Are You A Different Person Online? Why You Should Evaluate Your Digital Identity

  • Guest Post
  • 02 October 2018
  • 11:42 PM

This article is part of our Teacher Series with Hilliard City District in Ohio. Leading educators take to the Flipd Blog to share why digital wellness matters.

Do you present yourself to others the same way in-person as you do online? Or do you use the power of anonymity in an online environment to present yourself differently than how you’d typically be in person?

I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that most of us have experienced both of these from people in our networks — personally and professionally. In a world before the Internet, meeting others meant that there was some sort of face-to-face interaction. You had an opportunity to see someone eye-to-eye, to watch facial expressions, to notice gestures they’d make as they interacted with you in conversation, and to get a good glimpse of the type of person they really were by how they presented themselves to you.

But, for the most part, those days are long gone — we can now present ourselves any way we want.

We can now present ourselves any way we want.

This makes me think about all of the people in my life and how they present themselves to me and others. When I think about my immediate family members, I can quite easily see that they are exactly online who I know them to be when I am with them in-person. These are the people that I’ve spent much of my life being around (without technology) and know as a person inside and out. What I experience with them face-to-face is usually how I see them portrayed online — the things they like or agree with and the things they dislike or disagree with are pretty consistent across the board. I guess I'm not surprised by this — and I'm comforted to know that my understanding of who they are as a human being reflects itself both offline and as online.

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I also think about my colleagues at work. Most of them are also consistent between their in-person and online personas. A reason for this (in my opinion) is because I work in a very progressive school district that also has a large, social media presence. Our teachers (over 1,400 of them) know that how they present themselves online is seen by not only the parents of the students they serve, but also by the Board of Education who employs them. I feel that we do a great job of hiring amazing teachers who present themselves in class and at work consistently with how they present themselves online.

Finally, I think about the variety of people in my life who I consider to be my friends. Of course there are various types of friendships — close friends, casual friends and friends of friends. And it's this circle of my life where I see a difference in how people present themselves in-person versus online.

This Linkedin article, Online vs Offline behavior, suggests that fear and lack of possibilities in current social circles are reasons for why people have different personalities online. The people who I know mostly online are people I don’t get to spend as much time with as I do my family or colleagues. Because of this, I don’t get to truly know them as well as I’d like to. I don’t get to understand all of who they are in the short glimpses of time we get to see each other. Some of these individuals are as nice as can be to your face — especially in a social environment. However, when they hide behind their computer or phone, they can take on a completely different personality. It’s all quite interesting to me. Why present yourself differently online from the very person you are in any face-to-face situation?

Why present yourself differently online from the very person you are in any face-to-face situation?

According to this article from the Guardiantypical patterns of social media activity can be predicted by scores on scientifically valid personality tests. Of course, not all individuals take a personality test, but many social media companies monitor and analyze data from users on their sites and that data can closely predict a user’s personality characteristics.

So what is there to glean from all of this? As I think about all of the content I see posted by hundreds of family members, colleagues, and friends across the several social media tools I use, I conclude that, for most individuals, what I see them post online directly aligns with the experience I might expect to have with them in-person. On the other hand, there are some people who I don't believe their online persona is truly who they are.

It makes me wonder this question, one I believe we should all ask ourselves:

How often do I self-evaluate my digital footprint and what will I do if my posts online don't match the person I actually want others to believe about me?

This means taking the time to look inward instead of outward. For me, I would say that my digital footprint aligns to the person you get to know in-person.

Would you say the same about yourself?

Mark Pohlman is the Director of Instructional Technology at Hilliard City Schools. He's a graduate of the University of Toledo with a Masters in Education from the University of Findlay, and he received his administrative license in curriculum and instruction from Ashland University. Marks' current position involves overseeing a team of educated, passionate and professional individuals whose primary focus is to help teachers effectively integrate technology into classroom instruction. Mark enjoys time with his family, colleagues and friends, traveling, and being outside working in the yard. Connect with Mark on Twitter: @mpohlman88