One identity or more?

Given the discussion about Facebook enabling other sites to use its comment infrastructure — and what that means for identity and anonymity in discussion — I thought I’d share some of what I’m saying about the question of multiple identities in my book, .

* * *

One tactic to cope with the fear of exposure and overexposure is anonymity. Anonymity has its place. 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 themselves. It lets people play with new identities. When the game company Blizzard Entertainment tried to bring real identity into the forums around its massive, multi-player games, including World of WarCraft, players revolted, and no wonder: Who wants everyone to know that in your other life, you see yourself as a level 80 back-stabbing night elf rogue who ganks lowbies at the Crossroads? Taking on identities—pseudonymity—is the fun of it.

But anonymity is often the cloak of cowards. Anonymous trolls—of the human race, not the WarCraft type—attack people online, lobbing snark at Julia Allison, spreading rumors and lies about public figures, sabotaging a politician’s Wikipedia page, or saying stupid stuff in the comments on my blog. I tell commenters there that I will respect what they have to say more if they have the guts to stand behind their own words with their own names, as I do.

Real identity has improved the tone and tenor of interaction online. That was Facebook’s key insight. Twitter’s, too. Tweeters want credit for their cleverness; they are rewarded with followers and retweets, their nanoseconds of microfame. Facebook is built on real relationships with real people in real life. “The whole thing was based on this foundation of reality,” Mark Zuckerberg says in an interview. “That doesn’t mean that every single thing is true. But on balance, I think it’s a lot more real than other things on the internet. In that way, I think, yes, it does create authenticity.”

Zuckerberg believes we have one authentic identity and says it is becoming “less and less true” that people will maintain separate identities. Emily Gould, admitted oversharer, agrees. Julia Allison, on the other hand, sides with those who say we should maintain many identities—one for work, another for school, another for home, another for friends. Those folks say we get in trouble online when these identities mix and blur, when our boss sees our picture from the college beer party (as if bosses never had beer). In a New York Times Magazine piece arguing that “the internet records everything and forgets nothing,” Jeffrey Rosen tells the story of a 25-year-old student-teacher who was deprived of her diploma after posting a MySpace photo of herself drinking over the caption, “Drunken Pirate.” On his blog, Scott Rosenberg counters that “the photo is harmless; the trouble lies with the people who have turned it into a problem.”

What needs to change is not so much our behavior, our rules, or our technology but, again, our norms: how we operate as a society and interact with each other. When presented with someone’s public face, which may differ from our own, is our response to disapprove, condemn, ridicule, and snipe, or is it to try to understand differences, offer empathy, overlook foolishness, offer freedom, and share in kind? When we do the former—and we all have—we are guilty of intolerance, sometimes bigotry. When we do the latter we become open-minded. I suggested in my last book that because we are all more public, we will soon operate under the doctrine of mutually assured humiliation: I’ll spare you making fun of your embarrassing pictures if you’ll do the same for me. “An age of transparency,” says author David Weinberger, “must be an age of forgiveness.”

There are two forces at work here: identity and reputation. Our identities are the first-person expressions of ourselves. Our reputations are others’ third-person views of us. Thanks to our increasing publicness, the two are coming closer and sometimes into conflict. As I was discussing these topics on my blog, Weinberger left a sage comment wondering about what he called the private-public axis:

Marilyn Monroe was a public figure but most of us are private citizens. That used to be pretty easy to compute and, because of the nature of the broadcast medium, it used to tend toward one extreme or another: He’s Chevy Chase and you’re not. But there’s another private-public axis: who we really are and how we look to others. We have tended to believe, at least in the West, that our true self is the inner self. The outer, public self may or may not reflect our inner, private self, and we have an entire moral/normative vocabulary to talk about the relation of the two: sincerity, authenticity, integrity, honesty….

Those are the two identities we are trying to manage—not our work selves and our home selves, not our party selves and our serious selves, but our inner, real selves and our outer, show selves. When our inner and outer selves get into conflict and confusion, we look inauthentic and hypocritical. In all our spoken fears about privacy and publicness, I think this is the great unspoken fear: that we’re not who people think we are, and we’ll be found out.

