UOSM2008 Topic 2: Discuss the arguments for and against having more than one online identity.

Question for Topic 2: Discuss the arguments for and against having more than one online identity.


Image sourced:http://www.tavallini.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/web-reputation.jpg

The discussion outlining the arguments for and against having more than one online identity is extremely vast. This is owing to how our relationship with the Internet is ever changing, mobile devices, wireless connectivity, and ‘our increasing virtual presence across multiple social media services have all but collapsed the boundary between being online or offline.’[1] Some individuals are considered to ‘reside’ online. (See previous post)

‘The Internet is not a set of static objects but a dynamic network of connected, interacting subjects.’[2] It is this issue of interaction that has raised the question of online ‘authenticity’ or online ‘anonymity’ in relation to digital identity.

What people are saying: Authenticity

  • According to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, and Richard Allan, its director of policy in Europe, ‘a critical mass of people only want online interactions supported by ‘authentic’ identity.’[3]
  • Cyberbullying, racism and hate speech are rampant on the internet, ‘Google argues that people behave better when they use their real names.’[4]
  • The Independent’s journalist Alex Masters states: ‘bullying, racism, accountability, impersonation of an individual or individuals, even stock market manipulation […] are all bi-products of a digital world occupied by anonymous individuals who believe they are unidentifiable.’[5]
  • Masters continues: ‘The rise of identity-centric social networks like Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, make it increasingly more difficult to live an anonymous life on the Internet. These platforms are inherently social and rely on you, as a user, to establish a network of friends and acquaintances. This effectively creates an online version of your real life that relies on your true identity in order to function.’[6]

What people are saying: Anonymity

  • The Guardian journalist Alex Kratoski remarks: ‘pseudonymous users often identify themselves in different social networks using the same account name. But because their handles aren’t based on real names, they can deliberately delineate their identity accordingly, and reassert anonymity if they wish.’[7]
  • Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project, hopes to re-anonymise the web. “The ability to be anonymous is increasingly important because it gives people control, it lets them be creative, it lets them figure out their identity and explore what they want to do, or to research topics that aren’t necessarily ‘them’ and may not want tied to their real name for perpetuity.”[8]
  • The Independent’s Alex Masters:  ‘Being anonymous on the web also makes it possible for people to discuss sensitive subjects, such as medical conditions, physical abuse and sexual orientation, without these actions affecting their everyday lives in a negative or potentially harmful way.’[9]

I would like to argue that it is possible to have multiple online identities whilst maintain a level of ‘authenticity’. Multiple identities allow you to filter your online ‘content’ and have control over what is relevant and deemed acceptable for each audience. It gives you further control in an aggregated feed based online network to discern which version of yourself to present or allow access to. When remarking on which version of yourself I am merely speaking in terms of a ‘Professional’ and ‘Personal or Social’ capacity, not in terms of a disassociated escapable pseudonym.

On a personal level, I have been gravitating to but in some respects forced to adopt the use of my real name online by ‘megaliths’ of the web Facebook and Google. ‘Internet giants Facebook and Google want to link online and offline personas – while other social sites prefer people to play with the freedom of pseudonyms.’[10] As a result I now opt for ‘Alysia.Wildman’ as a frequent username and as the handle of my email address. That is not without admitting that prior to the existence of alysia.wildman@hotmail.co.uk – there was a much more embarrassing email address in existence.

Moreover, I must note my frequent use of ‘Thoughtlessjoll’ as an alias; however, in instances where this username is present it is accompanied by my real name on Twitter, WordPress, Instagram, Letterboxd and so on… It is tethered to so many of my online accounts that I dare not change it for the colossal upheaval it would cause. I share the view that ‘The emergence of single sign-on plugins, such as ‘Facebook Connect’, have rapidly increased the adoption of real world identities across the web.’[11] As they enable simple rapid sign up and eradicate the need to memorise dozens of usernames and passwords.

To conclude, I am beginning to believe that if you’re not willing to put your name to it on the web, then perhaps you shouldn’t be looking at or creating said content. Moreover, It is possible with the use of privacy settings to streamline your ‘authentic’ online presence for your respective audience. I share the belief that ‘authenticity’; use of your real identity on the Internet can reduce cyber bullying and racism online as people can be held accountable for their actions and words. It introduces repercussions to the world of the web, and perhaps those consequences are needed because after all – we are in the age of ‘living’ online.


Doctorow, Cory, ‘Google Plus forces us to discuss identity’ [Date Accessed: 20/02/2014: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/blog/2011/aug/30/google-plus-discuss-identity]

Krotoski, Alex, ‘Online Idenitity: Is authenticity or anonymity more important?’ [Date Accessed: 20/02/2014: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity]

Masters, Alex, ‘Identity on the Internet: the pros and cons of anonymity’ [Date Accessed: 23/02/2014: http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2011/09/19/identity-on-the-internet-the-pros-and-cons-of-anonymity/]

Warburton, Steven, ‘Rhizome: Digital Identity Matters’, (London: Kings College London, 2010) [Date Accessed: 19/02/2014: http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/rhiz08_DigitalIdentityMatters.pdf]


12 thoughts on “UOSM2008 Topic 2: Discuss the arguments for and against having more than one online identity.

