The Intricacies of Online Identity

The Intricacies of Online Identity

The Intricacies of Online Identity

Online identity means how you show yourself on the internet. It’s a mix of traits that make you unique in cyberspace, separate from others online. Thanks to tech progress, people have lots of tools to shape and share their online selves. The Internet allows individuals to express themselves freely. Some people choose to construct an online identity that differs, either partially or entirely, from their real-life persona in the offline world.

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Online, your identity might not be the same as in real life. In the physical world, your identity is influenced by things like your body and surroundings. Factors like race, age, and gender, which you can’t control, affect your offline identity. But online, you can choose and show only what you want. Your virtual identity online doesn’t have to match your real-life self. Using digital tools, you can create the identity you want people to see online.

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Online Identity Reconstruction

Creating an online identity that’s different from the real one, hiding or faking aspects, is called Online Identity Reconstruction (Hu et al., 2015). People often show different sides of themselves in various situations. Importantly, reconstructing an online identity is not the same as building an identity offline. Research on online identity construction primarily examines how individuals shape their self-image on the internet. For instance, adolescents craft their online identities by sharing personal information and leveraging various web-based tools. People choose different profile photos to represent themselves, employ various visual and textual elements to build an alcohol identity, and carefully edit messages during online interactions.

Online, physical cues are absent, leading to a perceived distance between individuals. People’s online identity is shaped by the information they share (Marwick, 2013), allowing for the hiding or fabrication of personal characteristics. Studies suggest that game characters reflect players’ ideal selves more than their actual selves. Online dating research indicates deceptive self-presentation, with individuals providing exaggerated or false information. On dating sites, people often make themselves seem taller or lighter to look more attractive.

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Before the idea of changing online identity, studies used terms like “strategic self-presentation” and “selective self-presentation.” Goffman (1959) said people care about how others see them, so they emphasize their good qualities online. If someone isn’t happy with themselves, they might try to look better online. In addition to showing a better version of themselves, the internet lets people try on different identities. Online, there’s more freedom to explore who you want to be because it’s not as limited by time and distance. Young people, feeling less watched online, can experiment with new ideas and behaviours. For example, LGBTQ+ teens might feel more comfortable expressing their identity online (Hillier and Harrison, 2007).

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The Connection Between Psychological Status and Online Identity

Psychological status significantly influences online identity reconstruction behaviour. Online gamers, particularly those with lower psychological well-being, tend to craft game characters with more favourable attributes than their own, indicating a higher inclination for identity reconstruction. Adolescents often pretend to be someone else online to explore different aspects of their identity.

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A less coherent sense of self is linked to increased online identity experimentation, with adolescents presenting a false self more on platforms like Facebook. Emerging adults dealing with identity uncertainty are more likely to engage in online self-exploration to better understand different aspects of themselves. Loneliness positively predicts online identity experimentation, with lonely adolescents more frequently engaging in identity exploration through online reconstruction compared to non-lonely peers.

Effects of Online Identity on Well-Being

Changing how you appear online can affect your well-being in different ways.

Positive Effects:
  • Studies show that feeling happier comes when you present a positive image online.
  • People who show a positive side on social media tend to report higher happiness levels, no matter their self-esteem.
  • If you’re not very confident or trust others online a lot, shaping a positive online image may boost your satisfaction.
  • Changing your online identity can make you feel more in control and accepting of yourself, improving your overall online satisfaction.
Negative Effects:
  • However, changing who you are online can also have downsides.
  • Making up a fake online self is linked to mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and stress.
  • In online games, pretending to be someone completely different can make players feel lonelier.

The Online Disinhibition Effect

The online disinhibition effect refers to the lack of restraint one feels when communicating online compared to communicating in person. People tend to feel safer saying things online that they would not say in real life because they can remain completely anonymous and invisible on particular websites, and as a result, free from potential consequences. Apart from anonymity, other factors such as asynchronous communication, empathy deficit, or individual personality and cultural factors also contribute to online disinhibition. The manifestations of such an effect could be in both positive and negative directions. Thus, online disinhibition could be classified as either benign disinhibition or toxic disinhibition.

Summing Up

In conclusion, online identity is how you show yourself on the internet, and people often create a different online version of themselves. This can have both positive and negative effects on well-being. On one hand, it can make you feel happier and more in control, but on the other hand, it might lead to mental health issues like anxiety and loneliness. Additionally, the online disinhibition effect explains how people might behave differently online, feeling freer to express themselves, either positively or negatively. Overall, while online identity offers opportunities for self-expression, it’s essential to be aware of its impact on mental well-being and how we interact with others on the internet.

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