These are new skills for everyone, celebrity and commoner alike. Marilyn Monroe never had to deal with blogs and Twitter, let alone 24-hour TV news. She had press agents to create and manage her identity and big, frightening security people to keep the scary strangers away. Today, stars and pols have to deal with being constantly exposed. When they are caught in a contradiction of words or deeds—not exactly a challenge—they suffer the gotcha. Then again, stars like Ashton Kutcher, Lady Gaga, and Howard Stern are grabbing the opportunity on Twitter to interact directly with their publics without scripts or PR people in-between. Reputation.com, which makes a business out of helping people whose online reputation is being harmed by others, suggests that the solution is not to hide but to publish more about yourself so that will rise in Google’s search about you. The way to improve your reputation is to share more of your identity.

The best solution is to be yourself. If that makes you uneasy, talk with your shrink. Better yet, blog about it.

  • http://michaelbastos.com Michael Bastos

    Great chapter, can’t wait for the whole thing. One point to bring up and maybe you do in the book is the conflict people feel between their closely held convictions (religious beliefs, political perspectives, personally held views etc) and their real day to day actions. What we say we believe and what we do don’t always coincide with one another and how society can or should see those conflicts in the public space. A person who is deeply honest is probably so because they’ve been in a situation where they have stolen or lied before and probably feel guilty for it, this is an integral part of what makes that person who they are today so will we have the ability to learn from our mistakes and become better people in this new age of openness or will we not be able to better ourselves because everyone knows our past mistakes?

  • http://www.geise.com PXLated

    I’m in the multiple identities camp.
    In case you haven’t seen or read yet…
    Zuckerberg’s stifling and twisted vision – http://bit.ly/g3qCDl a great post (in my view) by Lauren Weinstein

  • http://davidmacdonaldmusic.com David MacDonald

    Great stuff, Jeff. “Nanoseconds of microfame” is a great line!

    I think it’s also important to realize that what I think of as the “Reality TV” principle weighs heavily in perceptions of our web profiles. On a reality TV show, thousands of hours of boring crap is shot to get just a few 30-minute episodes of sensational crap. If you’re posting pictures from a party on the web, you’re probably leaving some of the boring photos on the digital cutting-room floor. Then later, when I come look at those photos, I’m really only going to pay a lot of attention to the most titillating of that already-culled collection. So I get a skewed view of the subjects’ real selves. In that sense, a web photo album of a party is as much a distortion of reality as reality television.

    I remember the first couple of times somebody took a digital photo of me doing something stupid in college. We used to joke, “Well, now none of us can run for president.” But I agree, that in the intervening 10 years or so, it seems like we’re all just going to have to get over it. When somebody my age (born in the early 1980s) runs for president, there WILL be embarrassing photos of him or her on the web forever. We’re all just going to have to forgive them, because everybody else will have the same photos. We won’t have to endure such BS as “I never inhaled,” because we’ll all empathize with having those photos posted publicly.

  • http://jacob.kramer-duffield.com jkd

    Zuckerberg believes we have one authentic identity and says it is becoming “less and less true” that people will maintain separate identities.

    This is, fundamentally, a position of privilege. For Mark Zuckerberg (or you or me, Jeff) – white, upper-middle-class (well Zuck’s well beyond that at this point), well-educated citizens of the most powerful country on Earth – there’s little to fear in terms of the broad exposure of our “real” identity. But for the vast majority of people – those who are not members of the privileged classes of identity in one or nearly every way – putting forward those elements of identity at every time is, by definition, an oppressive experience. Having to present as, e.g., an openly gay woman in a newspaper forum in Tulsa is going to be a much more hostil environment than the same person attending a town meeting and speaking as, simply, a citizen.

    There are good reasons why there are some questions employers aren’t allowed to ask you, and as the extensive work on implicit bias shows, even those who try to enact egalitarianism in practice carry substantially biased starting points.

    A world of total anonymity is one thing, but it’s also a strawman. Giving people selective control over what they reveal about themselves in online interactions – just as we maintain selective control about what of ourselves we share with everyone we interact with in our day-to-day lives – is not a quaint idea but essential, especially if we have a commitment to making mediated spaces truly open and free, and not simply tools for further embedding existing systems of privilege.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Yes, I make that point earlier in my book. But this is a problem not of the holder of the information but of the user of it — the employer who should not be allowed to use that information, for example. I’m not trying to deal here in edge cases but in the everyday. And every day, I think one is better trying to be oneself, emphasis on one.

