There is the risk of not knowing another persons’ true identity when speaking to them online, but there are times when the user is lying about their own identity.  Avatars are created for virtual reality programs, like Second Life, and of course we want to present the best image of ourselves to others, and in virtual reality that is extremely easy to do. You won’t see many fat or unattractive avatars.  Sometimes they are over sexualised and that is how our young people online often want to identify themselves.  “There were no ‘fat’ avatars, and the environment encouraged children and teenagers to select avatars from a limited choice of beautiful cartoon or doll-type images.  Many of these cyberbodies were strongly sexualised images, also reflecting discourses of sexuality and desire.” (Thomas, 2007, p. 128).  Our online identity can be completely different to our actual identity in both physical and emotional appearance.  “When online, one’s gender, culture, lifestyle, clothing, voice, body size, age and identity are no longer bound by the confines of the embodied reality.  This offers liberation to many.  The old can feel young, the ugly can be beautiful, the shy can be extrovert, the loner can be popular and vice versa.” (Thomas, 2007, p. 17).  Being able to, in a sense, hide behind an avatar who has been created out of a fantasy offers the “opportunity to tinker and play with elements of the self.” (Thomas, 2007, p. 17).

 

In her text, Youth Online, Thomas speaks to youths in an online forum about their experiences in an online fantasy realm.  These youths discuss the idea of identity, one girl created one of her characters as a boy, simply because she could, and she wanted to see what it would be like.  These young people show that their online identity and personas, actually help them in the real world.  “I’m not sure if anybody here totally gets to know me – I’m sort of a persona.  It’s a lot like me, but minus the things I don’t like about me.  I mean, Shadow is really just me, but less scared, more careless, very joking – I joke a lot and laugh a lot, I stick up for myself more here and I think that has helped the real me do the same thing.  If I can do it online, then I am sure I can do it offline.  Online is like pretty much a place to practice how I want to be.” Shadow. (Thomas, 2007, p. 69).  Shadow uses the online forum to practice who he wants to be in real life.   Violetta also claims that talking online has helped her social skills, because it gives her time to think before she presses the send button; “I’m better irl [in real life] now anyhow, and that’s helped because talking online is not really talking, it’s a combination of writing and talking, which is why I call it talk-writing.  There’s that reflective time between writing what you say, and clicking the send button.”  (Thomas, 2007, p. 46). Tiarna talks about how you can let your online character absorb your real life.  “You can get so into a character that pulling yourself out hurts – that when you’re not in that world you wonder – you find yourself thinking as that character would at the oddest moments…There’s the danger that you’ll get so into a character that it will affect you in reality.  Which is why I am very careful with my characters… careful that they don’t take their own personality and destroy mine.” (Thomas, 2007, p. 88).  Online identity could nearly be considered as another part of growing up; dealing with how you want to be portrayed to the public, trying to put your best self forward.  “So, identity online is about the authoring of self as a living-out of these states of being, becoming, belonging and behaving through a range of everyday social and discursive practices that are connected with the body.” (Thomas, 2007, p. 8).

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