Today, I'd like to talk a little about online identity in this presentation.
Identity policy of Facebook
Regarding the online representation of oneself, there are interesting comments in the anthropological paper titled "Facework on Facebook: The presentation of self in virtual life and its role in the US elections." At the end of the paper, it says,
"Almost everyone, in the West too, has relations they would rather keep quiet about... One major task that remains is to uncover the ways in which social networking sites provide different possibilities for both revelation and concealment of aspects of personhood and social reality." (Steffen Dalsgaard 2008)
|Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg|
Single identity online?
|4chan founder Christopher Poole at Web 2.0 Summit|
When we turn our eyes to contemporary Japan, the situation becomes totally different. As many of you might have already noticed, most Japanese usually do not reveal their real names or faces online. This is often said as the reason why Facebook is not so popular in Japan. This Japanese tendency is also demonstrated by another research group. This academic paper titled "Anonymity in Computer-Mediated Communication in Japanese and Western Contexts - Comparisons and Critiquesis-" is not an anthropological paper, but I think we can find useful data and perspective here. According to the paper which was published in 2010, compared to the U.S. SNS users, Japanese SNS users seem to prefer much greater anonymity online.
Table 1 through 4 show how they actually are (In these tables, "second-tier anonymity" means that an individual adopts a new online identity by using a handle name or an avatar). Here the authors say that there is a distinct degree of an identity exists between real identity and total anonymity. They roughly divide the levels into three degrees of groups and name them "Lack of Identification," "Dissociation of Identity," and "Visual Anonymity." Again I'm not going into detail of their theory here, but you can read the paper online if you would like to. What they basically say in here is to avoid stereotyped Japan-U.S. or East-West cultural dichotomies by examining several social networking sites such as MySpace, Japan's mixi, and Yayoo's Q & A, and see the self presentations there more in detail.
Mixi and 2channel in Japan
|2channel logo with the image|
|Streaming video with user's comments on Nico Nico Douga|
In conclusion, as of self representation in a society, anthropological studies on the web identity are also done recently. A single-identity policy online is questioned even in the U.S. And although most SNS users in Japan try not to be identified on the web, they seem to have different identity management styles on each SNS accordingly. Finally, here is my question from the text to the class: How does information technology contribute to a redefinition of personhood in contemporary Western societies? My tentative answer for this is that as I discussed earlier, there can be plural identities on the web. A whole-person approach to an individual doesn't seem to work any more when it comes to anthropological studies on the Internet.