      • http://jacob.kramer-duffield.com jkd

        Totally agreed on the moral responsibility element, but that’s a pretty substantial caveat. As to everyday, I’ll respectfully disagree – I simply don’t think that we’re in possession or pursuit (per Erikson) of a single unitary self. Not that deceit is a good thing, but that we are in possession of many identities simultaneously, and that there is no real need to bring them into interaction or, potentially, conflict. Personal behavior that I find entirely moral might conflict wildly with the religious views of a co-worker, but there is no fundamental need (or benefit) to foreground that tension. Discretion can often be the better part of valor.

  • http://www.blogspot.com/dailytaylor Taylor Wray

    Nice post, though the conclusion is trite and vapid – “The best solution is to be yourself.” I’ve been thinking about identities too, recently, and I have to say I sympathize much more with the multiple-identities crowd than the simple public/private dichotomy you seem to settle on.

    One reason is because there are different levels of “public,” from hanging out with a good friend indoors to attending a cocktail party to being immersed in a huge crowd at a public event. It doesn’t seem logical to me that a person would maintain the same “public” identity in all of these different contexts.

    Moreover, I’d contend even my “private” identity shifts significantly over time as I mature and react to the world around me, experiencing surges of emotion and constantly reordering my values and priorities. Personal identity, to me, is a very complex thing. Be wary of oversimplifying it with a simple public/private distinction.

  • https://gogreygirl.wordpress.com/ Margie

    Cloak of anonymity or window to the soul? Are people more honest if they are NOT trying to protect their identity or a reputation?

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Experience shows that the anonymous are more likely to act like assholes. I wish that weren’t true. I spent years and years defending forums. Sadly, though, it’s the case. Doesn’t mean that people need to be forced out. But as I said, I have less and less respect for those who don’t have sufficient guts to speak as themselves.

      • Dave

        Yes, but maybe, just maybe, that’s because when it comes right down to it, they *are* assholes.

  • Victor DiGiovanni

    The most amusing aspect of this whole debate is that people are incensed that they can no longer just do and say anything they want without fear of eventual repercussions. “It’s not FAIR that my drunken college photos might cost me my current or future job.” Or fill in the blank on whatever the current whining of the day is. People aren’t upset that they were doing something stupid or illegal or immoral. They’re upset that they are getting caught, or in more mundane day-to-day situations, being called on their inconsistency.

    Until Facebook came along, I never realized how different, and to be honest, inconsistent, my various identities were. Many people probably won’t have a problem with having schizophrenic public and private personalities, and different personalities for each group, but for ME, it really made me feel inauthentic.

    Eric Scmidt caused a veritable scmidt-storm when he said “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” While this was an incredibly stupid thing for him to say, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s 100% right. In this day and age, the stupid and hidden things you do WILL eventually come out.

    If you’re not ready and willing to OWN anything you say and do, whether publicly or privately, then you probably need to examine if you should be doing it at all.

    So my solution has been to take a long, hard look at the individual aspects of my various identities and make a life decision about each aspect: either integrate it or eliminate it. If it’s something I’m hiding, or something I’m not comfortable with everyone knowing about, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it, much less posting about it. That’s an extreme generalization, but at its core, it’s true. I can either try to actually be the person I portray myself as (or the person my dog thinks I am), or I can be a made-up character who just looks like me.

    I just want to be ONE person, not many, so I’m opting to evaluate and integrate or eliminate. That’s how I’m approaching it right now, anyway. We’ll see how that goes.

  • http://n/a Anon Y. Mous

    I like to comment and interact online and I work to keep the quality and tenor of my contributions high. I don’t think that it’s necessary that people know who I am – I can have very strong opinions on an issue that I feel should be expressed but know that many will find them objectionable or even detestable. Of course they’re crazy and I know this because of the vitriol that comes back my way once I’ve finished my post ;^)

    All of this is perfectly fine and fun and harmless as long as there is anonymity. The result of removing that may be to raise the bar for some who could really use it but the damaging effect will be to stifle honesty. I’m fine with people viciously attacking my posts because they’re conservative cretans but I am not fine with them attacking ME and I’m afraid that there are some who would go out of their way to do that if there was no anonymity. Not to take another jab at these people, but there aren’t many liberal activists getting arrested for shooting up the opposition.

