Who am I really: what my online identity actually says about me?

Who am I? – a question that everyone has probably asked themselves at least once in their lifetime but most would be unable to answer definitively.

Could you hand across your heart say that the identity you portray is identical to that in real life? The person I am online is pretty similar to real life. There is always some element of mystery that lies behind the persona people have online to the one they live and breathe, day in day out.

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Dr. Seuss quote at Canva

The Digital Zones blog post Multiple Me(s) notes that your online persona is ‘ever-changing’ and having multiple accounts across platforms enables us to switch between social and professional in a mouse click.

No wonder it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact person we are online. In my experience my online identify reflects mostly how I am, how I act and how I come to be in real life – I don’t sugar coat, I tell it how it is and am not trying to impress anyone. Although I will use a filter or two on Instagram to enhance the visuals in my posts.

I haven’t quite figured out what my online alter-ego is. It can differ across social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram switching from social to professional and back again with every post or tweet.

Furnell (2010) suggests that the increased use of social networks and platforms means users are more often than not divulging personal data that could wind up in the wrong hands and cause harm. So do we tell all online? I know I don’t – well not nearly as much as some people, but making a conscious decision to keep some things hidden always plays in the back of my mind. Maybe having a child instils this sense of ‘personal security’ or maybe I just like to keep people guessing.

Does it all come down to individuality and how one engages with their online communities or is there a deeper meaning behind the way in which we create our online identity?

My online social platforms are ad-hoc and spare of the moment – capturing a moment with my daughter or something naughty the dogs have done while home alone. I’ve never really thought to structure the things I post or tweet in a way that builds my story. Looking back, in a sense I have actually created one, painting a picture of the things that I do in real life and replicating them visually online.

When I sat back and took a look at my post history across platforms I begun to get this broader understanding of my thoughts, my values and who I am as a person. Your online identity incorporates so much more than just your posts, it’s your shares, retweets, likes and comments – it all adds to the bigger picture – the real you.

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Who am I? by Sophie (CC by 2.0)

Facebook has evolved from the platform of networking and friends to one of constant news streams of little to no relevance to anything I want to know and constant game invitations – I’m looking at you Farmville.

Facebook to me is a networking tool. It’s what keeps me informed about events in my community or buying, swapping or selling things or reminds me when my mum’s birthday is. It’s also the easiest way to organise a party and invite all your friends.

I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon when I was running the events program at the National Library of Australia. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or how to do it but I managed to come up with tweets every now and again to promote the events we ran.

Most included authors and publishers so I learnt how to tag people in my tweets, use appropriate hashtags to gather traction and engagement. My first tweet EVER promoted a digital culture talk – coincidence or not – and I think I did okay – one retweet is better than none right?

I was lucky enough to meet some amazing people along the way through this job – it also led me to follow many of their accounts, such as Benjamin Law, Jane Caro and Clementine Ford. Following accounts such as these grew my understanding of twitter and how it could be applied and the way it can be used to create meaningful content and engagement – it truly is amazing!

It was almost a light bulb moment – finally reaching the realisation of what Twitter was meant for and how it can be used as a platform to discuss issues that affect men, women and all of Australia from sexual abuse to discrimination and feminism.

I am still not quite there in tweeting regularly, or having a profile picture that is actually my face – maybe it’s that hint of mystery I keep mentioning – or engaging enough but I lurk and read posts.

It’s no surprise that most find the online and digital world frightening with a dash of excitement and mystery – but as the world continues to shift into ‘digital first’ or ‘digital only’ you can only embrace it or you’ll be left behind in the remnants of the analog life.

So go on, take the plunge – I am. Discover your digital self – #learnbydoing ­– whatever form that takes – blogging, tweeting, Facebook-ing or Instagram-ing – share, engage and communicate to reveal the online you!

References

Furnell, SM 2010, ‘Online identity: Giving it all away?’, Information Security Technical Report, vol 15, pp. 42-46

Featured image: Girl using laptop in hotel room by Ed Gregory, Stokpic (CC0)

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