Topic 2: Online Identities

We are becoming increasingly willing to divulge large amounts of information about ourselves over the Internet…why? If you received a phone call from a stranger would you tell them where you lived or your date of birth? Probably not. However, over the Internet we seem to be willing to share exactly that kind of information.

online identity

The development of technology and social media is changing the way we socialise and express ourselves (Chatti et al., 2007). The Internet has become a part of our everyday lives. It’s where we socialise, learn, work, have fun and shop. However, during each of these activities, we are encouraged to divulge our personal data. As people hand over vast quantities of personal data, it makes it easier to determine and target customers, which as a marketer is a dream come true. However, this also opens us up to increased risk of security breaches.  People should not be worried about turning off their cookies they should be worried about where and what data they are giving away.  If you’d rather not have personalised adds that’s fine but don’t think it’s helping to keep you protected.

With every online identity that you create, you give away slightly more information: your name, address, data of birth, pets’ names, partner’s identity.  If you use personalised passwords, this information leaves you susceptible to being hacked and, worse still, if you use the same password for multiple accounts they may all be taken over in minutes. In 2012, Diane O’Meara was shocked to see her face in the papers with the title “the hoax girlfriend” after a scammer used her Facebook photos to create a false identity. Have you checked your privacy settings recently? Even with restrictive settings, it can still be easy to access photos of you through your wider circle of friends. This you have little control over.


Despite the risks of identity theft and the media hype about government intrusion, 955 million people worldwide actively use Facebook (KeyNote 2013). LinkedIn claims over 277 million members (LinkedIn 2014) and Twitter 500 million (Telegraph 2013). In a professional context, it has become vital to have an Internet presence. In the business world, the importance of becoming a personal brand is becoming recognised and advice about how to project a desired brand identity through different social media is popping up all over the web (e.g., Safko and Brake, 2009).  These platforms on which we can create and promote our identity, can be advantageous in increasing employability and gaining wider audience. We can fine tune our professional profiles (LinkedIn), share our ideas through blogs, micro-posts (Twitter), and online discussions, all as a means of promoting our personal brand. To add to this, we are able to use search engine optimisation techniques to encourage further traffic to our professional profiles.

I am a keen blogger, and, as an undergraduate looking to advance in my professional career, online visibility is essential.  If I Google myself, the first two pages are full of my online activity and photos. A prospective employer could easily find me, review my CV and ascertain whether my personality type is suited to their organisation.

google search

Sites you can find me on:

I use all of these sites as a way to promote my personal brand. That said, I do not include my address or telephone number on any of these sites, nor do I use the same password on multiple sites or publicise being on holiday in case my address was known. I know what content is suitable for my closed Facebook account and what content is suitable for my public twitter. All these aspects are important when creating multiple online identities, especially if your aim is to create an effective personal brand.

Despite the need for self publicity, anonymity still has its place on the Internet. As Jarvis (2013) points out, it protects the speech of Chinese dissidents, Iranian protestors, and corporate whistleblowers. It allows WikiLeaks to expose secrets. It helps people share, for example, medical data and benefit others without having to reveal their identities. It lets people play with new identities on World of Warcraft or Second Life, without revealing their hobbies to others.  But anonymity does not just let the vulnerable hide, it can also be a means by which to attack them. When hidden behind a mask people feel they cannot be identified and therefore held accountable. This has resulted in many incidents of cyber bulling spanning from the circulation of rumours to malicious and prejudicial content.

In order to make the web a safer place, it must be made more difficult to create false accounts on mainstream social media platforms. The rise of identity-centric social networks like Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, make it increasingly more difficult to live an anonymous life on the Internet. These platforms are inherently social and rely on users to establish a network of friends and acquaintances. These sites effectively create an online version of your real life that relies on your true identity in order to function. As more sites become an extension of our lives the web will become safer, but in an online world that never forgets our actions, we are governed by the fact we can never revoke the content we post. In order to be safe and positively present our self brand, there needs to be increased training and awareness on how to positively create and use online identities.



Chatti, M. A., Agustiawan, M. R., Jarke, M., & Specht, M. (2010). Toward a Personal Learning Environment Framework. International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments, 1(4), 66–85.

Safko, Lon and David K. Brake (2009), The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Schwabel, Dan (2009), Me 2.0: A Powerful Way to Achieve Brand Success. New York: Kaplan Publishers.

Key Note (2014). Market Report- Social Media. (R. Hucker, Ed.) (6th ed.).

Jarvis, Jeff (2013), Public Parts -

LinkedIn (2013, Press Release,

Telegraph (2013),