Real or fake virtual identity!

Social media is a virtual society. Inhabitants of this virtual world, the users, each adopt a virtual identity, which more or less, is a reflection of who they are in the real world. But this virtual identity is not necessarily an honest image of their real identity. People often hide what they do not like about themselves and falsify good characteristics. Some social network platforms have adopted policies to increase correspondence of user profiles to who they really are. Of course true profiles are better than false ones. But we have to understand that forcing users to reveal their true identity may not be always the wisest thing to do. In fact being able to hide behind a fake mask is one of the most attractive features of virtual societies. We do not want to lose users by forcing them to takeoff this mask. This paradox arises a question: How important it is for the user profiles to truly and accurately represent the real identities? And in practice how strict social media websites should be to ensure validity of what their users share about themselves?

         To answer these questions first I classify social media platforms into two categories: 1- content-oriented and 2- user-oriented.  Content-oriented social media are those platforms on which the shared material is more important than who has shared it.  YouTube is an example of such platforms. Although users have profiles and channels on YouTube, we usually do not care about who has shared a video. On the other hand, user-oriented platforms are those mainly used for self-representation. Facebook and LinkedIn are examples of such platforms. This categorization suggests that accuracy of users’ identity becomes important or negligible based on why the platform is mostly used for. I may not care about who answers my questions on Yahoo-Answers, but I do care about authenticity of information shared on LinkedIn by a potential future employee.

Which social networking sites are content-oriented and which are user-oriented? I believe we have a spectrum. On one extreme end of the spectrum, stand crowed-sourcing networks. These platforms have little social value. The contribution, and not the contributors are of real importance. Wikipedia and Yahoo-Answers are instances of such websites. Then we have blogs, where identity of their author is somehow visible but they are followed first and foremost for their content. Then we have social networks like Facebook where although identities are important, the accuracy of every single detail about users may not be crucial. Finally, on the other extreme end of the spectrum, stand professional network platforms like LinkedIn, where profile accuracy becomes significantly important.

In order to adopt the best profile accuracy strategy, managers and developers of social networks, have to first identify where they stand on this spectrum. What we need is a balanced policy fine-tuned exactly for the purpose of the virtual network.



5 thoughts on “Real or fake virtual identity!

  1. I enjoyed your perspective! Thank you for sharing! I go with the real identity! Maybe I have watched too many YouTube Videos of Simon Sinek and listen to his book Start With Why too many times. If I put a fake identity out there, people are going to “buy why I do” and that is important for me. #Authenticity Thank you for sharing!

  2. Nice categorization, I liked reading it. I think the solution is more complicated.
    Anne, I don’t know if it’s as simple as “real” or “fake.” Your “real” identity is itself a performance, as we shall see in class in a couple of weeks.

    Eli, did you mean to choose a wordpress theme with really big typeface? On my screen it looks like a size 24 or bigger font. It’s a bit distracting.

  3. Content-oriented and user-oriented. Great idea! It is a new way to think about social media sites for me.
    However, I am not quite agree with the word “fake virtual identity” in your heading. Usually people show their real information to represent themselves online, but they choose to present only the positive side. It should not considered as fake because it is still the truth and, even in the physical world, people make themselves to look nice in front of others also.

  4. Online identities are a big topic in the computer-mediated communication literature. Many of the early hypotheses about CMC dealt with anonymity and how that affected communication. Later as SNSs became popular, these discussions waned a bit. Our real identities are more readily part of our profiles online now. Another concept that some talk about is social groups versus fan groups, and identity is approached differently in each of these categories. One recent article in Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication ( explores how people navigate private/public distinctions by masking their identity and messages though privately public and publicly private displays. All very interesting. In any case, thank you for your reflections … I appreciated them whether you are real or fake. 😉

  5. Pingback: Comments on Other’s Blogs | dougpruim

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