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Online Identity-Creating New Personas and Relations Essay

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Updated: Jun 22nd, 2022

Introduction

An online identity is a way for users to identify themselves on internet social platforms such as networking websites and the blogosphere. Some individuals find it easier and more convenient to use their real names for this purpose but because of security issues most people adopt pseudo-names which only provide a limited level of their identity. In some instances, individuals can represent their persona by the use of avatars which are basically small pictures or graphics. Depending on the kind of presence that an individual develops on the internet as well as on the respective relationship that is built with other users, a reputation is developed which is enough to help them distinguish whether this identity is reliable primarily in terms of security. In some instances websites pick a particular user’s IP address and use it to distinguish identities.

This essay seeks to analyse the other impact of online identities in society while highlighting its applications, strengths and weaknesses. To this end, examples from modern day living shall be drawn and coupled with appropriate explanations to adequately evaluate the concept.

Methodology Statement

A mixed method of both qualitative and quantitative research shall be used to for this task. The research will be based on secondary data collection. According to Creswell (2003, p.228), the mixed method is most ideal for research as it provides for exhaustive collection and analysis of information. Data will be extracted from various journals, articles and books. The criteria of selection for the literature will be the relevance to the research topic as well as the year of publication. Both public and private libraries as well as online libraries will be visited in order to access the data. This research will be partly evidence based and partly founded on professional research by professionals in the field. Various articles will be studied in order to provide background information which will essentially give credibility to the final essay. Virtual communities being a critical aspect of business analysis cannot be effectively analysed without obtaining information from real case scenarios. This will definitely make for some interesting research and in as much most of the information will only be used for reference purposes, it will effectively came round to form the back-bone of the paper.

Information from literature will serve to provide explanation as regards to online identity. This will be very crucial information that will make the research report appeal to both professionals and the general public. For the latter, it may require that some of the information obtained from the books and other publications be broken down into simple language and at the same time illustrations drawn from the commonly applied systems of online identity.

Empirical data will be collected from recent studies with numbers and figures used to show the costs and economic impact internal audit in a particular institution and how it could effectively be used to serve as a guide for other organisations that would like to make the switch. Like with any other professional field of study, Information Technology research studies have to be conducted in such a way that the offer credibility to the practitioner. In such a specialized field, the strength lies in the figures and particularly the numbers obtained from real life scenarios to support collected evidence. With this knowledge in mind, effort will be made to obtain relevant information to the particular topic in question and this will be accompanied by proper citation.

For any professional study, chances are that extensive research has been carried out by professionals in the field before. Consequently, in order to establish the backbone of a given research project, it is only necessary that extensive review of literature be carried before identifying seeking firsthand information from the field. The latter, i.e. information collected from the field is also necessary since it helps give professional credibility to the project. Combining results from both sources would serve to foster their symbiotic relationship with one offering background information and the other presenting up-to-date information on the topic.

Online identity and its linkage to the rights of the user

Maintenance of anonymity in online platforms can only be guaranteed if proper and adequate infrastructure to sustain it is developed. Law enforcers have for some time now raised the concern over anonymity and pseudonymity on the internet (Boyer, 2008). This is regarded as an open ground for criminals who can easily hide their real identities and lure unsuspecting victims to their traps. As such, law enforcement officials in the United States and Europe have proposed the development of identity management systems which would legally link a certain online identity to a particular individual. The proponents of this suggestion suggest that this infrastructure should be developed in such a manner that individuals are able to tag their pseudonym to a genuine national identification document. On the other hand, there are some civil rights advocates who believe that this system will be unjustifiably invading the privacy of individuals. This, they argue, is because there are other developments such as reputation management systems which adequately carry out this function (Vacca, 2003). They suggest that these technologies should be modified and upgraded as opposed to developing new systems.

Online identities and its usage by online predators

Online predators are individuals who use the internet as a platform to exploit weaknesses. These persons are in most instances interested in sexual and financial exploitation. For this purpose, online predators come up with attractive and interesting names that would not easily distinguish them as predators (Boyer, 2008). Unfortunately, it is very hard to establish the truth in the claims of a person as who they say they are without first meeting them. Most individuals will use the style of a person’s writing in combination with the photographs they present on the internet to develop trustworthy ties. The most vulnerable group of individuals is teenagers and this is because it is in this age-group that young people are struggling to establish their personal identities and develop relationships outside their homes (Vacca, 2003).

