With the continuously growing diverse virtual community, the opportunities for online activity seem endless and promising. From sites that offer complete publicity of the self like Facebook, to sites that provide no personal identification information such as 4chan, the possibilities to define, create and portray oneself seem evident. As generations become more and more comfortable with the online world and what it has to offer, there seems more room for creativity and perfection. In portraying an identity in the real world there is little room to deceive, but online there is the opportunity to start fresh without prejudices and from there, create. This notion has been expanded upon by virtual users for years now and it continues to create subcultures as well as polar anonymous cultures. The virtual community is now open to any and all opinions and identities which leaves constant struggle and adversity within the community as a whole. However for the individuals sitting at home, it yields a world of promise and perfection in allowing them to become whoever or whatever they decide to become and portray to the virtual world.
According to Franziska Nori in her article entitled “World Wide Me”, she states,
“The internet has already started – and continues day after day – to modify knowledge, work, the social sphere, politics and even the notion of who we are and what freedom is….the internet has become that augmented reality that allows – and promises – us to have control of the world in our pockets.”
The internet in this sense acts as a clean slate in which individuals can choose how they are portrayed by onlookers by determining their own beliefs in comparison to similar online characters. In a sense, it is tied to a sense of belonging in holding on to what we know and who we think we are and further applying it to the standards of those who have those similar interests and beliefs, becoming a part of a worldwide general entity online. We are trying to fit in while also defining who we are and our beliefs in somewhat of a categorized and recognizable sense. Further, our media allows us to gain a powerful sense of control of this categorized identity and allows us to put forth only what we decide is acceptable to our image. The subcultures within media essentially then pick and chose what is most important and what needs to be shared about ones identity, which is also determined by what others think and what the norm in one’s subculture is.The internet identity in its entirety is a risky game of fitting in and being accepted for what one thinks is the ideal image of self.
As an online self we are composed of different aspects and can change these aspects by the click of the button. Physical changes don’t happen so rapidly and are not effective as immediately. A craving for this rapid enhancement may be why so many people are addicted to their online personas and inherently their online creations. There are no inherent prejudices as if there were in person upon viewing a physical appearance, however, once an online identity is created, a certain approach is taken upon viewing and sharing this identity. Others will put this portrayed identity into a certain category that is classified by others who are similar across online media. This categorized identity is an achievement of portraying an identity in a certain and intentional way.
This perfected image of self is what internet identity has come to represent. These categorized identities are further recognized by the way the internet suggests and offers advertisements to this specified identity group. The internet and its sponsors are further catering to this online persona that is being carefully chosen and portrayed. This ideology ties into the idea of cyco graphics and market advertising. If one has an image of their ideal persona in their head, they will partake in habits and purchase products they believe belong to that subculture they are virtually a part of. By pushing certain products and images, advertisers are further promoting this idealized self and building a profile of the individual that matches the individuals idea of perfection.
Advertisers and marketers have furthered this trend by using it as an infinity effect in which they suggest certain ads and in return those ads are shared throughout those communities they target, and further reaching a wider audience. A virtual community allows for much more room than face-to-face communication for sharing towards those who are similar in interests and product needs. According to Dr.Ralph Wilson, a writer for Web Marketing Today,
“Viral marketing describes any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence. Like viruses, such strategies take advantage of rapid multiplication to explode the message to thousands, to millions.”
In this way, marketing is essentially exponentially hitting the target audience pretty much effortlessly by simply starting with the correct core group of individuals and from there, these individuals in this subculture will further share and rave about these products.
This sense of belonging through product and search history is also evident in “friend” numbers across all social media playing fields. Looking at the notion of Dunbar’s number as explained in Nori’s article, though the maximum amount of personal relationships able to be maintained is 150, online culture allows for much more than this maximum to be achieved. This growing number of “friends”, “followers”, “shares”, “likes”, etc. allows for more confidence in not only oneself, but also the online identity being portrayed. This outside reassurance helps aid in the fantasy and perfection of a specifically portrayed online identity. In addition, the more “friends” one has, the more confidence in themselves yields a craving for this online acceptance and belonging to the community.
In any mass media platform there will be diversity and the creation for a counter-culture will arise with time, knowledge of the media and disagreement. In my opinion, this can be applied to cyber culture in the form of online “trolls” and “trolling”. Trolling is considered an online identity that causes distrust and interruption on online platforms in communities where they don’t belong or are not wanted. In many aspects it goes against the hard work and specified creation of a perfected online identity. Trolls can be seen as the evolution of online identity as passed its peak. With time, users have learned to go against the normalities and partake in rebellious and bothersome activities. Trolls can be considered the anti-identity, for they encompass what it means to just browse, without an identity. In not carrying an identity, these trolls seem to have more power in controlling and redirecting conversations due to their non-belonging nature and uncaring attitude.
The video linked posted by Now This News entitled “North Korea’s Internet Troll Army Attacks Identities”, is exemplary of how trolling can be taken to the extreme. This sarcasm infused video shows the parallels of internet trolling in the real world and how in present times, real world bullying can be represented in forms of trolling and vice-versa. The videos is explaining how North Korea’s latest attack has been one of an online identity invader that gets into the viral accounts of South Koreans and sends out North Korean messages and propaganda. North Korean government is using the internet as a place for invasion for they see it a substantial platform for damage and change.
In essence, the internet community is relaying many of the same aspects and community ideals of a real life community except in a perfected and specifically chosen state. People have more authority in who they are and what they choose to show, while trolls exist to get rid of that notion and break these specified models for communication that have been so thoroughly constructed.