    I have what I believe is a healthy perspective on the internet – It’s not real life and I want it to stay that way..

    • http://www.quakefinder.com Scott

      It seems to me that the way to maintain one’s health is by having a keen awareness and respect for the neighborhoods one frequents and the kinds of people and action we might encounter there, whether in physical space or in virtual space. This is especially true when voicing one’s opinion rather than walking with one’s head down. Trying to keep the internet “not real life” is like trying to keep water from flowing downhill.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      I don’t like talking to a mask. Why should I?

  • http://dataanxiety.tumblr.com/ Ellie K

    There are several issues here, Jeff, and you’ve addressed most but not all of them.

    First: I actually prefer to maintain a single online persona, because I get confused otherwise. Anything I post online goes through my internal content filter of: Could I justify it (in context) if my mother or a potential employer were to read it? That means no four letter words, no allusions to gender, politics, not even an “OMG” or “WTF” exclamation, and a lot of formality. I can live with that though.

    For some people, which was along the lines of an earlier comment, the internet and online interaction is the only form of interaction possible outside of a very rigidly defined role. This can be true for men as well as women. I’m thinking of women living in very traditional societies or religious milieau. Or even my former co-worker, who was an assistant state’s attorney general. And many of his coworkers who were civil servants, who had to be scrupulously careful that their personal viewpoints were not interpreted as a public opinion, regardless of whether or not that was fair.

    Anonymity is vital for some people who interact online, and those individuals are not behaving trollishly.

    Other than that, I personally don’t have an issue with a single consistent online identity. I would hope that it would reduce some of the hostile, antagonistic exchanges that fly about so often. On the other hand, TechCrunch comments are rather thin and watery since the transition, and the good might well go out with the bad.

    Most important concern: If there is to be an identity standard, I do NOT want it to be controlled by a privately-held company with a poor reputation for preserving user privacy, namely, Facebook.

    Facebook is as large as many carefully regulated quasi-public entities that are custodians of LESS private consumer information. That is no secret, and no one has forced anyone to use Facebook. Yet it is why I so much prefer Disqus as an alternative, just because there isn’t the same concentration of personal information all within a single corporation’s data center.

  • Jess

    I’d like to echo the concerns about privilege and the relative value of online life and “real” life. It’s all very well to imagine a glorious future in which employers don’t penalize employees for published episodes of intoxication, no one ever has to fear retaliation for political speech, etc. We don’t live in that world. Fundamentally, online communities are tools. If tools hurt those who use them, it is not the users’ fault. Claims that users should behave differently, or just instinctively know how the information they post will be received globally, remind me of so many other excuses I’ve heard from developers. We need to build better tools. There is nothing inevitable about what we have now.

    • Victor DiGiovanni

      I agree with this in principle, in that the Facebooks and Foursquares of the world need to do everything they can to make sure their services are secure and respect the privacy of its users. And I’m all for Facebook implementing some sort of way to wall off our different groups of friends and family and colleagues.

      However, we’re LONG past the point of putting the onus on websites in general to safeguard us from our own stupidity. Bigger than Facebook is the entire internet itself, and it’s here to stay. Along with “Don’t touch a hot stove” and “Don’t stick keys into power outlets”, one of the things we simply have to educate our children (and our parents) about is online safety, etiquette, and consequences. Users MUST behave differently because their history WILL follow them, whether it’s Facebook, or online forums or whatever comes next.

      As Ellie K said above, we may not want to, but we have to learn to run everything we want to say online through an internal content filter before posting. It’s just the way of the world now.

      (I wonder if this response will prevent me from becoming president one day?)

      • Jess

        It’s too early to say about FourSquare, but surely by now it’s clear that Facebook are only too eager to shaft their users in all possibly-remunerative ways. Many users either aren’t aware of that, or are aware and find the benefits of Facebook to be worth the costs. Even if Facebook did roll out some sort of contact-partitioning your-boss-won’t-see-your-dealer functionality, only the truly naive would expect that to be permanent.