Federal laws have been passed in the United States of America to provide for legal apprehension of online predators (Clough, 2010). Some of the allowances accorded by these laws include wiretapping in order to ensure that the culprits are arrested on time, before they cause any damage on their intended victims. In California for instance, it is an offence for an adult to have sexually-oriented communications with children over the internet.

The mask theory in evaluating online identity

Dorian Wiszniewski and Richard Coyne (2002), in the book Building Virtual Communities analyze online identity, by defining it as one of the numerous ways that are used in “masking” identity. The two authors claimthat when people interact in a social arena they are presenting a mask covering their true identity. The online sphere is arguably a social sphere and therefore the element of identity masking is even more pronounced because individuals make conscious decisions regarding their online presence. Users have to decide what to present regarding things like their age, occupation, username, contacts and so on. In addition to this, the more an individual continues to make contributions in the online social sphere, he/she continually adds to his mask through their writing style, the complexity of language used and the topical areas he/she covers. Wiszniewski and Coyne’s (2002) writing is very insightful but still leaves the reader feeling that online identity is a complex affair that still requires more research. They make note of the point that as soon as an individual establishes a mask, the mask reveals one or more things pertaining to the individual behind the mask (Wiszniewski and Coyne, 2002). For example, if a user opts to act like a basketball player, this symbolism reveals their interest in the sport itself. This element is pronounced such that even if an individual decides to shadow himself with a completely untrue identity, this presents their fear and inadequate self-esteem. It is definitely clear that they would not hide behind a falsehood were they confident of their ability.

Since online interaction calls for a lot of emotional and psychological involvement, most people would rather tread carefully and some would avoid it altogether (Lipson and Day, 2005). By using a mask to shield their identities people generally secure some amount of personal safety.The masks therefore make it easier for individuals to interact with some level of confidence. Wiszniewski and Coyne (2002) state that,

Education can be seen as the change process by which identity is realized, how one finds one’s place. Education implicates the transformation of identity. Education, among other things, is a process of building up a sense of identity, generalized as a process of edification.

Students who use the internet as an interaction platform have to give out some information about them and give their peers a chance to offer their response to this post. In this way, the mask is gradually receiving developments in the conversations held with other individuals hence giving the learners a more advanced awareness of their self-being. Edification happens giving individuals a chance to appreciate both their strengths and weaknesses. All online users need to capitalize on the freely available information on the internet to increase their intellectual abilities.

Online identity in relation to the development of virtual societies

Virtual communities are inventions that have made it easier for individuals to offer representations of who they are without the fear of condemnation. This encompasses personality traits, characters that evoke curiosity and the presentation of information on a real world identity issue that has not yet been revealed. This ends up bringing about more opportunities for society as a primary entity. This is especially because it gives individuals the ability to study and understand the functions of gender differentiation and sexuality, while at the same time interesting and beneficial to the individuals going through a shift of change. Online identity has made it easy for people to appreciate the different roles of individuals in society, with some of this elements being linked to the person’s life but cannot be well expressed in the real world.

One such opportunity is the increase in societal groupings that are comfortably tolerating homosexual and lesbian teenagers who are in the process of appreciating their own individuality. This goes in line with Hetrick and Martin’s (1987) research revealing that it is while at high school that homosexual and lesbian individuals come to terms with their own sexuality. From the study it was revealed that 80% of youth with homosexual tendencies were prone to severe isolation but this gave them a chance to fully understand themselves. Such communities permit individuals to share their experiences with other members of the group. The listening parties appreciate the challenges presented as they may have experienced the same in their lives, and therefore do not judge the speaker. In his study of online gay and lesbian communities, Silberman (1998) quotes an IT professional who says, “The wonderful thing about online services is that they are an intrinsically decentralized resource. Kids can challenge what adults have to say and make the news.” The internet has risen to be one of the most powerful avenues for youths that have adopted alternative sexualities to raise their concerns. Online communities give individuals an option to establish which sexual orientation appeals to them the most. By using online identities, young people are able to comfortably and easily switch from character to character which then makes it easier for them to appreciate their sexualities. This is line with McRae’s (2000) assertion that,

The lack of physical presence and the infinite malleability of bodies complicate sexual interaction in a singular way: because the choice of gender is an option rather than a strictly defined social construct, the entire concept of gender as a primary marker of identity becomes partially subverted.

