Single Identity or Multiple Identities Online?

Source: miicard

This saying, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”, was coined by cartoonist Peter Steiner, who didn’t realise the potential the cartoon had at the time (Fleishman, 2000), but what does it mean? – Essentially, the internet gives you the power to choose your identity and present yourself as one, or as many identities.



As 90% of employers now search Google for the name of job candidates (Salpeter, 2011) it’s important to present yourself competitively online, so by having multiple accounts, you could keep one private and one for professional use.
Here’s the differences between having one and multiple accounts:

Fig1. Advantages of using one or multiple identities online, adapted by me from FutureLearn MOOC

In the offline world, the same person has different identities and behaviour within different environments (at home or at work for example) (Durante 2011), so why should it be different online? I have only one identity, but I change the privacy settings so different people see different posts, on Facebook for example. I also use LinkedIn for professional use and Twitter for the memes and this is recommended by LifeHacker Alan Henry. However, this technique of post-by-post managing could still go wrong, especially if you get confused like Justine Sacco famously did.
Markgren (2011) explains that it’s impossible to keep your two accounts separate and we should “always maintain a level of professionalism no matter what site you are using”. So then, it’s probably best if we be ourselves and do our best (ie. dogs surfing the waves instead of the web).


So then, it’s probably best if we all keep to what we do best, eg. dogs surfing the waves instead of the web.

To the future…

Some say the Web is becoming too corporate with a few companies effectively owning our online identity (Keys & Singh, 2018). Web 3.0, often called the decentralized Web, will enable people to live anonymously online and it will give back control of your online identity (Lubin, 2016). Already, the Dark Web and platforms such as ‘Ethlance’, enable people to operate anonymously – Ethlance allowing them to do work and be paid in Ethereum.

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3 thoughts on “Single Identity or Multiple Identities Online?

  1. Interesting article, particularly regarding the potential future of the web with the emergent technologies of web 3.0. The concept of building a reputation through interaction bought up in the futurism article could be seen as a solution to the current systems for legitimacy. The ability to remain anonymous but to also accrue trust through a reputation system seems like a good way to overcome the existing way that web 2.0 social media networks forces users to be attached to their personal data in order to appear trustworthy. Having only briefly experimented with using block chain services like Steemit, I can say that adjusting to a new way for managing identity is not that easy, especially since very few people are using it in comparison to existing web 2.0 services. As the below article discusses the move from web 2.0 to web 3.0 will be slow and users will be split between the different ways of managing identity for a long time. I wonder therefore how users are going to be incentivized to make a switch over to web 3.0 and learn a new way of managing identity?

    1. Hi Ryan, and thanks for the comment, that’s an interesting point. From my limited experience of the dark web, it appears people make plans to use to make themselves anonymous to protect themselves from state actors, whether that’s for illegal e-commerce or for liberation and democracy. It could be the case that Web 2.0 becomes too hostile for us folk, and that could make Web 3.0 popular. There would be a need for people to use it, in the same way there was a need for people to start using the first (static) Web.

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