Facing down Fear over Identity

Up until five weeks ago online identity was something I had never thought about. In fact, it was something I avoided forming. The only social media account I had was Facebook and I never posted anything. The only photos or posts connected to me were those that others put there. So why is it that I have chosen to not post online and to keep a minimal online presence?

Regret by Jason Hickey, CC-BY-2.0

There is definitely an element of social anxiety about the way people will perceive me online. Sometimes I think about posting something and choose not to because I worry about how people might respond to it, or how it will reflect on me. Sometimes I post something and then regret it for the same reasons.

I use to post prolifically on anonymous websites as a teenager, and I felt comfortable doing so because of the pseudonymity of my identity. Unfortunately for me it seems that the internet is reaching a point where true anonymity is virtually impossible and even pseudonymity is becoming stamped out. Interestingly when I created my Twitter account and Word Press blog I chose to use my full name. For me using my full name was actually a form of anonymity because the only person who refers to me by my full name is my dad when he’s unhappy with me. And so its use gave me a (somewhat false) sense of anonymity.

Peek-a-Boo (Flickr) by Kenneth Leung, CC-BY-2.0

Another weird thing about my budding online identity, and something that I have only just noticed, is that in nearly all my profile pics my face is obscured. In my Facebook account my profile picture is of the back of me and my boyfriend’s heads as we boogie on a dance floor, my Twitter account is a shadowed side profile of me reading, and even at the top of this blog is another pic of the back of my head. The only account that has a straight on head shot is my AboutMe profile, and it only seemed appropriate to do so considering the platform. It’s not that I’m trying to hide my identity from anyone, or my face. But there is something that makes me hold back from presenting my online identity with a big, smack-in-the-face, beaming, close-up, head-shot. If I’m being honest, I think the reason why is that I don’t want to appear vain.

Shiny new camera! by Les Chatfield CC-BY-2.0

Speaking of which, we’ve been looking at selfies this week and I have been trying to cajole myself into getting into the spirit and taking a selfie and posting it to Twitter, but I honestly don’t know where to start. I haven’t taken a selfie since I was 16, and back then we did it with digital cameras- a radical technological invention at the time. I don’t own a phone at the moment, so I would have to take it with my fancy digital SLR and then find my connecting cables to upload it… It just sounds like too much effort. But I wonder if I’m letting myself give up too easily.

We have to be extremely conscious of our online identities, arguably more so than our real-life identities  because online identities have this semi-permanency. I say semi because without attention, and over time, things that happen on the internet seem to fade away into the ether, and I say permanency because they always have accessibility. Something posted to the internet is accessible to a vast audience and not just at the time of posting, but forever after. Even if something is deleted, it tends to leave a trace somewhere. This is quite daunting, and it definitely makes me think twice about anything I post.

So there is a fear of judgement, a fear of regret, a fear of vanity, and a fear of permanence. But there is something else, I think, something deeper and weirder that has stopped me from forming an online identity.

Look at me! by Storem CC-BY-2.0

I’ve always perceived the internet as a pseudo-reality, a sort of make-believe. And although I’m down with that (trust me, I’m a fantasy nerd and hectic day-dreamer) there has always been this sense that maybe an online identity could consume me. Almost as if the more I consider it and form it, the more it reflects back on me and affects my real-life identity. Could what I project into the online world, which is a consciously constructed version of myself, end up affecting my deeper sense of self? And if so, is this something I should be scared of?

We all receive reflections of our identity, whether it is from friends and family, or from reading a book, or listening to music, or even just looking in a mirror. These things can change how we perceive ourselves, what we identify with, how we construct ourselves. Is getting reflections from online identity any different? Should I fear its consumption?

I’m starting to think well no, probably not. And that’s all for now.

Just for fun, here’s another shot of the back of my head… (I have hundreds of these.)

Back of the Head shot, authored by J S Camilleri, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 4.0




Author: jscamilleri

I write fantasy, graphic novels, and young adult fiction.

2 thoughts on “Facing down Fear over Identity”

  1. Really great stuff Jess, I enjoyed reading your post! You’ve got a strong voice in your writing that really comes through, and your integration of images is terrific – they play off the meaning here well. Check out your caption (which might not be formatted as a caption) for your first image, but there’s otherwise no major feedback I can offer. Maybe consider bringing in some scholarship via a brief quote to help you bring out the ‘general’ points more to stregthen your reflections on the specific examples you offer (I talk about the universal-particular tension in my latest video) – you’re well on your way here; you could have just stepped back a little from the 1st person in a few places to make it even stronger… Keep up the great work! – Adam

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