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Identities and online communities: III
September 7, 2004

Virtual communities have, on the one hand led to a proliferation of identities where a member of a group could adopt any persona that she choose and discard it to don another identity in the next interaction. On the other hand, however, the significance attached to these identities has reduced considerably. Is the fluidity and flexibility of identity an adhesive to the online communities? Does it make the virtual world a democratic utopia? How do people relate to each other in the face of this unstable identity? K-Praxis investigates the role this identity has to play in the virtual world.

Will the real one please stand up?

There is no denying that there is a minimal need for authenticity that is felt when people relate to each other. It is understandably difficult to communicate, even if its only professional and impersonal information, to an identity that is ostensibly false. Given the easy steps in which on can create an identity, there is more than just a perceived threat of fraud and inauthenticity. It is possible to create multiple identities and personas with just a few clicks on the computer. Does it then become impossible to identify, as one would in the real world, a genuine identity

Identity markers

Clues to judge identity in the virtual world are rare and often not as straightforward as ones in the real world, but indeed they are not inexistent. There are methods and programs that are extremely sensitive to replication of identity, manipulation of server name, computer generated ID, etc. It is not very difficult, given the accelerated pace at which technology is moving, to chaff out the overtly fraudulent personas. It, however, remains to be sorted how one could deal with an adoption of a persona, which is not ones own. How for example would one know if a person is a 19-year-old female student in California, as she claims or an 80-year-old sheep-grazer in the Prairies?

Real identity

While there can be no fool-proof guarantee of a persons real identity in the virtual world, it should at this point be noticed that there is none of that in the real world as well. It is as facile to claim to have access to the truth about a real person in a real world, as it is to know a persona in a virtual group. Moreover, the interactions in the virtual world may not be dependant on the authenticity of persona at all. The identity claimed by the persona might infact be a useful clue as to the way in which a person wishes others to relate to him/her.

Obliteration of Identity and Anonymity

It would not be far off the mark to claim that identity in the virtual world does not connote faithfulness to the real. It is infact an obliteration of the identity and a freedom of anonymity. Whether this allows for a more democratic society remains to be seen… it is still too early to tell!

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