Topic 2: Online Identities

The web is a wonderful thing. It lets us access a pool of knowledge at our fingertips; connect with family and friends on other continents and even order items online for same day delivery. However, with the many amazing benefits of the online world, also come some concerns. Use of the Internet grows exponentially every day and with that, more and more people are leaving digital footprints behind and creating what is called their ‘digital identity’.

An online identity is an identity a user establishes by engaging with the web in online communities and websites. A user can create multiple identities or just one and can also choose whether to fabricate a new online persona or maintain their authentic identity online.

There are many questions raised when it comes to thinking about our online identities, including:

  • How much do I share online?
  • Do I have one identity or multiple?
  • Can I trust someone with multiple identities?
  • How do I separate my personal and professional identities?

Some research suggests that whilst we can choose whether to have one identity or multiple, it is challenging (Costa and Torres, 2011). Every time we engage with online communities and websites we leave tiny trails behind that gradually build up to create another identity. Identities can be used as a great marketing tool for websites to tailor their content to what they think you’d like best.

Like with all things, there are of course pros and cons to having more than one identity online, explored in the comic below.

Figure 2: A comic explaining the pros and cons of multiple online identities

Some studies have found that teenagers in particular actively manage their online profiles, both for authenticity but also to edit some parts so to protect personal information from strangers (Lenhart and Madden, 2007). Developments from Goffman’s work also found that people were generally keen to replicate their offline identity online (Bullingham and Vasconcelos, 2013). Although a main benefit of having multiple identities online means remaining anonymous, it has also been found that other online users are less likely to interact with profiles they do not know or trust (Costa and Torres, 2011).

Figure 3: What experts think of multiple identities. Quotes from this Guardian article

The video below explains online identities in more detail. It claims that there are 3 layers to everyone’s digital identity: public, private and personal and recommends tips in order to protect your identity online such as using separate email addresses.

Word Count: 394


Bullingham, L. and Vasconcelos, A. (2013). ‘The presentation of self in the online world’: Goffman and the study of online identities. Journal of Information Science, [online] 39(1), pp.101-112. Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2017].

Costa, C. and Torres, R. (2011). To be or not to be, the importance of Digital Identity in the networked society. Revista Educacao, Formacao & Technologias. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2017].

Krotoski, A. (2012). Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?. The Guardian. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Feb. 2017].

Lenhart, A. and Madden, M., 2007. Teens, privacy and online social networks: How teens manage their online identities and personal information in the age of MySpace.

Miller, C. (2012). Personal Security Online: How to Protect Your Identity With 3 Layers!. Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2017].

Image references:

Figure 1: flickr, (2012). [image] Available here.

Figure 2: Self-produced via

Figure 3: Self-produced using the following images

flickr, (2009). [image] Available here.

flickr, (2011). [image] Available here.

flickr, (2012). [image] Available here.

flickr, (2012). [image] Available here.


20 thoughts on “Topic 2: Online Identities

  1. Hi Caiti,
    Thanks for such an interesting blog post! I love the YouTube video you have included on personal security online, particularly between 3:00 and 3:23, as this is something I’m sure most people haven’t even considered. I focussed my attention on the article you found by Lenhart and Madden (2007). In this article the authors discuss the idea of managing personal information on profiles, and I was surprised that only 55% of teenagers used a mechanism to restrict access. I wonder whether you believe that this proportion has changed (throughout all social media networks), especially due to the rise in discussions of profile security in the media, as Boyd and Hargittai ( discuss. Do you feel as though the same levels of security are applied by users to mobile apps like Snapchat? I found this article by Khan et al. ( that might worry a few people, depending on who they add on Snapchat.


  2. CarolinaPovedaOcampo

    Hi Caiti,
    The content from your blog has been very interesting to read. I found the use of rhetorical questions a great way for me to think about the different ways I can be affected by having multiple online identities. For instance, ‘how much do I share online?’ made me question whether I should be more careful with the information I put out there of myself; as from my blog post I mention that I have various social media accounts I frequently use. I also enjoyed the comic strip you produced as it highlighted pros and cons in a concise but different manner.

    Figure 3 suggests that different online communities are at conflict of whether you should have an authentic or anonymous identity. What is your view on this? Personally, I would say that online identities should be as authentic as possible in order to provide a true representation of yourself.

    The video mentions that some parents are likely to set up accounts like Facebook for their children who are either 13 or under that age. Do you think it is right that they are exposing their children to creating a digital identity that young- especially when it can come at costs like encountering dangerous users online or even being victims to cyber-bullying? The following article provides some insight on this.

    Thank you,


    1. Hi Carolina!

      Thanks so much for your comments!