        It’s also true that there are countless other ways to make unfortunate associations with one’s identity online, and there have been since the web was first used. That is beside the point, however. I refer to specific tools that harm their users in specific ways, not to the internet as a whole. Perhaps these tools are on balance beneficial for large numbers of privileged users, but it is clear that they are harmful for many. Network effects may dominate over the short term, but in the long term most users will switch to tools that don’t harm them. This will shock and confound those who applaud this inexorable tide of Facebook comments, but not everyone wants to be associated with all online interactions. When you attempt to force users into that, you will lose them.

      • Victor DiGiovanni

        I agree with what you’re saying about benefits to costs of using FB, but I’m not sure what specific harmful tools you’re referring to, outside of FB’s attempt to become the defacto commenting tool, or “liking” something.

        Facebook really is a two-edged sword. Public-ness offers a chance for people who would never ever meet (like you and I) a chance to exchange ideas on a topic. FB, for better and worse, is the channel through which the floodgates of communication are about to open (even more than it already is). There will always be obscure or even closed forums where just those who really care about a topic can interact in relative privacy, but for the most part I’m looking forward to seeing the positive effects that FB’s commenting system will have, and how even the smallest topics will have a chance to reach an exponentially wider audience.

        I know a lot of my friends would find this conversation interesting. But in order to get them here, I’d have to post a link to this article, then explain what my stance was in the comments of my link, and then cajole friends into joining this conversation. Way too much work. But if my comments on this show up in my news feed or something similar, then any of my friends can directly SEE what I’m talking about and join in. Again, it’s a double-edged sword, but I’m someone who enjoys living in public and enjoys seeing my mom and my pastor and my friend from third grade all joining in on the same conversation. It’s not hard to filter one’s self so that the people on your friend list (at least the ones who you care about your reputation with) aren’t shocked or offended by something you say or do. When I have something off-color or private to say, I send it to specific people via email. It’s that easy. You just have to assume that what you say in public will eventually reach the eyes and ears of anyone whose opinion you might value or has some influence on your life.

        There’s no easy answer, and it’s certainly not as easy as just saying “I’m not going to use FB”. That’s now akin to moving to a cabin in Montana. FB has won the social network war. I think it’s here to stay. It’s not like AOL which was a service provider that people could easily switch from to something else. Literally, nearly EVERYONE I know in any aspect of my personal or professional life is on FB. For better AND worse, if we want to enjoy the level of interaction FB provides, we have to keep ourselves aware of the pitfalls and use it wisely and responsibly. I really believe the burden first falls to US to filter what we say and do no matter what outlet we use to express ourselves.

        (lol, and don’t get me started on the dangers or Foursquare or any of the location-based check-in services. THAT is taking public-ness to the next level, a level I don’t want to participate in. I really don’t get it.)

      • Jess

        I’m glad you value your use of Facebook. Several of my friends and family use it and value it as well. Other people I know use myspace. (Like, I know, they’re still on myspace, even in these modern times!) I don’t use either service, although I am reasonably familiar with both, and I don’t live in a cabin in Montana (I doubt Ted Kaczynski was ever on LinkedIn!). I’m not in middle school, so unlike for many students Facebook would not be a conduit for ridicule and peer abuse. I don’t live in a nation in which I fear violence in retaliation for political opinions or actions (yet). I’m not in a family or relationship in which the wrong friends or acquaintances could be dangerous for me. I _can_ imagine losing a job over numerous comments I might make on a number of topics. Although it has never happened to me, it has happened to people I know. (Please, this happens to a politician basically once a week, and it’s growing more common for online services to be involved in that.) Services that don’t make it easy to effectively manage identity and publicness can and do harm people in all these situations.

        I haven’t used FourSquare, but I’ll probably choose a location-aware service at some point, particularly if I discover one that offers real control, beyond simply turning it on or off. I certainly understand your reluctance to publicize your physical location, but perhaps I am privileged in that I’m not easily physically threatened, and there is nothing at my house worth stealing. In short, I have a different set of publicity preferences than you do, and as a result I choose to use different services. The millions of people who value Facebook are welcome to it, but you’re mistaken if you think that everyone else feels the same, or that Facebook is in any sense permanent.

