Identity is a general term used thoroughly in social sciences in general and psychology
in particular to describe our comprehension of people as a distinct, separate person. This generic term can further be separated and explored in the field of an online identity. An online identity is an identity people use in online communities.
Some people prefer to use their real names when they go online, however, the majority of internet users prefer to use pseudonyms
, aka nick names when they go online. These pseudonyms reveal variable values of personally identifiable information.
In online communities, such as message boards
, chat rooms
, instant messengers, and massively multiplayer online games, individual users can visually present themselves by choosing an avatar
. While interacting with each other, users will acquire reputation, which deems them as trustworthy or not.
Online identities are far more flexible than in real life. In real life, some factors are difficult to change, such as race, class, occupation, level of education and income level. On the contrary, in online identities people are far more flexible to choose however they define themselves. This definition involves gender switching and claiming to be some other person by means of deception.
Internet users may have several online identities; this is caused by the lack of a centralized online identity infrastructure management system
. Multiple online identities can cause fraud. For instance, a person might create a new online identity to getaway from a negative reputation, or to alter an online vote. At auction sites, sellers might use multiple identities to bid prices up.
Online identities can be tracked by means of IP address. However, a countermeasure would be using a proxy anonymity server
, which makes tracking IP address more difficult for investigators.
The way how an online identity management infrastructure is developed will certainly have an affect on online anonymity. Law enforcement officials regularly express concern with online anonymity. They claim that it is an invitation for criminals, pedophiles
, and terrorist
s who wish to hide their identity. As a result, they are the most vocal to call for an identity management infrastructure that would permanently link an online identity to a legal identity
On the other hand, online civil rights supporters argue that reputation management systems are sufficient enough and are expected to grow in sophistication and utility. Therefore, they oppose the need for a centralized identity management system.
One of the most widely and popular discussed subjects pertaining to online identities is sexual explorations of assuming an opposite sex in online identities. Although there is a worldwide tolerance for acceptance of different sexualities in many societies, bigotry is still real and present in real life.
An online user can have the chance to enter massively online multiplayer games and assume a sexual role opposite from his or her true sex without any serious repercussions. Games such as Second Life or World of Warcraft offer this opportunity. A large portion of online gaming relies on relationship building and real world bigotry of assuming different sexual roles diminishes in an online environment.
Largely, concerns arise with regards to virtual identities as the similarities or differences between online and offline existence. Sexual behaviors provide some of the most heated debates in online identity studies. Specifically, there are concerns about child pornographers or pedophiles acting as children to lure in their victims. Furthermore, this flexibility of portrayal in online identity has raised debates about the validity of online relationships.
There are other concerns on how online identities might manifest itself into the real world. As McRae (in Porter, 1997, p. 75) states, At its best, it 'virtual sex' not only complicates but drastically unsettles the division between mind, body, and self that has become a comfortable truism in western metaphysics. When projected into virtually, mind, body and self all become consciously manufactured constructs through which individuals interact with each other.
Online classrooms make people rethink about what they think about traditional classrooms. In online classrooms, face to face communications are not necessary. In traditional classrooms, students can visually connect with their teacher. Additionally, they can visually connect to one another and recognize each other outside the classroom. On the other hand, if students are shy they might feel more comfortable utilizing online classrooms.
There are people who support and people who oppose online classrooms, however, the argument seem to move towards a middle ground that online coupled with traditional classes are better. Online classes were once a fashion, but the numbers point that this trend is spreading itself as a permanent part of the educational system. In the US, in 2001, online higher education was a $4.5 billion market, in 2005; it grew to $11 billion.
Weblogging, shortened to blogging
, is a very popular way of expressing ideas. A user posts a message easily and cheaply, and anyone can view and reply to it. Bloggers can post their day to day activities as an online diary or can express their political views or can post news items on their blogs with the potential of getting a very high number of audience.
Online predators exploit vulnerable people for sexual or financial purposes and are a major concern for law enforcement. The highest risk groups for online predators are children, considering their judgment is not fully matured. An online predator might prey on his or her victim for weeks, or even months, gaining the victim's trust before striking. The victim might not suspect anything due to the constant lies spread by the predator.
An online identity is a new phenomenon that can be traced to at least the past 2 decades. It is a constantly evolving field of study that falls under general psychological studies. Its positive social impacts can be felt when making business transactions or taking online classes. The negative impacts are being remedied by law enforcement officials by making new proposal to lower online crime rates.