      With regards to whether I believe your online identities should be authentic, I do believe so – however I would also argue that people should have the freedom to remain anonymous or under a different identity if they wish. Considering there are many benefits to staying anonymous online, I can understand why users would want that. Although, personally I like to maintain an authentic profile because I mainly use social media to keep in touch with friends and it would be strange for me to create a different online persona.

      I do agree 13 or younger is far too young to be creating social media accounts, however in my personal experience children and young teens will only create them anyway. Because of this, I think it’s a least better for the parents to help set up accounts so they can monitor activity and help guide their child online rather than the child creating a profile with no online knowledge or experience, making them more vulnerable.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Caiti

    I loved your post, it was an interesting read and inspired many aspects of my post, especially when considering the advantages and disadvantages of multiple online identities. I particularly liked the cartoon strip you made and the ways in which you presented your arguments which were ingenious, and innovative. Your post made me think of all the different ways in which I leave my digital footprint and brought my attention to activities that I did not originally consider to be part of my online identity such as online banking and shopping as highlighted in the YouTube video.

    However, you proposed that a benefit to having multiple online identities means remaining anonymous however you also rightfully mention that (Goffman et al., 1956) found that people create their offline identity online; which implies that they recreate their authentic selves through different mediums such as LinkedIn for professional use and Facebook for family and friends (Lee, 2016). Nonetheless there is an undeniable correlation between multiple online identities and anonymity however I think that this maybe mediated by the online platform used, an individual’s motivations and whether they are a passive or active user as opposed to having multiple online identities in general.



    1. Hi Raziya!

      Thanks so much for your lovely comments! Yes, I do agree that it does depend on what platform you use. I tried to touch upon this with my diagram of social media creators, demonstrating that platforms like Reddit and 4Chan encourage anonymity in order to let people more creative as well as having a safe space online. In contrast, the Facebook team stand by the fact that they believe people want an authentic online experience so therefore tailor Facebook to not allow anonymity. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Caiti!
    I really enjoyed your blog post on online identities! I love how you had a neutral argument where you showed both the advantages and disadvantages of the topic. The way in which you incorporated relevant images and relevant videos throughout was very useful for the reader and it really helped to establish your points.

    Your use of language throughout was very fluent and I loved the fact you incorproated rhetorical questions to make me question as a reader how I actually behave online.

    It would be nice to know more about how you feel regarding the agenda. Do you personally believe having an online identity is a good thing or do you feel as if it is not necessary to leave digital footprints.


    1. Hiya!

      Thanks so much for your feedback!

      I don’t think I can give one straightforward answer in all honesty. I find that my online shopping experience being tailored to me due to my digital footprints is actually very helpful, for example, but at the same time it terrifies me that companies have reams of data on you from every thing you do online!

      I think it’s both a blessing and a curse, ultimately. Having an online identity can be very helpful, I also think that it’s important to have an authentic persona on social media when interacting with friends and family because it would be odd to create a new persona. However, I do think that there are lots of issues that are out of our control, as much as we’d like to think we can control our digital footprints – it’s not always that simple and that can be frustrating also because i’m sure you’ll agree we can’t help but use the web everyday it’s such an essential tool for everyday life!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I completely agree and I see both sides of the argument too it is so hard to side with just one! It would definitely be strange creating a different online identity on sites such as Facebook and Instagram yet I do see the advantage in doing it if you wanted to promote your business!

        You just need to be careful about who you trust on the internet!

        Regards, Alex


  5. Hi Caiti!
    Your post is very interesting and a lovely read! I love the use of the video I found it very enlightening.
    Reading your post, I notice you also found Lenhart and Madden, and their statement on teenagers. I used it to express how once we post something, we can’t take it back from the internet and that we must make sure everything we post is appropriate for all audiences-Personal or professional! From reading your post however, It has made me think about something different. Teenagers actively manage their accounts to be authentic. Going back to Pensky, Do you think this is a reflection on his generational argument? Or because we are just more aware of the issues of having fake or unauthentic identities? I’d love to hear your response!


    1. Hi Emily,

      Lovely to hear your thoughts. I hadn’t actually thought about it in the context of Prensky. However, in previous comments I have argued that Prensky’s theories can’t be completely ruled out as being too simplistic because they do have substance. I think that it’s a combination of both to be honest, our generation definitely have been brought up more aware of the implications of online identities. I also think that older generations can be more naive in not feeling the need to control their identities because they are not aware of the implications if information gets in the wrong hands.


      1. Caiti,
        I agree about the older generations appearing slightly naive in their approcach to online safety. I agree that Prensky can be seen as simplistic but should not be ruled out, only taken with a pinch of salt. I would probably add that Prenskys argument carries more weight in this particular topic and context, which supports our view that Prensky must not be completely ruled out.


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