  • http://secondthoughts.typepad.com Catherine Fitzpatrick

    Beautifully written, and some excellent points. I love the idea of “mutually assured humiliation”. Of course that only works if each side has a quiver of photos in their folders…

    I’ve been arguing that Facebook should not be browbeaten into allowing anonymous accounts because it should continue to be a mainstream platform for communities based on identity. There is a very vocal “progressive” lobby now arguing that Facebook “must” allow anonymity (including even Sen. Durbin, who has been recruited for this campaign). While claiming that they are not advocating a special “activists” account on FB that would get to be anonymous as such (although that is indeed what they sound like they are saying), these anonymous lobbyists say that when an account is banned (say, due to a hostile government or government supporter abuse reporting it), FB should look kindly on the person and restore them. Well, such a devised appeals procedure is still that elitist notion that some people deserve these accounts.

    If you want to be anonymous, go on Twitter or Ggroups.

    While arguing this, I had an Albanian tweeter whose name could be generic or real, hard to tell, make an interesting point. Why was I advocating for fake people?! he said. Anonymous people are the real ones. That is, his point was more metaphysical. If you can’t express your real sentiments because you’re afraid of losing your job, then your Facebook ID is in fact the fake persona. If you can say what you really think on an anonymous nick, maybe that’s the more real self.

    I believe strongly in having a Second Life avatar or any online avatar that you keep as an integral identity. I think it’s possible for such an identity to be built up and acquire a reputation and a persistence as much as a person, and that the demand that such persons link to their real-life names is misplaced. What matters is your online reputation over time as a consistent name. Whether that ties to some RL name that may not mean a thing to anyone once they have it is immaterial.

    So services that make it easier to maintain that identity, real or avatar, through showing past posts, even reputation votes, services that reward such persistence and consistence, these will win. Like Disqus.

  • http://www.rsf.org happy to speak freely

    Jeff, you’re wrong.
    All nice and sound, unless you want to do something more than just saying your opinion about a book or the latest, _non important_ gadget you tried.

    In all the democratic and “free speach” system I know of, most votations are done secretly (especially when long-term consequences are involved: political ones). This is because only when one is free to speak without direct or indirect consequences, real and unbiased opinions come out.

    Can any corporation employee be sure to keep their career ongoing, if HR/boss finds out that (s)he was openly speaking about hidden defects in the latest product? I’m not speaking “just” about being fired. I’m speaking about your career sinking without any appearent reason. Worse, because you were loyal and honest to other human beings.

    The point is: we’re free when we’re anonymous. This is just more evident in some environments than in others, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t valid everywhere.

  • Word of Warcraft

    Mr. Jarvis,

    Interesting post, but you’ve conflated so many different ideas it’s confusing.

    Also, it doesn’t seem to make sense to say, “Real identity has improved the tone and tenor of interaction online.”

    There’s no such thing as “real” identity. Either something can be identified or not — and I don’t think the tone and tenor of online interaction has improved.

    What you’re talking about for the most part is personalization, which has been around for a long time.

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  • http://www.tomgreen-uk.com Tom Green

    Interesting post. Screenwriter John August had a different slant on a similar theme a couple of months back http://johnaugust.com/archives/2011/all-yourselves-belong-to-us

  • http://www.tomgreen-uk.com Tom Green

    And the recent decision by TechCrunch to use Facebook comments is relevant to this discussion too, I think

    http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/01/pros-cons-facebook-comments/

  • http://bradbell.tv/blog/ Brad Bell

    The problem with looking at how much we need anonymity is counting all the people who depend on it.

    Without anonymity, I would have a completely different life in a different country with different people.

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  • Dave

    The notion of two “identities” doesn’t have to mean multiple *identities*. Don’t confuse identity with “account” or “username”. There are valid, and I think often desirable, reasons for maintaining two accounts on a single social media network. I write about work. I write about my personal life. I use the same voice (generally) and I am *always* me.

    However, the people who tend to read about work aren’t necessarily _that_ interested with my personal life. I’m not trying to hide anything–I’m trying to maximize the value they get from interaction with me on topics they actually care about. Similarly, those who follow me socially might be interested in my career, but not enough to be bombarded with work stories/issues/musings all day. There’s nothing wrong with separating personal and professional, and sometimes the best way to do that is with multiple “identities”. That has nothing to do with “being myself” and has everything to do with respecting the time and interests of others.

