We tend to stay pretty close to our real identity in social networking situations if we want to have any chance of having a real connection with people because people in real life know us and know who we are. If we were to present a false identity to them, they would know, and they would perceive us as fake. However, in a lot of online situations or in video game situations we have the ability to create an identity that differs from reality because no one knows us; we are anonymous. We are free to be anonymous in a variety of situations including forums, fan groups, or alternate social networking profiles.
For instance, in high school I had a Twitter account that was not linked to my Facebook account, and where I didn’t share any of my personal information like my full name, my location, or anything of that nature. I was anonymous, but I didn’t present a false identity. I presented an alternate identity. This allowed me to post whatever I was feeling and allowed me to not care about what people thought about what I was posting. It gave me the freedom to say what I wanted without fear that I would offend someone I knew or say something that someone I knew did not agree with. I wasn’t worried about losing or gaining followers, it just gave me an outlet to present a part of me that I wanted to present.
I even was able to connect with people who had similar interests to me such as bands or movies or TV shows we watched. There wasn’t even continual or consistent communication. It just came and went. When something new or interesting happened, there were exchanges. I was a part of this community with this online presence, but it wasn’t really me. I didn’t portray my full self. I didn’t really make any true connections with other people. I eventually came to a point where I just lost interest in Twitter itself and didn’t wish to continue posting 140-word phatic communication to people who didn’t care.
The point I mean to make here is that it is easy for anyone to be anonymous online, and they can choose to present themselves however they want (usually). To bring the anonymous identity idea back to the readings and discussions we’ve had in Digital Culture, these anonymous identities can be race-less (i.e., someone is represented by an image of their favorite animal, instead an image of his or her face). But the only way they can be race-less is if the anonymous person has the power to decide how he or she is represented in their defining image, usually in avatar form.
Kafai, Cook, & Fields (2007) talk about the assumed whiteness aspect that exists in some online communities like in the virtual world of Whyville.net where the avatars originally started out with peach faces instead of a race-neutral color. Eventually this changed, and all avatars began to start out as blue instead of peach (Kafai, et al., 2007). This example just goes to show how the assumption of whiteness can change the way one is perceived online. If users cannot choose their avatar, they could be forced into representing something that they don’t want to or that they don’t feel represents the person they want to present to their online community. In my Twitter experience, I could have made my avatar any image (although I did use an image of myself), which allowed me to represent myself with the identity that I wanted to portray in that community.
Kafai, Y.B., Cook, M., & Fields, D.A. (2007). “Blacks deserve bodies too!” Design and discussion about diversity and race in a teen virtual world. Situated Play: Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference, University of California, Los Angeles.