Online identity as a function of disembodiment

Discussions of online identity generally highlight elements of disembodiment especially when it comes to matters of sexuality. Disembodiment in this instance implies that as long as a person is online, then their physical body is not exactly important and that they can easily break away from it for the entire period that they are interacting with other people over the internet. This, therefore, means that there is a theoretical distinction between the body and the identity that the person assumes (Vacca, 2003). In the cybersphere, the fundamental sexual identity of a person is information whose accuracy only the individual concerned holds. Truthfulness then becomes a contentious issue particularly when it comes to acts such as virtual sex. McRae (1997, p.75) says, “Virtual sex allows for a certain freedom of expression, of physical presentation and of experimentation beyond one’s own real-life limits.” As such, virtual sex brings about great complications when it comes to establishing a categorical distinguishing between mind body and soul. It is only through the establishment and definition of an online identity that the fundamentals of virtual relations can be understood.

Online identities and its linkage to real-world challenges

There is no way for online identity to be entirely separate from the basic societal challenges that are in existence in the real world. Westfall (2000, p.160) says, “The idea of truly departing from social hierarchy and restriction does not occur on the Internet (as perhaps suggested by earlier research into the possibilities presented by the Internet) with identity construction still shaped by others”. From this statement, Westfall presents the rarely discussed elements of communication and literacy related to the individual trying to establish an online identity. The personal skills and intelligence capabilities of individuals can easily affect the perceptions of other people as pertains to an individual in the same way that misconceptions develop in the real world.

Concerns raised in regards to online identity

The major challenges of online identity are perceived in terms of the improper representation and the contrast between the presence of an individual while online and offline. One of the most controversial elements as far as online identity is concerned stems from the sexual conduct of individuals over the internet. This is particularly in relation to the fact that most of the online offences fall under sexual predation (Wood and Smith, 2001). Pedophiles and other sexual offenders can easily hide their identities and capitalize on this ability to proceed to lure innocent victims into their traps.

Another major concern is that the ability to use online identities to create different personas which may or may not be related to the characters of individuals when offline make it difficult to distinguish what can in essence be defined as a real experience. Debate is still rife on whether online presence can indeed affect a person’s emotions when they go offline.

Commercialization of online identities

Online identities that are reputable are of great value to the holders. This is because for it to get to that level of popularity, an individual must have invested a lot of time and other resources. Secondly, other persons depend on how an online identity has been presented in order to decide whether or not to trust a person. This is the reason why individuals with popular online identities have in recent days put them up for sale. For instance the population of E-bay as a marketing site has taken a lot of time and patience to grow. However, at the heights it has reached, it is now worth millions.

Manifestation of online identity in modern-day society

Blogging

Blogs are essentially ways through which individual can raise their personal opinions through writing in avenues that are accessible to other members of the public. A blog is basically a public diary. When setting up blogs most people choose to use pseudonyms in order to assure themselves of personal protection. This also allows them more freedom to write anything that they feel like without the fear of condemnation. However, this freedom also comes with counter-effect of elevating slander and libel. Individuals can easily come up with articles tarnishing other people’s names including linking key public figures to unsubstantiated embarrassment. This is because online identities make it easier for a person to build an online reputation without having to revealing who they are.

Social networking

Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have enabled individuals to have an online identity that bridges online and real world identities. This is because such networks make it easy for users to amplify their best traits hence making them appear more interesting and/or attractive to other persons in the network. Individuals can use pictures in combination with words in social networking sites to establish identities that they may not have in the real world (Lipson and Day, 2005). Again the morality debate comes in particularly in terms of individuals using the positives gained using online identities to gain sexual and financial favors. In most instances, the victims are not aware of the perpetrators intentions and innocently develop attachment with the online persona developed through description and amplification of character. By the time the offenders strike, the victims have already been completely usurped into their lies making it difficult for them to make informed decisions pertaining to how to respond to any demands/ request made.

Online Identity and education

Online identity has in recent days crept into educational facilities particularly because of the introduction of online classes (Palfrey and Gasser, 2010). Students and their tutors no longer have to meet in a pre-destined facility for learning to happen. Face to face communications have been replaced by computer interfaces. Tutors and students can interact with students for the entire course without them ever learning each other’s true character. This is because either party can create on online identity that suits the particular goal that they are trying to achieve. For instance a lecturer may adopt a boisterous character while in real-life he may be timid individual who cannot meaningfully present him/herself in front of a crowd (Surhone, Timpledon and Marseken, 2009). The same may happen for awkward students who find fostering meaningful relationships with other students a challenge to cope with in real-life classrooms. The separation and anonymity created by online classes help them generate some amount of confidence which is in essence linked to their online identity.

