Having more than one online identity: More authentic or more vulnerable?

When searching for sources under the broad topic of ‘digital identity’, I came across an interesting metaphor – it was suggested that our digital identity is the permanent collection of data about us that is available online, that is, a digital ‘tattoo’ (Binary Tattoo). And it is striking to note that almost all activities that are based on using web tools and applications are actually ways of creating our digital identities, even when they are not intended (Torres and Costa, 2011).

Krotoski (2012) suggested that, with Facebook and Google encouraging the pursuit of authenticity by tying different accounts, photo streams and participation in any activity to a person’s real name, our daily online activity is becoming more and more non-anonymous, that is, whatever we do, including comments we make, any online-shopping records or even google search records, are becoming traceable. Hence, I do agree with the ‘tattoo’ metaphor to a large extent.


So, there are a few pros about tying everything into a big, one and only digital identity under your name. Firstly, a single identity makes everything easier and more convenient (e.g.: Apple Pay)  – users are familiar with logging into other services using Facebook or Google IDs, forming a single public identity that’s an aggregated version of their offline past (Krotoski, 2012).

Secondly, people are provided with an assurance of security and credibility. With a rapid growth of the digital identity infrastructure over the last decade, more and more services are available online. In fact, business activities like online transactions, online banking and even ATM are enabled by the existence of digital identity, as banks no longer need a human in the loop to identify customers’ identity (Windley, 2005). Thus, with the increase in money being involved in online activities, online security, credibility and integrity have become increasingly important.

While having one account and one password for all services seems super handy, we can argue that despite being more connected than ever before we are equally much more vulnerable (Torres and Costa, 2011). As suggested in The Value of Our Digital Identity (2012), personal data has become a new form of currency. It is estimated that applying personal data can deliver a €330billion annual economic benefit for organisations in Europe by 2020!

Consequently, it is important not to always put all your eggs in one basket – Below is a video that talks about Online identity theft:


On the other hand, Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project emphasised the need for anonymity – he argued that losing anonymity, that is having only one online identity which remains when you are offline, prevents people from being creative and explorative. He also highlighted the importance of the ability to forget and start over. It is believed that as Facebook and Google shape online experience based on one’s past activities, people may face a lack of choice in their online experiences and remain stuck in their old life (Krotoski, 2012)

To sum up, there are significant pros and cons for each side of the argument. Hence, it is suggested that the need for education in privacy management and digital identity management over the web should be emphasised in future education systems.


Binary Tattoo (2015) How are you defining YOUR digital identity? Retrieved from: http://www.binarytattoo.com/about-us/ (Accessed on 30/10/16.)

Krotoski, A. (2012) Online Identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?, The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity (Accessed on 29/10/16.)

Liberty Global, Inc. (2012) The Value of Our Digital Identity. The Boston Consulting Group, Inc. Retrieved from: https://www.libertyglobal.com/PDF/public-policy/The-Value-of-Our-Digital-Identity.pdf (Accessed on 30/10/16.)

Nordic Edge Movies (2011, Oct 11) Online Identity Theft – Stolen Password – Social Engineering‬. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOxxTaBP3xs (Accessed on 30/10/16.)

Torres, R. and Costa, C. (2011) To be or not to be, the importance of Digital Identity, in the networked society, Educação, Formação & Tecnologias, n.º extra, 47-53. Retrieved from: http://eft.educom.pt/index.php/eft/article/view/216/126 (Accessed on 29/10/16.)

Windley, P. J. (2005) Digital Identity: Unmasking Identity Management Architecture (IMA). USA: O’Reilly Media, Inc. Retrieved from: https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=o8mHSbDHgPsC&oi=fnd&pg=PT5&dq=digital+identity+dictionary&ots=URmuofyE1t&sig=PGG-KNqiFgJEzePypLqlY2O11lo#v=onepage&q=digital%20identity%20dictionary&f=false (Accessed on 30/10/16.)


Reflective Summary: Living and Working on the Web: Tool vs Place?

Before starting the module, the idea of categorising people on the Web into ‘digital natives’, ‘digital immigrants’ or ‘digital residents’ and ‘digital visitors’ has never crossed my mind. Obviously, as a person who is closer to the ‘digital resident’ end of White and Cornu (2011)’s digital visitors and residents continuum, I do use the Web on a daily basis, or even hourly basis. However, I have never thought of how being born at the digital age will make me any different from my parents in terms of how we use the Web, or maybe I was just never aware of it.

This thought-provoking topic has really raised my awareness of a good balance between my approaches towards the use of web – I reckon a combination of both visitors approach and residents approach will give best results in my studies. For instance, I could use the visitors approach when doing a research for sources and the residents approach when asking for a friend’s opinion or useful information.

