Thursday, February 22, 2007

QotW5: This Is Me

Identity plays a key role in virtual communities. In communication, knowing the identity of those with whom you communicate is essential for understanding and evaluating an interaction. Yet identities are also ambiguous because many of the basic cues about personality and social roles we are accustomed to in the physical world are absent. (Donath, 1996) People are free to redefine who they wish to be. In Peter Steiner's famous New Yorker cartoon, a canine computer user says, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." (Online identity, 2007) I can be America's Next Top Model, a TV star, a serial killer, Paris Hilton’s new BFF, anything. Genders can even be switched. How then, does one access the reliability of information and the trustworthiness of a person whom you’ve never seen? Every word and action online then adds to a reputation. People get associated offline with their online identities. The persona projected reel life is how others will perceive you to be in real life. With technology booming like no tomorrow, there are so many outlets where one can assume a virtual online identity like Internet forums, MUDs, IRC, instant messaging, MMORPGs, and social networking sites. I used to maintain a blog as an online identity. LiveJournal was where my virtual self existed.

I hopped onto the blogging bandwagon in 2004. LiveJournal (LJ) started in 1999 and is a virtual community where Internet users can keep a blog, journal, or diary. (LiveJournal, 2007) While others choose to use their real names so people will be able to tell who they are, I assumed a pseudonym (daydreamsindecember) but kept other personal information in the “User Info” page available. Each user has a "User Info" page lists of friends, interests, communities, and even schools which the user has attended in the past or is currently attending. As with any other blogging websites, I recorded personal snippets of my daily life as well as other interesting tidbits. Everything that I put online was basically “me”. I didn’t hold back any barriers when it came to showing my personality through my writing. I wanted people to be able to get to know me better even though it was only through words and pictures. Although users post extremely sensitive information ranging from “I want to kill my mother” to “I shagged David Beckham”, LiveJournal provides pretty good privacy facilities- The popular "friends only" security option hides a post from the general public so that only those on the user's friends list can read it. LiveJournal additionally has a "private" security option which allows users to make a post that only the poster can read, thus making their LiveJournal a private diary rather than a blog. (LiveJournal, 2007)

Yet despite the security measures, people still get their accounts hacked into. Jack (not his real name) is an LJ user whose account was compromised. He isn't sure how it happened, but one day he logged in and discovered a huge portion of his journal entries had been deleted. The attacker didn't stop there -- she or he also plundered his friends' "locked" entries (visible only to other friends) and reposted extremely private exchanges as public entries in Jack's journal. Although he quickly changed his password and fixed the problem, the damage was done. My friends were really upset and the bad feelings persisted," he said. (Newitz, 2003) Much of a modern person’s life is spent online nowadays. No matter how insignificant people may think their existence is, everyone is actually vulnerable to identity theft especially with so much personal information readily available. Identity theft can happen to anyone. You’ll never know if you’ll be left faceless one day. In this world where anything goes, never say never.


Donath, J. S. (1996). Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community. Retrieved February 21, 2007, from

LiveJournal. (2007). Retrieved February 21, 2007, from

Marlin, A. S. (2000). Online identity theft a growing concern. Retrieved February 21, 2007, from

Newitz, A. (2003). Defenses lacking at social network sites. Retrieved February 21, 2007, from

Online identity. (2007). Retrieved February 21, 2007, from

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Dionne, excellent work covering identity issues on LiveJournal. Full grades awarded. :)