In this increasingly technological world where teens are often found with their heads buried in their phones as opposed to books, there is a constant need to be “online.” With this constant need and emphasis on the online world, it has become far more important to have a presence online, to be someone, whether that person is the real you…or not. There is a fairly new medium through which people of all shapes, sizes, ages, incomes, races, and backgrounds are able to express and promote themselves. This creation of an “online identity” can be as simple as a personal profile, one that remains when we are no longer part of the physical world, indirectly explaining to the world who we are or who we were. This leaves us to question, what impression of “us” do we leave in the cybersphere when we are gone? Additionally, the creation of a cyber identity with the help of an app can have increasingly positive results, such as growing popularity and the creation of a fan base. Unfortunately, an online life can also bear negative results, including stolen identity. Social media perpetuates the desire to be constantly connected as well as a fear of missing out. Different platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Vine have varying purposes, and the users are able to create and maintain an identity on with the help of each of these social networks.
On Twitter, people pump out immediate reactions to their surroundings and share personal feelings or thoughts on a variety of topics, in a limit of 140 characters. When considering what to tweet about, the possibilities are endless. The user is free to tweet about anything they please, and are able to see and respond to other tweets, as long as the other profile is not private. There are anonymous accounts on twitter, which are often hosts to relatable tweets, often with some particular goal or topic. In this way, the person behind the account adopts a identity of anonymity, not an account of a personal nature. The way that identity of a celebrity or famous figure on twitter is verified is through the placement of a blue check mark next to the individual’s name on their profile. This is a way in which the fake accounts are separated from the real, and lends a sense of reliability to the accounts.
On Vine, users often create identities through which an audience can relate. These identities can include those that display comedic talent, or even alternate identities, such as “Bat Dad.” Blake Wilson created the alter-ego of BatDad with the intentions of just having fun with his wife and his four kids. In an interview with Today, he describes his alternate identity on vine as “an interesting twist on parenting.” What started as a family joke became a vine sensation, offering parenting tips to anyone who cared to tune in. Often found on the Popular page on Vine, Blake, or BatDad, has been dubbed the “hero dad we deserve — and need — right now.” This online identity that Blake created became a staple on the social media app Vine, and manifested into a way in which viewers could learn a bit more about parenting, while laughing the entire time. Thanks to his online identity, a regular dad of three has become the hero of suburbia, “protecting his family and the suburbs from bad table manners, unbuckled seat belts and more.”
Other online identities include that of Sheedra, otherwise known as Alx James. While Alx has his own personal account, he created the alter ego of Sheedra, a vivacious, a customer service employee, who answers phone calls and offers “Ghetto Words of the Day with Sheedra” where she uses daily words where you would least expect them. Alx James is an established Vine comedian, but made a separate account specifically for Sheedra and her shenanigans. To promote this second identity that he has on Vine, Alx will revine Sheedra’s videos, or occasionally post Vines incorporating her on his own personal page. Sheedra has even become a reoccurring character on his YouTube channel.
Both these Vine identities have become so popular that in a sense, they have become a type of “personal brand” for the two Viners. These two, average joe, yet, hilarious men created alter egos online, and now they have created identities of fictional characters who seem incredibly real. It is almost as if these are people who exist in the world, and audiences feel this way because of how often they tune in.
While these Viners created alter egos, the results of their online identities were particularly positive. On Facebook, though there can be positive results from creating a profile, like staying connected with friends and family, there can also be significantly negative effects from creating an online identity. One consequence of creating an online identity with Facebook is the risk of “catfishing” and online identity theft.
In 2007, Nev Schulman, 24, met the woman of his dreams, Megan, on Facebook. With every message, photo, and conversation, Nev’s friends documented the entire courtship. Upon meeting up with Megan, it came to Nev’s attention that his online love wasn’t quite who she portrayed herself to be. According to an article about Identifying Fake Online Profiles by ABC News, “’Megan’ was actually Angela, a 40-something wife and mother of two who later said she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.” From his experiences, Nev and his friends created Catfish, first a film documenting his story, and then a television series where people from all over America seek his help in investigating if their online love is really who they say they are. After this topic became a high-profile problem, the issue of Catfishing became far more public, and people were far more aware of the existence of fake online identities.
Not only do people take to Facebook to create fake profiles and bate in possible love interests, but they also take advantage of existing profiles and their abundance of personal information. In what can be described as an incredibly creepy video, a team promoting safe Internet banking illustrates how easy it is to steal someone’s identity through Facebook along with other phishing practices. In the video, they describe the online life of Tom Degroote. Through his Facebook, they determined when he joined Facebook, where he lives, how many ‘friends’ he has, his age, and even details behind his relationship. In the chilling video, the team goes so far as to send him an email from his “bank” hoping to confirm particular details. Throughout the video, the team does not only take over his accounts, but they take over his life, imitating him all the way down to a make-over to make their actor look like him, visiting people he knows, taking pictures and tagging them on Facebook. This is just one example of how simple it is for people to steal an identity through the abundance of information that we put on sites like Facebook.
The online identities we create through these social networking sites can lead to all sorts of things. Good or bad, the identity that we have online change the course of our every day lives. Whether we create an alter ego to teach others, entertain them for six seconds, or communicate with our peers, we are leaving a mark. This mark is what is left when we are no longer. Whether we realize it or not, what we write and share online is a reflection of who we are. What we leave behind on social media and other websites is our legacy. It is our identity.