On the other hand, even though it was intriguing and interesting to read about these new ideas, I found that I have put myself in a box after reading about the ‘residents’, ‘visitors’, ‘immigrants’ and ‘natives’ frameworks, and failed to think of other possibilities. Thus, I found it extra helpful to have read Will and Claire’s blogs, this have given me a chance to have a glimpse at others’ thoughts and hence opening up my eyes again and thinking outside the box. In the first place, Claire’s blog suggested that amount of support and structure required for all students varies in education, this made me more aware of the fact that individual differences should not be ignored, and as every student have different background, learning environment, their style and effectiveness of learning may vary even at the same age. This blog has also inspired me to come up with the thought of ‘Nature vs. Nurture’ when it comes to technical capability of different people.

Apart from this, it was mentioned in Will’s blog that other than ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ there should be ‘creators’ too. This has helped me to come to a conclusion that we should not put ourselves in boxes and act within our dedicated ‘role’, as we all learn, assimilate and integrate knowledge everyday, we may constantly switch between ‘visitors’, ‘residents’, ‘creators’ or even more approaches. Thus, why should we categorise ourselves into different roles? Like Wenger (1998) has pointed out, we are all members of multiple communities and have to negotiate our roles and identities as we navigate the ‘nexus’ of communities we belong to, that is, our approaches should change depending on context!

Links to my comments:

Will’s Blog


Claire’s Blog


Living and Working on the Web: Tool vs Place?

Prensky (2001) came up with Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Despite of being much-criticized, this idea quickly gained attention as it called for a major change in the quality and effectiveness of education. It was suggested that such changes are required as young people (known as digital natives) who have grown up with information and communication technology, possess different style and skills of learning compared to previous generations (digital immigrants) as a result of their completely different upbringing. Although some studies have provided support to this idea, one of the key claims, which stated that ‘a distinct generation of ‘digital natives’ exists, may be overgeneralising.

According to Bennet et al (2008), while there are some research evidences that indicate that a proportion of young people are highly adept with technology, it has been shown that a significant proportion of young people aren’t. Therefore, it is important to note that there may be as much variation within the digital native generation as between the generations and individual differences should not be ignored.

10 years later, White and Cornu (2011) offered the analogy of Visitors and Residents as alternatives to Digital Natives and Immigrants.


It was suggested that Visitors are individuals that tend to use the web as a ‘tool’, to attain a goal, like any other tool – when needed, the tools are brought out to do their job; when done, tools are returned to their original place.

These individuals tend to be invisible online; they are anonymous and they tend to not leave any footprints and digital identity that would persist when the tool is not in use. As a result, they don’t tend to engage much in social networking activities online. However, they don’t necessarily avoid using things like email and Skype as tools to maintain existing-relationships.


On the contrary, Residents are individuals that treat the online platform more like a ‘place’, where they actually live a proportion of their lives in.


They usually have a distinct digital identity as they consider themselves a part of the online communities and a part of their self-identity. They tend to have a persona online and they would actively share, express and exchange their feelings and opinions to maintain their identity. For instance, people would constantly share posts that show what they are doing, their new job or even new relationships on Facebook while others will express their views or opinions towards the posts. Furthermore, websites such as Amazon.co.uk and Asos.com allow individuals to do online shopping whilst many banks now provide online banking services. Residents often use the web in all aspects of life: professionally, for studies and for recreation.

Nevertheless, Visitors and Residents should not be viewed as a distinct dichotomy, but rather a continuum, with Visitors on one end and Residents on the other.

While ‘extreme’ visitors only use web for specific purposes, ‘extreme’ residents only use web for social interactions and building up their online identity.

Most of us today belong to the box in the middle. As Wenger (1998) suggests, ‘We are all members of multiple communities and have to navigate our roles and identities as we navigate the “nexus” of communities we belong to.’


Bennett, S., Maton, K. and Kervin, L. (2008) The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39: 775–786. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00793.x (Accessed on 15/10/16)

Golubeva, D. (2015) WhatsApp web client now works in Opera browser Retrieved from http://www.opera.com/blogs/news/2015/02/whatsapp-web-client-works-in-opera/ (Accessed on 15/10/16)

Prensky (2001) Digital Natives, Digital ImmigrantsOn the Horizon, MCB University Press, Volume 9 (5). Available from: http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf (Accessed on 15/10/16)

Teixeira, F. (2016) “What tool should I use?” has become one of the most frequent questions asked online. The Right Tool For The Job: Picking The Best Prototyping Software For Your Project. Retrieved from https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Tools-large-opt.jpg (Accessed on 15/10/16)

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

White, D .S. (2008) Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’, but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ Available from: http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2008/07/23/not-natives-immigrants-but-visitors-residents/  (Accessed on 15/10/16)

White, D. S., & Cornu, A. L. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). (Accessed on 15/10/16)