Who Are You Online?

I don’t mean what name you’re using; we’ve talked about that before, about how you really do need to pick an online identity that fits you and stick with it so that you’re not FuzzyBear Jones on Facebook and twinklyfairy22 on Twitter and Sally Smith on your blog and. . .you get the idea. But that’s not what I’m talking about today; today I want to talk about your online personality.


I recently changed my blog so that anonymous readers couldn’t leave comments. I hated to do it because one of my favorite blog visitors is “Anonymous,” and her comments are always thoughtful and encouraging. She almost always adds her real name at the end, and I’ll miss her if the change keeps her from leaving comments, but it had gotten to the point where when I saw a comment labelled “Anonymous,” I cringed. While lots of people use “Anonymous” without hiding behind and abusing the thin veil of anonymity it provides, way too many people do, roaming the internet leaving snarky comments they would never post if they were forced to use their real name. But it goes further than that: there are people who *do* use their own name online and still indulge in behavior that would make their mothers cringe: tacky comments, gossip fests, arguments with strangers on Facebook. You know them: well-known in our mixed media community, they seem to forget that other people remember what they do online. If your online personality is combative, are people going to sign up to spend time with you In Real Life? If you make a habit of critiquing the work other people post online and trashing other artists, is it any wonder your classes aren’t filling up with eager students? If you’re known for being demanding and abrasive, are you surprised that no one wants to work with you? It may seem like fun to develop an online personality that’s wiser or more out-spoken or funnier than you are in real life, but it’s hard to maintain if it’s not really you. Sooner or later people will meet you, often anticipating someone they know only via online interactions. It’s happened to me many times: I’ll call someone for an interview expecting them to be outgoing and funny, the way they are on Facebook, only to discover they’re actually painfully shy and have very, very little to say. If I’d known that, I could have prepared differently, worked ahead of time to put them at ease. If students know you actually work methodically and rely on a specific set of steps to complete a class project, they won’t be as surprised—and probably disappointed—as they would be if your online self had led them to expect someone loose and laid-back, maybe pouring wine while the gesso dries.


Who are you when you’re online? You may think your Real Self is too bland and boring to be remembered in the rush and clamor of social media, but unless you plan on never, ever leaving your house and meeting anyone in real life, it’s probably best not to develop an online you that’s a combination of Confucius, Ben Affleck and Lady Gaga, no matter how entertaining that might seem while you’re sitting at the keyboard late at night.

Z6885 Inner Excavation CM1.inddYou might also be interested in Inner Excavation by Liz Lameroux.






Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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One Response to Who Are You Online?

  1. Great article Rice – definitely food for thought!

    It’s interesting how we do build up a picture of someone we “meet” online, putting together the snippets we gather and build an inner concept of how that person “should” be or act. Whether that is our own need to identify with someone or the way they “act” online, it’s hard to say; maybe a combination of the two.

    Either way, there is no need to be unpleasant while online. As my mother would always say “if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all”!