  1. Hi! I agree with your point raised about the level of authenticity which can still be achieved when establishing multiple online identities – just because an individual has more than one account does not necessarily mean they are illegitimate or an in-accurate representations of themselves for that specific identity. I think the privacy controls available on almost every networking site available (as far as I’m aware!), as you mentioned, are key in forming an authentic online identity for users, and are important in reducing the negative aspects of creating multiple online identities which occur (cyberbullying, racism, trolling etc).
    Looking further into the topic of authenticity I came across this article discussing the debate surrounding online authenticity, considering the writer’s own reputation when publishing online under his own ‘authentic’ identity… http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/facebook-comments-and-the-authenticity-of-multiple-identities/

    • I appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment on my blog post for UOSM2008 and thank you for introducing me to this article on online ‘authenticity’. It is an eloquent article taking both viewpoints into account and he concisely hits the nail on the head with statements such as: ‘The argument is simple: people will behave better if forced to stand behind what they write.’ and that ‘anonymity allows unpopular ideas and more honest discourse to flourish.’ I strongly share his concluding point that a single online identity is potentially inevitable.

  2. Really well laid out arguments for both sides, the quotes are really well selected and get straight to the point. ‘Google argues that people behave better when they use their real names’ I particularly liked and wish I’d referenced this point myself!

    I think this video is a really good reference about arguments for and against authenticity online. Some problems mentioned include cyber bullying which can be a result of things being read in different ways (misinterpretation) and things being blown out of proportion -what Erik Qualman calls socialnomics, where word of mouth becomes world of mouth ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-JVXjGc_Aw ).

    I wonder if an authentic online identity (where it is optional) is worth the risk due to some cases where there have been vast consequences for what may have been a momentary lapse in judgement. Often a likewise mistake in a real-world situation is unlikely to result in such severe consequences.
    For example, #hasjustinelandedyet, a case where she became a social media folk devil (Cohen, 2002) within hours which resulted in her loosing her job before she even responded to the media storm. As people only reside in their online identities part time it also reduces the chance to rectify the mistake in a timely manor allowing it time to snowball: ( http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/pr-executive-justine-sacco-apologises-after-losing-job-over-racist-aids-joke-provoked-hasjustinelandedyet-twitter-storm-9020809.html )

    Reference Offline:
    Cohen, S. (2002). Folk devils and moral panics: The creation of the mods and rockers. Psychology Press.

  3. I have just watched the motion graphic video on Erik Qualman’s socialnomics and some of the statistics listed are indeed ‘revolutionary’, and some utterly baffling. The transition of the expression ‘word of mouth’ to ‘world of mouth’ is a particularly adept and perceptive way of labelling how social media is transforming our world.

    I was previously unaware of PR executive Justine Sacco’s Twitter blunder, that unsurprisingly resulted in a Twitter storm and a trending topic #hasjustinelandedyet. This is all quite remarkable, (because for someone who works in PR at IAC, a company responsible for running websites including OKCupid, The Daily Beast, Vimeo and Tinder – the importance of appropriate online content/behaviour would be well established). However, I acknowledge your point that people only reside in their online identities part-time which causes a potential timelag where someone may not be able to rectify their mistake prior to it escalating to detrimental heights.

    Even when considering the Justine Sacco Case Study and the risk associated with using an ‘authentic’ identity, the potential damage to your reputation can be curtailed by knowing your audience, adjusting your privacy settings and like in the offline world following the mantra: ‘Think before you speak’.

  4. Hi Alysia!

    First of all, great layout! The layout made it easy to get a quick oversight over your thoughts about the topic and made me want to continue reading your thoughts about this topic.

    I really liked how you are weighing authenticity up against anonymity online, and you show good points with the usage of relevant references. It seems like you believe having an authentic online identity is more important than being able to be anonymous online as you wrote more about authenticity in the conclusion and so on. If I’m right in this, I would be interested in knowing why you think it is important to stay authentic online – do you possible have some advantages/disadvantages on being authentic online?

    The voting button in the end, very clever to differentiate your blog from everyone else’s!
    – I voted ‘authenticity’ and it is quite relatable for what I was writing in my own post.

    I agree in a lot of the points you make in this post, however, I must say I’m not completely agreeing in what you wrote about being authentic still allows you to have multiple online identities, I would rather call them ‘partial online identities’ because even though they are representing different sides of you, it is still obvious the profiles represents the same person (or did I misunderstand?) You might not agree on this, and that is fine because I think there is a lot of different definitions out there on what represents one online identity, and what represents having multiple online identities. I am not quite sure how I would separate them myself yet. But briefly I would put it like this:

    One online identity: consistent in everything you are posting online, and all data you provide will represent one identity.

