We recently read a few papers on self-expression on social media platforms. We discussed that discrepancies between one’s real identity and the identity she expresses in social media is one of the points of focus in this area. Usually people tend to present an idealized version of themselves in such platforms and try to show not the self they are but the one they want to be. Various platforms use different techniques to reduce this dissimilarity and make users’ profiles more realistic. But in this post I want to introduce a social media platform with a 180 degree different approach: you can be as unrealistic as you want! This approach goes to the extreme ends of even not being a human, but an animal or a fantasy creature!
“Second Life” is a unique social media platform in which users live and interact in a virtual world. This world is built and managed mostly by the users. People represent themselves by adopting any “avatar” they want. These avatars can resemble their real life identities, or can be anything from a fantasy creature with horns and wings to animals and even plants and objects! Not only the avatar but also the social characteristics of people (e.g. their occupation or residence ) are designed by themselves. You can interact with other users in public areas or go to their private places and make your circle of friends and contacts.
This virtual society has its own currency Linden Dollar L$ which can be exchange for real dollars! In fact you can earn money in this virtual Second Life and spend it in your real first life (see this Wikipedia page). Usually people do not earn huge money but there are some who do e.g. Ailin Graef (Anshe Chung in Second Life) who earns more than 1million dollars per year by selling only virtual goods! According to unofficial postings on Second Life website (this link) there are 50,000 to 60,000 users living in this virtual world at any moment! This large number reminds us of the powerful tendency to be the character ones desires, even if in a virtual world. This tendency takes other forms in more realistic and serious social platforms. This fact should always be considered in deriving any conclusion from analyzing virtual social practices. Behavioral studies specifically targeted to analyze virtual behaviors and their correlation with real social behaviors can provide us with the necessary insight.