Are our online identities authentic?

Before the internet used to be a veil of anonymity: people chatted usernames handles and avatars, and revealing your true name or even your picture (gasp!) to another was the ultimate sign of trust. There was a sense of separation of one’s online identity and the real life. These days are long gone, and now we keep our Facebook profiles open for all to see and use them to sign in to other websites. We are sharing our name, face, location, friends, likes, holidays, religious views and mottoes to everyone who wants to see them.

But how authentic are we online? Does identifiability equal authenticity? Has the change from anonymity to recognizable identity made online harassment any harder?

Anonymity basically means that no one really knows who is behind the screen at the other end. We could be talking to the person next to us in the café without knowing it. Anonymity has its perks: we are free to discuss topics without being questioned by our appearance, name, or gender. Maybe we can even be more open in voicing our opinions since the anonymity can create a safe space to talk about your deepest thoughts. Our persona is whatever we want it to be, but this does this mean that anonymity equals pretending or inauthenticity?

Many seem to think so. We are yearning for authenticity in our online actions, and making internet users identifiable seems to answer this yearning. But does it really? Are our identities more authentic with social media platforms that are based on linking our real-life identities to our online ones? Our online connections are our real-life colleagues, friends, and family, and we are tagging our location to our pictures, and sharing posts that reflect our political or religious views, or simply our love for cats. But maybe we don’t want our boss to see the selfies we took in the bathroom, or our yoga buddies to see the photos of the last burger meal we ate. We are filtering our content based on the audience.

The accumulation of social media platforms makes it easy to make multiple accounts on the same platform. It’s actually really common to have multiple Instagram or Twitter accounts for different audiences. We are filtering our thoughts and content based on our expected audience. Does this mean that we are not authentic? Can we separate online and offline anymore as clearly as we used to?

Online activities are inseparable from our offline activities. We connect to each other online, we deal with our banks and insurance companies online, we read and watch news online, and we respond and talk about everyday events online. It is also very easy to give instant feedback. Impressed? Share it. Sad? Share it. Angry? Share it.

Even though we are more and more non-anonymous online, we are not dealing with each other any better. While anonymity offers lots of possibilities for trolling, bullying and harassment behind the online persona without getting caught by your “real life” identity, we are still witnessing same patterns of behaviour. As we are moving our interactions online, we are moving also our problems. Seems like our conversational culture allows people to attack other people personally. Now we are doing it also non-anonymously. Getting hate mail is normal for anyone with a presence on the internet, from world-known actors to lifestyle bloggers and private Instagrammers. We even have made tv shows about celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves. Is cyberbullying becoming normalized?

Public online profile seems to equal consent to receive all kinds of comments and criticism. Instead of solving the issue of cyberbullying, we are telling the victims to hide their profiles, block people that harass them, change the content they produce or stop using social media. Instead of this, how about we start talking about the ways we should treat each other online? By Saana Sarpo

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