Through the world of Facebook, Myspace, blogs, and other internet profiles, it is progressively becoming more difficult to remain anonymous on the web. Almost everyone–and there are still people who do not have access or refuse to become addicted to an online social network of sorts–creates profiles and blogs/vlogs in the hopes that someone out there is reading their thoughts. We no longer write something just for fun. There is always some sort of subconscious thought that there will be an audience to our thoughts or by some miracle, we will be discovered as some brilliant personality.
I remember when I first created my Facebook profile. I was never allowed to have a Myspace because my parents thought that it was dangerous. When Facebook first came out, I remember talking them into letting me have one because of all of the “privacy” settings. However, Facebook really isn’t that much more private than Myspace unless you specify–and then keep specifying–that you want your profile set that way. And really, the whole point of Facebook is to connect with other people, so in a way, privacy settings are obsolete anyway.
I was intrigued by our class discussion last Tuesday because it made me think about the identity I present to the rest of the world (potentially) through online social networking sites. I never really think about Facebook as something dangerous or scary–rather, it is just a way for me to connect with friends I might not be able to see on a regular basis. However, recently my “friends” list reached over a thousand people. I started looking through some of those “friends” and realized there are several people that I don’t actually know. These people only know me through the profile presented online. I do not have any interests or TV shows or music, etc. listed on my profile and rarely post a “status” about my day or anything. Therefore, these people who are my “friends,” but who don’t know me, can only create an identity for me based off of my pictures and what others post on my wall. Because I don’t know these people, this is completely fine. If they knew more about me I might be more nervous.
Cyberstalking has recently become an issue worth debating because of the social networking sites and people like me who have befriended people they don’t actually know. Cyberstalking is scary because the only identity you can place on someone is what they present through the screen. You cannot really see the person and there really isn’t anyway to know for sure if they are who they say they are. Therefore, a whole new set of rules, based off of old rules, have come into play. For example, the rule, don’t talk to strangers, now becomes, be careful about what you post online for strangers to see and if they decide they want to meet you and you agree, do so in a crowded and safe area in case of a problem. Simple, old-fashioned rules have now become complicated because online identities create complicated problems.
Anyone can create an alternative identity online and only their closest friends would actually know the difference. This is intriguing because many thought that the online source would dissolve race and stereotypical issues. Instead, those issues are heightened because of the identities people create online. People are still discriminated against and stereotypes become more prevalent because of what is posted online. I once read that stereotypes are a way for people to make sense out of an overstimulating environment. If this is true, it would make sense that people are creating and still using already existing stereotypes. The internet can be a very overstimulating place because of the overload of information that is provided to people at the click of a button. Therefore, creating stereotypes to categorize and make sense of that over-stimulation would be a natural response. The problem with stereotypes is when they become emotionally charged and aimed at certain individuals or groups of people. And the other problem is that stereotypes often become that way. The internet is, if anything, feeding those stereotypes rather than hindering them.
I am anxious to see how this identity crisis plays out in the future and how people seek to resolve it. The first step is recognizing that there is a problem. I’m pretty sure this is starting to happen. The next step is figuring out ways to make sure it doesn’t get even more out of hand.