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What Is Your Network Identity?

What is your network identity? Read to learn more.
BRADLEY TOMBLESON: My approach is very much a multiple approach. So I believe that a variety of identities is essential to suit the variety of needs that my networks and the audience of my platforms see. I think having a wardrobe of identities that will suit these different needs is very important. I think that it enables more meaningful interaction, because my networks see only what they need to see. For instance, employers don’t want to see my private social life, and my friends don’t want to see my work history, for example.
CATHERINE LAWS: While I realise that human beings have multiple sides to their personalities and that that may be more kind of realistically portrayed through multiple identities online, I believe that it’s best to portray a single identity which can capture those different sides.
WIL MUSKETT: My approach to managing my network identity is to adopt multiple identities across different platforms. This is because the different platforms offer varied functionalities that affect the ways I present myself online, and also because the communities that use these platforms develop norms that affect how it’s customary to present your identity across those platforms.
BRADLEY TOMBLESON: The main disadvantage that I can see is that a lot of people think it lacks authenticity by having multiple identities. For example, Mark Zuckerberg is a famous example of that. There’s also the time constraints associated with managing these multiple identities. Because there’s an inconsistency between each platform. And I think there’s a lot more effort involved, a lot more emotional labour that goes into creating these profiles and managing them. And you’ve got to think about what to post and what to share with each of these networks. Having multiple identities on the same platform is very problematic in that there is extreme time constraints associated with that.
For me personally, I think having multiple identities shared across different platforms is much more beneficial than having one identity that you can tailor to that particular network, be it professional or private, is far more effective.
CATHERINE LAWS: The disadvantages are that you can’t separate a personal and professional representation of yourself. So you have to very carefully manage your online presence and be careful about what you post. Well, to keep a consistent image, you could have the same profile picture across different platforms and you could also maintain the same tone and kind of represent your personality in the same manner across platforms, as well.
WIL MUSKETT: One of the disadvantages of the multiple approaches is it can affect unification. So the possibility of different people identifying you consistently across those platforms, it could create confusions around who you are and indeed what your interests are for different users within those communities. The authenticity can be established across multiple identities provided that you are consistent across those platforms. And it is possible to also have a single identity that is also authentic provided that you are consistent in your approach towards that.

Watch some University of Southampton students talk about their approach to managing their network identity.

Network Identity

Having grown our network by making reliable new connections, we should think about how to maintain and manage those connections and how to present ourselves to our network.

Our digital differences – the different social, technological and personal factors we are subject to – impact on how we choose to present ourselves to our network.

We can choose a single identity which is easily identifiable as us across all platforms. This could be as simple as using our real name and picture on all our social media platforms, our email, our blogs, and on sites or services we register with.

Or we can adopt multiple identities for different contexts (such as professional and personal) or on different platforms – some of which may be anonymous, some of which may be identifiable as us.

Whichever network identity type we choose, we will always need to make active choices over what we:

  • create, post and share,
  • contribute to communities and social networks,
  • like and comment on,
  • respond and reply to or repost/retweet,

because these types of actions help us to bring value to our network. In network terms, the value which our identity has is important because the more value we bring to the network, the more effective our network should be when we decide to use it.

Single Identity

Single identity: advantages:

  1. Consistent presentation of image (good personal branding).
  2. Trustworthy (no separation of personal and professional, nothing to hide).
  3. High levels of integrity / authenticity.
  4. Easy for others to find and connect to us.

Single identity: disadvantages:

  1. The personal and professional, formal and informal are mixed up, which can lead to ‘unintended’ negative effects.
  2. Is it really possible to be authentic online? Check out this Guardian summary of the key issues and a detailed First Monday review of Facebook’s position on this subject.
  3. Higher risk of identity theft. According to Cifas, a British leading fraud prevention service, just under 190,000 identity frauds were recorded in 2018.
  4. Lack of privacy (you leave a traceable digital footprint).

Multiple Identities

Multiple identities: advantages:

  1. Can separate the personal from the professional
  2. Improved privacy and security
  3. Can manage your identity to suit your contexts
  4. Less risk of ‘unintended’ negative effects

Multiple identities: disadvantages:

  1. More profiles and accounts to manage and check
  2. Higher risk of appearing inauthentic or of lacking integrity
  3. Less trustworthy

Anonymous Identity

Anonymous identity: advantages:

  1. Increased freedom of self-expression
  2. High levels of privacy and security
  3. Can provide a voice to oppressed or threatened people whose safety may be compromised if their true identity is revealed.
  4. Very small risk of ‘unintended’ negative effects

Anonymous identity: disadvantages:

  1. Untrustworthy
  2. High risk of appearing inauthentic or of lacking integrity
  3. Enables Catfishing, Trolling, Flaming, Cyber-bullying and abuse

You might also like to listen to this BBC World Service discussion which explores the extent to which our identities are shaped by technology.

These two thirty minute BBC Four radio broadcasts exploring whether we are suffering an Online Identity Crisis and what online Authenticity involves may also be of interest, if you have the time.

The links below show what the University of Southampton students from the video think about these difficult issues:

Catherine Laws

Wil Muskett

What approach do you take to managing your network identity? Why?
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