Topic 2: Online identity, and the choice we must make

In my last post I spoke about the changing attitudes towards the psychology of web-users in how they use the web.

The existence of online trolls is just one example of how people may believe they are in fact more protected and anonymous in their actions online than they truly are, which we may call Online disinhibition effect (1) or even the “Gyges effect”, first mentioned by Plato (2).

“Look at me. I’m a middle aged man with a limp and a wheeze and a son and a wife that I love. I’m not just a little avatar of an eye.” 

‘Quote from a man to his online abuser, in person(3).’

Because of instances such as this, it is important that if we do seek to use the web as a forum to escape from our real identity, that we remember to keep it legal, and remember that our anonymity can be compromised.

However, people also may seek to use an online identity to protect themselves from online data harvesting and tracking:

In light of the above one might say that a decision should be made before you even set foot on the web:

‘Should I keep one real identity of myself online and only act in ways I would be happy for my future employer to observe, or do I take measures such as splitting my identities, and/or the use of a VPN (3) to hide any actions I undertake online that I would not be happy to have shared publicly?’

For many people that do use the internet for social or non-professional aspects, the former option may simply be too restrictive, to the point of ironically defeating one purpose of the web as being a digital location where people are free to discuss matters anonymously that they may not, in the ‘real world’ (See ‘Benefits of Virtual communities (4)).

I believe from this that the question is more one of how much we are willing to sacrifice online for our freedom to privacy outside the web. If we are a digital ‘Visitor’ this may be less of an issue, but a ‘resident’ must be aware that if they choose to wear a ‘mask’ online, that it could prove to be more damaging in what it represents, as a need to hide something, which in itself may be misconstrued, than simply portraying yourself ‘truthfully’ as your employer would like to see you.

1. Online disinhibition effect:

2.Ring of Gyges, Plato:

3. Traynor’s Eye blog post:

3. Virtual Private Network Wikipedia definition:

4.Benefits of Virtual Communities

Topic 2: Online identity, and the choice we must make

14 thoughts on “Topic 2: Online identity, and the choice we must make

  1. Hi Jens,

    The title of this blog post really intrigued me… Especially the use of the word ‘choice’, as this gives a little perspective behind the, perhaps, darker side of online communities.

    I think your analogy of ‘wearing a mask’ works as great metaphor for exacerbating the prevalence of anonymity online, particularly when cross-referenced with your previous discussion of keeping our online activity legal and liable! In addition, it was interesting to think about whether I was portraying myself genuinely online. Saying that, I definitely use the web for more non-professional pursuits – so the ‘real me’ must be being conveying the ‘digital me’ with an honest representation.

    Also, I liked the image. The fact that it is of masked lovers triggers me to think about the secrecy and potential danger in online relationships. This is a concept that could be explored further within the online identities conceptualisation. Food for thought!


    1. Thanks for the reply Tatiana 🙂
      I’m happy you liked the mask imagery, I definitely think it’s a great way to view the personality we convey to others in physical form, it can be chopped and changed and what is on the outside might also give an insight to what is behind. I personally am for the idea that people are presenting themselves however they might like to on the web, but definitely after seeing just how in depth some of these activity monitoring technologies go, it definitely makes one hope that prospective employers are happy with the thought of interviewing varied applicants from all walks of life rather than cutting out some potentially great workers because of how something was interpreted online.
      The online relationships aspect is definitely another one it would have been great to go into as well and whether it is overall a good or bad thing or whether it is really that different from meeting someone in person, definitely a good thought!


  2. dilinisene says:

    Hiya Jens!

    I really liked how you created a title which made me think about online identities in a perspective where- we’ve actually always known the public secret of always having a “choice”. It made me realise we are actually incharge of whatever we post online. The minute we post a funny photo or comment on someone’s profile, the minute we click Enter, it’s available for anyone to see (whether they have our permission or not).

    The word “choice” here was what made me think the most because whatever we say to retrieve anything back from online (especially something that may have offended someone), we always have a choice to click Enter after typing/uploading it online before it goes on online.

    Take the Justin Sacco tweet regarding her business trip to Africa for example (, she may not have thought it will offend people worldwide but the second she tweeted, it was gone online, anyone to see and she’d made the choice to post something as such. Whether she had a malicious intent or just an attempt at humor, we can actually never know.