    • http://www.henrihamalainen.com Henri Hämäläinen

      This is the one part I haven’t really figured out. I totally agree on Jeff’s thinking on one identity, but the thing I haven’t figured out yet is how this all suits the internet.

      I see current web organized with around subjects. People tend to follow people and blogs because they are sharing items that interest you. That causes that some actually focus on specific subjects in their blogs or twitter accounts. I see this actually limiting your identity in that media just because of your media being used.

      The same problem comes with FB commenting. It might specialize you to some areas, if there will be close connection with your comments and your FB news/share feed.

      Before there a decent solution to specialize with one identity, there’s always going to be different tools or accounts to be used for different subjects.

      I know it doesn’t mean that you have different identities, but it means you are showing different sides of your identity to different groups.

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  • http://www.thepurplepastor.com Jonathon Sciola

    Jeff, this is a beautiful, insightful and potent observation of what may be the greatest shift in modern history. Comedians serve society by saying what we all think and dare to speak. You are writing about a change that is deep in our psyche and rising to the public surface: facing our true selves, and what perfect timing! In the past I have interacted with you around my marketing “identity” jonathonsciola however today I submitted this comment using my spiritual identity thepurplepastor which is my marketing attempt to bridge my two worlds, each of which is very authentic. This is where my spiritual-practical axis meets my private-public axis.

  • OrejaPerdida

    (I write from Bahia Blanca Argentina. The text is copy paste from the Google translator. There are difficulties reading mutual assured. I spend with your interesting blog when translated by Google Chrome)
    I read this post at a time to reflect on whether or not to leave behind my anonymity OrejaPerdida. This nickname was created in 2009 to start a blog sovereign local media, with opinions and criticism of its programming and ways to make programs, among other things. The decision to be behind a nickname was simply to preserve my current job, away from the media. It was not my intention that my employers and coworkers know about my past in the media. Media work in the 90’s but successive local economic crisis, forced me to try to improve my economy with jobs out of the media. However, with my short but intensive experience my analysis from the blog was a good case. Based on that my criticism and not “he says. ” In my city, certain sectors of media first look who is behind the words and criticism. Do not look at what is raised against them and the necessary debate does not occur. Do not blame them, but never insulted or assaulted and kept me balanced in my criticism. Nor did it from the pride of knowing everything. I did it as “listener qualified” by my experience and like to support local media and its professionals.
    Stay behind the nickname for these years I have been credibility from my arguments and not from me (I have a facebook group that replaces the blog). I find myself thinking about giving up my anonymity or remain in the answer if I have to go “out of the closet. ” I read some comments indicated that in some cases the anonymity serves the purpose until it is the assault or defamation. Also serves to portend some views that life outside the Internet would lead to long-term problems …
    Thank you for your writings, I find it very good … greetings to all … and excuse my English version of Google Translate: =)

  • OrejaPerdida

    Necessary correction, sorry … I should say this in the last paragraph

    “I read some comments indicated that in some cases the anonymity serves the purpose if not used to attack or defame “

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  • http://sputnik.pl Pies

    I’m all for a single identity. I care about what I publish under my own name, and even when I write something rushed and half-assed, I accept that as a part of who I was, and I try not to do it again.

    I wouldn’t want to work for people who wouldn’t hire me because of what I post to Facebook or otherwise online. If a potential employer cares about my image more than he cares about my craft, he deserves neither.

    From my point of view multiple identities are for people who are afraid to speak openly. This is sometimes justified, so using a single identity should be incentivised, rather than forced.

    I think the ideas described by Daniel Suarez in “Daemon” (ratings, professions, and levels) are right on.

  • http://www.elliotthermanwallace.com/blog/ Elliott

    I’m trying to do everything I can to stay away from my philosophical view points, but cannot seem to help it. (I studied English and Philosophy in undergrad and getting my Masters in Interactive Journalism. All about the Big Bucks) I have conflicting issues with the piece:

    I agree with Jeff that opening up more, if one can afford to, would be beneficial to online interaction and debate. Jeff seems to mention more of celebrity, but this seems to go all over the place itself. Yet, that’s how I right sometimes.

