous attitudes or the expectations of other people (boyd 2014, p.43; Hill, 2011).
In the offline world I am a different person depending upon the context and purpose and the same goes for my online activity. I would never invite my mother to a boozy night out with a bunch of mates (sorry, Mum!) and I would never invite a potential employer around for Christmas lunch. I wouldn’t attend an important conference wearing the singlet and shorts I have on right now and I wouldn’t blast an expletive laden gangsta rap track in the office of the non-profit I volunteer with. Humans have diverse lives and complex personalities, to be confined to a single online identity would be contrary to how I live and express myself day-to-day.
boyd, d. 2014, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, Yale University Press, New Haven.
Cover, R. 2014 ‘Becoming and Belonging: Performativity, Subjectivity, and the Cultural Purpose of Social Networking’ in Poletti, A. and Rak, J. (eds.) 2014, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 55-69.
Cover, R. 2016, Digital Identities: Creating and Communicating the Online Self, Academic Press, London.
Hill, K. 2011 ‘Chris Poole, The Anti-Mark Zuckerberg, Elegantly Campaigns For Freedom of Identity on the Web’ in Forbes, 20 October, retrieved 4 December 2016, <http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2011/10/20/chris-poole-the-anti-mark-zuckerberg-elegantly-campaigns-for-freedom-of-identity-on-the-web/#2a81683c6baf>.
Kirkpatrick, D. 2010, The Facebook Effect, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York.
Smith, S. and Watson, J. 2014 ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation’ in Poletti, A. and Rak, J. (eds.) 2014, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 70-96.
Broader Online Activity
- Blog about Black Mirror and gamification
- Attempts at Twitter engagement and ALC themes
- See Tiffit tally