Who are you? – Looking at Online Identities

What is in an identity? How we represent ourselves online has for many years been in the public eye – stretching as far back to 1993 when Peter Steiner drew a cartoon depicting a dog using a computer: “On the internet, no-one knows you’re a dog” (Fleishman, 2000).







This idea of representing yourself in an alternate way to your real-world identity has sparked many debates as to whether anonymity or authenticity should take priority when using the internet (Krotoski, 2012). Broadly speaking, there are two approaches which can be deployed when considering your online profile, each with benefits and drawbacks. The first is to have a unified, single online identity; the second to have multiple identities for personal and professional use.

Single Identity

There are some strong motivators to a single online identity. Indeed, Google and Facebook are pushing for this – the unification of the offline and the online self. The connections that can be made online through such services can be invaluable socially and offers a look into why Facebook is such a huge platform. Having all accounts connected in the online world can allow for better integration of services across an individuals life. However, the most significant drawback is the lack of separation between professional and personal in this scenario. This article (Reputation Defender, 2016) goes into great depth as to some of the reasons it is important to avoid having too much content openly available with one identity.







Multiple Identities

The negatives of multiple identities online – hard to keep track of accounts, care to differentiate between uploaded content – are far outweighed by the myriad of benefits. A separation of personal and professional has often been quoted as important for employability (TheEmployable, 2014), as well as ensuring privacy online. Indeed, academics have stated the importance of maintaining a healthy professional identity online (Jones and Swain, 2012).

A useful Powtoon Video (Pitman, 2015) summarises the key concepts:

Word Count: 309


Fleishman, G. (2000). Cartoon Captures Spirit of the Internet. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/14/technology/cartoon-captures-spirit-of-the-internet.html [Accessed 21 Apr. 2018].

Jones, T. and Swain, D. (2012). Managing your online professional identity. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 38(2), pp.29-31.

Krotoski, A. (2012). Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity [Accessed 21 Apr. 2018].

Pitman, S. (2015). One person, multiple identities – the pros and cons of having multiple online identities – UOSM 2033. [online] UOSM 2033. Available at: https://blog.soton.ac.uk/uosm2033/2015/topic-2-2015/2015/10/one-person-multiple-identities-the-pros-and-cons-of-having-multiple-online-identities-2/ [Accessed 21 Apr. 2018].

Reputation Defender (2016). Top 10 Reasons to Keep Your Personal Information Private | ReputationDefender. [online] ReputationDefender. Available at: https://www.reputationdefender.com/blog/privacy/top-ten-reasons-keep-your-personal-information-private [Accessed 21 Apr. 2018].

TheEmployable (2014). How blogging can help you get a job. [online] TheEmployable. Available at: http://www.theemployable.com/index.php/2014/10/28/blogging-can-help-get-job/ [Accessed 21 Apr. 2018].


7 thoughts to “Who are you? – Looking at Online Identities”

  1. Hi Tom,

    I am interested in what you said in your voice clip about there being ‘no’ privacy with a single online identity. Although I agree with your comments in theory, in practice it seems to be that displaying more than one side of yourself through a multitude of different profiles online is less private than simply having one. Or by privacy, do you mean privacy to an employer?

    In summary, I am querying what you meant by privacy; and whether having multiple online personas can ever be more private than just one.


    1. Hi Natasha,

      The Guardian article was a good read thanks! In terms of the lack of privacy of a single online identity, I like to imagine your privacy as a series of boxes. Some are open to the world – such as name – and some closed to certain people – such as your address. Different boxes can be easily assigned and shared to different services, but the ability to do this is restricted by having a single identity. I would always argue multiple online profiles is more private from your perspective as long as you maintain them properly!

  2. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for the great blog post and audio clip!

    You mention that blogging is good for your employment prospects and job applications. However, in response to your link to ‘theemployable.com’, job finder site ‘Monster’ cautions bloggers about blogging while employed, due to legal issues and free-speech power that you might have signed away under a job contract. The link explains that blogging could have the reverse effect of being a successful candidate – and Delta Airlines, Wells Fargo and Google as cases where employees have been fired by blogging in some way. Could employers see bloggers as potential threats to their business operation and wary of taking them on, making the curation of a second, anonymous, identity more desirable for one’s blogging?

    Linkie: https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/work-blogger-beware


    1. Im glad you enjoyed the blog!
      I see the argument, and indeed I think it is highly dependant on the nature of your work and the public profile of yourself as an individual and your employers. Blogging itself demonstrates some key skills – such as good communication – however a second more private identity for a blog could be applicable for some roles.

  3. Hi Tom,

    Your post was very engaging with the use of apt graphical content. The voice note and video created by you summarised the key concepts very well and is a useful resource. I share your belief that the benefits of maintaining multiple online profiles outweigh the drawbacks of it.

    Multiple online identities also include anonymous identities and while I agree authenticity is an important aspect in choosing your identity, I maintain that the debate over anonymity vs. authenticity is feeble.

    This is because, as mentioned in my post (https://lakshayuosm2008.wordpress.com/2018/04/22/individuality-is-true-identity/) this week, anonymous profiles need not always be inauthentic. Authenticity encompasses, along with the threats of cyberbullying, the opportunities provided through greater freedom of expression. This is a great article talking about how anonymity is authenticity (https://texttechnologies.stanford.edu/news/anonymity-authenticity)

    Regulation of the resource of freedom of speech might in fact help in personality development and increased authenticity on the Internet. This article in the Guardian is also stimulating: (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity)

    Where do you now stand on the debate over authenticity vs. anonymity?

    Looking forward to hearing from you,

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