Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?

Facebook and Google want to link online and offline personas, while 4Chan and other social sites prefer people to play with the freedom of pseudonymsUsers are familiar with forming a single public identity that’s an aggregated version of their offline past, the online present and their combined future Photograph: Creativeact/AlamyBefore Facebook and Google became the megaliths of the web, the most famous online adage was, “on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog”. It seems the days when people were allowed to be dogs is coming to a close. The old web, a place where identity could remain separate from real life, is rapidly disappearing from the computer screen. According to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, and Richard Allan, its director of policy in Europe, a critical mass of people only want online interactions supported by “authentic” identity. And this, say critics, will have irrevocable effects on the openness of the web.The pursuit of authenticity is creeping into the heart of most social media models and in the current internet landscape is playing an important role in how we engage with one another and with web content. For many people, Facebook and Google products are the sum total of their web interaction, and the value in creating a platform that provides confidence that a person is who they say they are, rather someone pretending to be them, is critical to a social network’s success.

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