    Multiple: A person’s online identity would look different (not just a little) on different online profiles. (Some of them might represent the same identity).

    Authentic online identity: All of your online profiles represent the same identity, and you offline identity supports your online identity.

    Would you somehow agree in this, or what are your thoughts around this break down? Would love to hear more about your visions and arguments!

    Great work! It was a good read! (Sorry for the ling comment, got carried away, haha!)

    – Kaya

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

      Yes I am definitely of the persuasion that online ‘authenticity’ is important and outweighs the advantages of online anonymity.

      I’m just going to provide a key advantage and possible disadvantage of ‘Authenicity’ online.

      Advantage: quite simply, online ‘authenticity’ goes along way to prevent Cyberbullying, racism and hate speech on the internet, Google argues that people behave better when they use their real names.

      Disadvantage: Through using an ‘authentic’ identity online, we may potentially be opening ourselves up to an entire host of privacy issues and a loss of ownership over our own data. See: This article on The Guardian argues that our data is our digital identity – and we need to reclaim control. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/sep/19/data-digital-identity-cullen-hoback

      Okay, I understand how you do not feel that ‘authenticity’ permits you to have multiple online identities and considering your point of view that ‘partial identities’ tethered to the same authentic name may be a better way of expressing this.

      When considering your break down and the way in which you regard ‘authenticity’ – I would just like to point you towards Samantha Eslinger’s blog post on Topic 2 here: http://samanthaeslinger.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/uosm2008-topic-2-multiple-online-identities/

      As we had a particularly good discussion which tackles with the concept of ‘authenticity’ in both the online and offline world. Samantha’s blog post also pointed me towards an interesting article:
      -’Individuals are constantly managing and restricting flows of information based on the context they are in, switching between identities and persona.’ -http://www.michaelzimmer.org/2010/05/14/facebooks-zuckerberg-having-two-identities-for-yourself-is-an-example-of-a-lack-of-integrity/
      – Samantha’s blog post also introduced me to Goffman’s theories on the representation of self in an everyday environment and thus ‘offline’.The focus on how this segregated self or acting in a manner that is deemed appropriate in ‘offline’ environments predates issues of multiple identities online.

      This leads me to believe that representing yourself in a number of different ways (multiple online identities) is a natural progression from the way we interact in offline environments.

      • Thanks for all of the additional readings, I will defiantly have a look at all of them before reflecting more on this topic, interesting to see all of the different views on this one as many of us UOSM2008 students have taken quite a different approach to discuss this topic. I do agree in your +/- points on having an authentic online identity and I feel we have been discussing our thoughts well and have come to some ‘conclusion’ I might say. Thanks for taking the time discussing with me!

        – Kaya

  5. Hi Alysia,
    Quite a nice blog and it’s worth spending time to read it. The used bullet points and headings made it really easy to read the blog in one go. And the amount of cited materials is just impressive.
    The division between authenticity and anonymity is quite nice. However, I was a bit confused, because the topic was whether is it bad or good to have more than one identity. And as you probably know, you can have more than one online identity in both cases, in authentic way or in anonymous, and it is up to us whether in which way we use them, and in which category we have more than one identity, isn’t it?
    My question to you is: did you (or a person you know) ever had a situation which required you to create an anonymous online identity and what was the reason to do so? What are the advantages of this? Because for example, I have two online identities on Facebook; one is the actual me, Eldar Alasgarov, and the second one is Eddi Soton, which I use during the term time in order to more focus on my studies and it has only 30 friends which are all from the University of Southampton.
    This video uploaded by Google Ideas is quite supportive to your dilemma between Authenticity and Anonymity: –> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DCkVxHZWDY
    P.S. That poll at the very end is a great idea. Good Job! I’ve voted for Authenticity.
    Regards, Eldar

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog post.

      It is such a large and broad topic that opens up a wealth of questions and it was the secondary reading that I carried out that informed my decision and approach to focus on ‘authenticity’ vs ‘anonymity’ and how multiple identities function within that.

      In answer to your question: Yes, I have at points in my life used an anonymous online identity and to be quite frank my reason for doing so was probably ill-informed, had poor consequences and came from a place of youthful naivety. I think we are a generation who at the age of 12-15 had access to MSN Messenger for better or worse. I don’t think I experienced advantages of this, but I’m sure it could be argued that anonymity allows you the opportunity to interact with people in an unanchored manner, expressing thoughts and opinions freely and sharing personal matters you may previously have felt unable to disclose.

      The way in which you use multiple identities online as you outlined is very task orientated and showcases one of the ways in which you can segregate your online identity but still remain authentic to yourself.

      Thank you for voting in the poll, I am hoping to use the results in my summary of this topic. 😀

  6. Pingback: Reflective Summary, Topic 2, #UOSM2008 | Kimberly Fenton

  7. Pingback: UOSM2008 Reflective Summary -Topic 2 | Samantha Eslinger

  8. Pingback: Portfolio Blog Post UOSM2008 | UOSM2008 Alysia Wildman

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