As an Emerging Media and Communications major at The University of Texas at Dallas, exploring the power of image, meaning, and identity online is my job. Moreover, examining how people or brands portray themselves, and build their own reputation or identity online. A person’s persona online can be looked at by the entire world, so it’s very important that everyone know how to represent him or herself properly. There’s much to be said and evoked by a users online presence and “profile”. An individual uses text, as well as images to portray their identity online, whether that identity is a real or an anonymous one. People must ask themselves; how do they, as individuals, function within an online society? It is very easy for a person to either confuse or enlighten their online identity, that’s why it’s essential to use the right elements when compiling an online profile. There are virtually no limitations when the Internet is the medium of choice, so the choices and options are endless.
“In the digital realm, everything is made into a choice. The medium is biased toward the discrete. This often leaves out things we have not chosen to notice or record…”
Rushkoff words it in such a way that makes it the user’s responsibility and choice to put whatever he or she may want online or not. It’s common sense, if someone does not want something to be found or recorded, then don’t put it out there for the world to see. On the contrary, if there’s a need for something to be known about themselves, user’s have full control over their content.
The term profile is used commonly on the Internet; it’s essentially a person’s public or private spectrum of how they depict themselves on any particular social interactive website. It gives others the options to explore what an individual is all about, and offers the tools the user needs to present themselves on that specific online platform. User’s, being the working, middle to upper class, who have personal computers and access to the Internet at home, as well as at work. Websites like LinkedIn, Twitter and even Facebook are becoming more and more popular for professional and personal use. For instance, LinkedIn, is a website for professionals to connect. It’s a lot like Facebook, but the profile’s are structured in a way that they look more like resume’s than bios. Since LinkedIn is a site where most employers go first for candidate searching, if a person’s not on this site, it can be easily said their chances at getting the job are more slim than someone with their profile up on the site. Having a poor presence, or none at all, on any of these sites can result in a list of negative outcomes; lessened job opportunities, inadequate professional favorability, or even irreversible damages to reputations. The Internet is a place to connect and is more and more becoming a part of our culture for mainstream communication. It is a place where misconceptions are easily made and first impressions are made in about five seconds. That’s right, it’s no longer 30 seconds, it’s 5 and if a person’s online identity seems unclear, the user is likely to assess that the person is technologically inadequate. Most jobs these day’s demand for computer and network knowledge, unless it is some kind of manual labor. But, generally, for the upper to middle working class, it’s true that they must know how to adequately use a computer and work it’s networks. Depending on the circumstances, an employer may not even need a paper resume, they may just ask for a link to an online resume. This is another example of why having an acceptable online presence should be considered a priority to most.
On nearly every webpage in-which individuals must identify themselves with a username, there’s is almost always a long list of information that can be mentioned about them. It could mention many and often times too much information about a user; schools attended, living location, relationship status, hometown, birthday, current work information, or even languages they speak. A lot has to do also with privacy of a webpage; often times there are privacy settings in place that a user can adjust to keep their page more private or open to the public. Of course, not every kind of user wants their hometown, birthday or living location in plain site for the world to see so they often times “hide” this information from other users. This is a common feeling for beginners. They are weary of who’s online, therefore are reluctant to start any kind of online presence. In some cases, user’s start profile’s but lie about who they are to connect to the network, this is considered unethical to media and network professionals in my field. They consider it to be “hacking”, the term is commonly used in the context of computer use to gain unauthorized access to data in a system. It’s when hiding becomes “who you are” online, when it becomes a problem.
When a person can’t be identified as their real selves, is when we run into complications. But why? Rushkoff says, “We are more likely to lash out from the seeming(ly) safety of obscurity”, and that “this can promote an illusion that we may act without personal consequences”. For example, on the online social network Facebook, there have been many instances when people create false profiles for an alternate motive. Often times, in many cases the perpetrator is a young person trying to make victim of one of their peers whether it be in Jr. High or High School. Student’s, who create these false profiles, are claiming that they are someone totally different than themselves. Therefore, making it easy to prey on others, with no consequences for their actions. “Anonymity breeds mob behavior, merciless attack, and thoughtless responses” (Rushkoff 4). These teens engage with others with a false identity, meaning most of the time they can’t be traced or caught. This frequently results in someone else’s feelings being hurt or even mortified. It get’s worse, if a person is targeted by one of these so-called “Hackers”, it can ruin their reputation and in some cases their life. John M Grohol, Editor-in-Chief of the website World of Psychology, describes it as, “It’s a brave new world online, where a misstep on a social networking website like Facebook can result in hurt feelings between real friends”. This is also a place where parent’s must play the roll in the use of Internet and network control in their homes. Often times young adult’s and teens have these unethical “mob like” behaviors only that can extend into their real lives. Parent’s must take control over what a teen is allowed to access online, as well as common behaviors and proper online ethics that must be taught. But, if parent’s don’t have a clue about online networks and what’s out there as far as the digital realm is concerned, how on earth are they supposed to mediate what their children say or do online? This is just another clear example of why individuals just build their online identity as well as their knowledge of networks, especially if they are parents.
As I’ve said before, working carefully with the medium of the Internet can result in either destruction or establishment of users online identity. Since the Internet is so commonly used in present day, this is becoming even more important. By staying the course and only portraying an online image of a person’s true self, they can steer clear of any temptation to say anything they wouldn’t say in the ‘real world’. There are many different platforms to represent one’s self online, and with the way social media is moving, most websites will all be linked together to access each other from one another. In other words, every text or content a user publishes to the Internet can be “quoted, shared and linked to” (Rushkoff 63). So, why publish, posts, or say anything online that one isn’t proud of claiming? If it’s likely the entire world can access it. Also, having the same identity across all platforms is much easier to keep up with, also “remain(ing) accountable and present- we are much more likely to bring our humanity with us into the digital realm” (Rushkoff 54). Not having an online presence at all leaves many susceptible and open to “hackers”. Also, even if a user is not engaging daily, it’s still very important to get their true information out there so that they have control over and may manager their own identity.