Why Should We Care More
About Virtual Identities?
What seems to be extremely crucial in this changing marketplace is the emergence of virtual identities. The anonymity of the online environment offers a very useful, yet also extremely unpredictable, tool to the general public: to be whoever they want to be. You can spend a few days creating a real-like Facebook profile containing posts dating back a long time and you are good to go. To find Facebook friends, just pick a random real-life location, perhaps a school or a workplace, which fits with your story. Afterwards, to master your fake online identity, simply find people from this environment, who have a lot of ‘friends’ and add them too. Slowly, your net of contacts is beginning to grow.
After you get an initial friend-base, your creditability rises. Hereby, you are becoming a real person, even to the people who have never had a chance to meet you – and, actually, how could they, when this online person does not even exist. Or does he? This person has a Facebook profile with friends, photos and proven activities. He or she then surely must be real; the fault is surely on my side for not remembering them.
Want to play online hide-and-seek?
This presumption of creating real-life relationships with an online person has been studied by various psychologists, who use the term ‘ambient intimacy’ for such a process. First used by Clive Thompson in 2008, the phrase expresses the process of creating the feeling of intimacy and closeness or even friendship between people in an online environment. This is caused by the exposure only to online media content and online interaction.
This ambient intimacy between two people of Facebook who have never even met is a vivid example of technology causing real emotions and relationships with something or somebody that is in essence purely virtual and illusionary. However, these so-called parasonical relationships are specific and very distinguishable from the ‘real’ ones in the way that they are actually only one-sided and without any assurance from the other side that the other party feels the same way. Personal contact, which usually serves this purpose, is non-existent here. We have gone to the weird age of omnipresent stalking.
On the other hand, as online relationships are becoming more and more real, they might influence people in the way personal relationships can too. Therefore, they can also have a positive impact and might have all the perks of an actual friendship.
Now, dig into your memory and think about how often you can log onto web pages only through your social media accounts. If you do so, the website implicitly assumes that if you have an online profile, you are a real person. This system has shifted the identity check process completely into the virtual sphere. Moreover, it has also given people the means to actually create and live somebody else’s life; the life of somebody who does not exist.
We do not have to be cyborgs to live a completely digital life – the only thing you have to do is to hide behind a screen. The online environment gives courage and enhances the already existing personal qualities that an individual possesses, be it aggressiveness, attention-seeking or another personal trait. When interacting with your customer, you must expect the reactions to be extreme – either in a positive, or in a negative way.
Nevertheless, even if you maintain your personal identity online, the online environment is changing your reactions towards various stimuli. You suddenly are not just yourself; you are whoever you want to be. You are given a tool to think first, act second on all occasions, even though the way social media are instant can also be the very opposite. You can easily build your identity and your ‘personal brand’ much more directly than ever before.
People are significantly more open to trust somebody and are less reluctant to share personal information online, which they would never tell in person offline, often not even to close friends and never to companies or businesses. Such a trend is frequently called ‘self-disclosure’ or ‘disclosure intimacy’ and it varies in depth and range of information shared, depending on the personality traits of the person. As a result of this tendency to share online, marketers now have direct access to a large pool of very useful data, which can then be used to effectively categorize the potential customers into groups based on their personal interests, age, social status and many other factors.
The scary part is that people in many cases do not know how to protect their information and, therefore, do not exactly control their information online or do not consider the virtual identities to be valuable for the commercial purposes. This current myopia should be fought by educating the public to give people the choice of what they want to share online.
ard as possible and this way make it harder to the potential followers to find the information. This has actually been used many times before when people posted pictures of animals or other unlinked materials under the same hashtag that was simultaneously used by terrorists. That enabled them to produce thousands of posts in which it was particularly hard to find the original message.
This might not stop e-Terrorism entirely, but it might slow down the virtual mobilization. Moreover, we must still keep in mind what the initial purpose of terrorism is and that is to scare the public. Therefore, only staying calm and not spreading hatred is an efficient way to also fight terrorism.
Katerina Marxtova is a Contributing Editor for The Social Media Monthly.