    However, I cannot help but shake the feeling that this is closer to the aesthetics and zeitgeist of our Me, Me ADD riddled culture to tell more about ourselves. Now, yes, I won’t deny positive possibilities of introducing people to more information through personal information (for example: Someone suffers from this and meets and starts a strong connection with similar suffers.) However, and maybe I am playing devils advocate, but it seems to open up a can of worms for people to be selfish and maybe even guarded instead of accepting the mutual humiliation, where you are sharing, but to a point.

    More importantly, if it is fun to be anonymous, as you point out at the beginning of the piece, why be open and honest about you identity? Why not have your Facebook mean this and your Twitter mean that? It gives you the control in the first place. And maybe that model is the best, because, and people seem to forget this, but you can put up what you want to on FB, but never everything.

  • http://www.andreakenner.com/blog Andrea Kenner

    Authenticity is an admirable goal, but for me it’s still just that: a goal. I’m probably not alone. When you’ve been burned online, as I have, you tend to pull your hand off the metaphorical hot stove. I remember the first time I posted one of my photos on a photo-sharing site. I don’t know what kind of feedback I was expecting, exactly, but what I got was a slap from a self-appointed “Simon Cowell” who told me I had no business wasting people’s time with my self-indulgent crap. That may seem to be a small thing, but it made me hesitant to share my voice online again for a really long time.

    People need to feel a measure of safety before they’ll reveal their authentic selves online. As Jeff Jarvis mentioned at the beginning of his post, some people may even risk their lives by using their own identities online. I think the problems will persist until “society” becomes a safer place. That could take a very long time. But recently, I’ve started seeing a few glimmers of hope.

    Last December, I wrote a blog post about incivility in online commenting. (I’m a journalism student.) Several of the people I interviewed for that post shared innovative things they were doing to involve their communities in solving the problems. Some decided to ban anonymous comments, but others held face-to-face meetings with frequent commenters and developed incentives to reward good online citizenship. Once people realized their opponents were real people and not just anonymous “bits and bytes” on a computer screen, some of them actually became friends. (If you’re interested, the post is available here: http://www.andreakenner.com/blog/?p=373.)

  • http://nathanjurgenson.com nathan jurgenson

    i wrote a critique of this post here: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/03/25/jeff-jarvis-and-multiple-identities-a-critique/ power and inequalities need to be taken into account!

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  • http://www.L-I-N-K-E-D.com SeekGeek

    These arguments about 1 identity or 2 always amaze me as to how egocentrically they are always framed. Its always about ME and MY indentity (1 or 2). But what about the audience? Ever think of them? Don’t you think they may prefer each person to have a business self and a private self, so that they are not constantly bombarded with their old school friends business promotory announcements?

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    To view district-wide results select the district name and leave the school field blank. This search will also list schools within the district.

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  • http://www.sudeposu.org su deposu

    But what about the audience? Ever think of them? Don’t you think they may prefer each person to have a business self and a private self, so that they are not

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  • http://www.kursistem.com sistem

    Are you teacher

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  • http://iamjoshrollins.tumblr.com Josh Rollins

    Some of us need to hide within this county as well. Some of us want to talk about things that most people, even those commenting on this blog, would find highly inappropriate and non-professional. Still, these opinions are the most controversial, the ones that eventually, hopefully, will change the way we think today. For time being however, professionalism and personal life cannot mix, for some, and I’m not talking about a couple of beers or an embarrassing image.

    I call myself Josh Rollins. It’s a name I made three and a half years ago. It is a name my significant others know, my close friends recognize, and my writings is published under. I can’t use my real name because mixing the two world would mean destroying my career before it even started – I know so because I’ve worked around these people for years.

    I can’t show my face. I can’t risk talking in front of a too much of a large audience. I am grateful for my family to be open minded enough to accept me as I am, for the most part. The problem is that I *do* have a lot to say, and I want to say it. You call me a coward? Maybe. I just want to have a job and to be left alone. I don’t want to be some sort of a “case” or a part of a movement, yet, I realize I might be forced into being just that. For some of us, this is not an option.

    Thank you for allowing me the virtual space to express my opinion, it does help.

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