The Catch-22 of Online Identity

Google and Facebook have made waves with their policies on online identity: essentially, one person should have one identity. My name is “Caleb Garling” on Facebook and Google and that’s the extent to which I should be allowed to be “present” on Facebook and Google. Sure, I can register new ID’s with different email addresses but IP detection and switching recognition technology is getting good enough, along with comparing the friends and activities of the profiles, that social networks can suspend the more suspect account, or both, quite quickly. One person gets one online presence is the growing rule.

That makes a lot of sense, on some level. First, it keeps data in order. When someone says Facebook has 750 million users, you automatically think 750 million people (humans) are using Facebook. But really, 50 million of them could have two profiles. And that’s just at the marketing level; when you get into the revenue engine of these companies—targeted advertisements—it becomes imperative that they have a clear view of exactly who someone is. They don’t want obsessed-with-online-gaming-You and everyday-You living separate lives.

Also, this keeps people more accountable for what they say and do. Many large media and news websites have been requiring a Facebook, Twitter or Google login to comment on articles. If you want to say something, it’s going to be tied back to your bigger persona; you can’t hide behind the wall of a false account. As an Internet writer, I can tell you that I’ve received “feedback” from readers that I don’t necessarily appreciate—and there is a predictable correlation between viciousness and traceability of identity. The real world doesn’t usually work like that; if you want to get nasty, expect eye contact or at least to sign your name on a letter.

But is this sort of accountability really like real life? That you—YOU—exist online in one form, in one presence.

I’m not so sure that it is.

We may have one body, one brain, one set of eyes, ears and a single piehole, but I bet you don’t act the same at work as you do when you’re sharing a late-night bottle of wine with friends. I bet you pull back or unleash your politics depending on the company. I bet you don’t act the same in a job interview as you do on a road trip with your siblings.


People act differently by situation. So why should the Internet hold you hostage to a singular persona? Simply because we are a singular person? I’m not so sure if the mind and the body are that intricately linked.

One Response to The Catch-22 of Online Identity

  1. Nicole Edmison says:

    S#!t! My alias’s are traceable?! So long political career. I’m with you Caleb. I’m appalled at how many stories I’ve heard about people not being hired due to some stupid crap they posted on the FB the weekend before at 3am after 4 shots of tequila and a few beers. Compartmentalization is an important part of life for most people.

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