In these types of educational setups, students do not create misconceptions about fellow classmates based on things like appearance and speech. Instead, they use the impressions that they individually create and present to each other. Individuals who normally would not volunteer to answer or ask questions or even state their own points of view may be more comfortable in this types of classes as they are in a position to thoroughly establish what they want to say before saying it. According to Smith, Ferguson and Caris (2001, p.2) “Communication via written media may lead students to take more time to think through their ideas since their words are in a more permanent setting (online) than most conversations carried on during class”

Summary

This essay has been a critical analysis of the aspect of online identities in society. In the introductory parts, a general review of the elements which lay influence on online identities and it’s relation to the real world conduct of individuals has been made and it has been illustrated that some of these elements include the intelligence levels of the users as well as the intentions of the particular individuals relating over the Internet. The success of online identities in virtual communities has been found to be influenced by such aspects as creative input in developing the identity as well as the overall number of times that an individual uses the identity to meaningfully interact with other individuals. Examples have been drawn from practical situations to illustrate the points noted above.

The final sections of the essay have mainly focused on how online identity is slowly finding relevance in each and every element of society. From pedagogical applications individuals are depending on the internet and the facilitating identities to ensure that they are comfortable in their communications with other people. Of even more interest, from a personal point of view, is how through the inception of online classes, tutors and students are no longer able to establish whether the characters that either of them over the internet is assumed or it is their genuine selves.

Conclusion

This report has provided an extensive study of online identities as an element the societal drift into online interactions. The research has been heavily dependent on published literature pertaining to the topic. This is because in Information and Technology (IT) like with any other academic field, chances are that extensive research has been carried out by professionals in the field before. Consequently, in order to establish the backbone of a given research project, it is only necessary that extensive review of literature be carried before identifying seeking firsthand information from the field. The latter, i.e. information collected from the field is also necessary since it helps give professional credibility to the project. Combining results from both sources would serve to foster their symbiotic relationship with one offering background information and the other presenting up-to-date information on the topic. Empirical data has been used and backed with numbers to give the discussion the kind of credibility that this type of scientific research demands. It is however worth noting that the study is not conclusive especially because more research on online identity and its impact on society are still needed.

Reference List

Boyer A. (2008). The Online Identity Theft Prevention Kit: Stop Scammers, Hackers, and Identity Thieves from Ruining Your Life. Florida:Atlantic Publishing Company

Clough, J. (2010). Principles of Cybercrime. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Hetrick, E.S. & Martin, A.D. “Development Issues and their Resolution for Gay and Lesbian Adolescents”, Journal of Homosexuality, 14: 25-43, 1987.

Lipson, C. & Day, M. (2005). Technical communication and the World Wide Web. London: Routledge

McRae, S. (2000). “Flesh Made Word: Sex, Text and the Virtual Body,” in D. Porter (ed.) Internet Culture, New York: Routledge

McRae, S. (1997). “Is the Net Redefining Our Identity; Sociologist Sherry Turkle argues that online encounters are reshaping human relations,” Business Week, iss. 3256

Palfrey, J. & Gasser, U. (2010).Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. Basic Books

Silberman, S. (1998). We’re teen we’re queer and we got E-mail? In R. Holeton (ed.) Composing Cyberspace: Identity, Community and Knowledge in the Electronic Age. Boston: McGraw Hill

Smith, G.G., Ferguson, D. & Caris, M. (2001). “Teaching College Courses Online vs Face-to-Face.” CareerOneStop, 1(1).

Surhone, L.M., Timpledon, M.T. & Marseken, S.F. (2009).Online Identity: Online Identity Management, Identity Theft, On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Dog, User Profile, Online Diary, Pseudonym, Personally Identifiable Information, IP Address. Mauritius: Betascript Publishers

Vacca, J. (2003). Identity theft. New Jersey: Prentice Hall PTR

Westfall, J. (2000) “What is cyberwoman?:The Second Sexin cyberspace”, Ethics and Information Technology, no.2, pp.159-166

Wiszniewski, D. and Coyne, R. (2002). “Mask and Identity: The Hermeneutics of Self-Construction in the Information Age,” in K. Ann Renninger & Wesley Shumar (Ed.) Building Virtual Communities. New York: Cambridge Press

Wood, A.F. & Smith, M.J. (2001). Online communication: linking technology, identity, and culture. London: Routledge

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