    1. Hi Dilini,

      I’m happy that my post made you think in more detail about the choices we constantly make every day, without thinking too hard about them! I’d say it’s important to not overanalyze every choice we make, but it’s definitely worth thinking how we come across at times, especially online, where you only have text to convey quite often, with no body language or expressions to help convey your feelings. As you said, the other issue is that once something is out there in writing, someone can, and inevitably will screencap it if it’s incriminating, so you absolutely must make sure that you’re not making anything like that tweet public! Perhaps if she had kept that ‘joke’ within a group of close friends it may have at most been ill-founded and distasteful, but by making it public, it makes it seem like it is an opinion that Justine wholeheartedly backs and clearly came to be used against her…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Jens,

    I enjoyed reading this post- that idea of ‘choice’ is an interesting one. Indeed, we do all have to make that decision about our identities: should I remain entirely authentic and as I would want my employer to see me? Or should I see the Internet as an opportunity to both represent my true identity AND to communicate and do things I perhaps wouldn’t do if I wasn’t behind a mask?

    I’ve been reading some interesting stuff recently that focuses on how, while online anonymity can lead to issues such as trolling and data harvesting, it also has a very positive side to it.

    Statistics show that 50% of anonymous online commenters communicate about the news, and 45% about politics. Does this not suggest that anonymity in fact provides a platform for objective debate on important issues in the world today?

    While someone may not feel comfortable entering a discussion under their real name, for fear of being judged or of being directly attacked by those on the opposite side of the argument, the opportunity to do so anonymously overcomes this, in turn leading to more engagement.

    Admittedly, I see that there are still flaws in this concept, as it would perhaps allow for people to put out highly offensive and unfounded opinions. But I do think that there is something to say for anonymity making people more likely to engage.



    1. Thanks May, I know you’ve had some technical issues getting this onto the blog, so well done for the persistence first and foremost!
      I absolutely agree with you on the benefits of multiple online identities! I believe that whilst it does create the phenomenon of people being more openly insulting and judgemental of others, at the same time it also should allow people the opportunity to *truly* speak their mind, especially if they have opinions they may think would not be well received in the real world. Whether these opinions are good or bad, I think it’s great that people at least get to exchange the ideas they do have without the fear of repercussion (hopefully!).
      What I think happens is that the internet can give many the bravery, through perceived lack of any backlash, to say what they would not otherwise be able to due to shyness or fear of being judged, some people will use this ability for good intentions, while others will abuse the opportunity to say more and use it for abuse. I think as long as people find ways to make themselves fully anonymous, that these people will exist, but I’m definitely for the idea of an open platform where every individual gets a voice, no matter race/class/religion.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Jens,

    I really enjoyed your post. I must admit that at first I was attracted by the picture! But I found what you had to say really interesting. I think that Tatiana echoed most of my thoughts too. Obviously I don’t use the web for entirely academic research purposes, if I’m truly honest I probably spend far too much time browsing the showbiz section of the Daily Mail and looking at shoes on ASOS, but this isn’t something which I would wish to hide from people. I think the majority of people wouldn’t be concerned about their online identity defining them, in many ways, when we search on the internet it’s a genuine side of us that many of us don’t reveal on a daily basis. I personally worry that if we are able to be totally anonymous or hide our history with ideas such as ‘Reputation Bankruptcy’ this is something which can only really be used for negative reasons. What do you think?



  5. Your post was interesting to read and provides a different scope to what my peers have said on the issue. You discuss the fact that someone’s online identity should be determined before they engage themselves online. I think this is a good point especially in this present day where social media plays such a profound role in day to day life. It is important that new online users prepare themselves on what to expect when they create an identity “online” and more importantly, on how to maintain a secure online identity.

    When researching for this topic I came across a few statistics that I thought were relevant with some of your points. Surveys have shown that 49% of social network users do not provide their real name for their online identity. It would seem from this statistic that many people are doing what you mentioned of having multiple identities, using a fake name for accounts that are seen publicly and a real identity for accounts where they are potentially seen as more “professional”.

    I believe that this way of splitting identities can have a negative effect as it could encourage people to act inappropriately given that they are in some way “anonymous”. Across all online social mediums, we are offered a wide range of security options in order to ensure that unknown people cannot view our accounts and that future employers do not see our “private” images. I therefore, think that multiple identities are not a necessity. Do you think that if providing ones real identity was a requirement when creating an online identity it would help resolve current problems like identity theft?


  6. […] Jens questioned whether someone’s online identity should be determined before they engage themselves online.  I had not thought about the benefits of new online users knowing exactly who they want to be seen as when they are online. If someone is certain on having one identity and not multiple before they go online they are more likely to ensure this one identity is protected and therefore, act in an appropriate manner. […]


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