The concept on identity within a media sphere is without borders. This is why it is so appealing to many people for whom identity in reality throws up issues of safety and acceptance. Buckingham refers to the idea of reclaiming identity, with reference to race, sexuality, gender, disability and so on. Identity and community go hand in hand on media platforms, with specific relevance to marginalised communities such as those Buckingham references.
Identity was something I focused on in an essay last year, regarding in particular sexual and gender identities and how media platforms can provide safe spaces for people to openly identify as what and who they feel. Often when it isn’t possible or safe for a person to live openly as what they identify as, the ambiguity of online identity allows them to overcome this. This is supported by Turkle’s view that identity and how we develop our identities is linked to how we can portray it using media technology. Media profiles allow us to build an identity we want to present to the world; ‘it could be argued that the Internet provides significant opportunities for exploring facets of identity that might previously have been denied or stigmatized, or indeed simply for the sharing of information on such matters. Such arguments presume that media can be used as a means of expressing or even discovering aspects of one’s “true self,”’ (Buckingham, 2008). As above, media platforms provide safe spaces where, for example, the need to ‘pass’ doesn’t exist (or at least not to as great an extent as in public reality).
Nancy Baym has suggested that perhaps communication on media platforms does not necessarily equate to interactivity. So much of how we define our identity is tied up with sharing and identifying with others. A study into the similarities between popular social media platforms found that the opportunity to share what we like with others, and identify similarities between one another is partly what is so appealing (Mitchell, Weber, 2008). The study is mentioned in Buckingham’s essay. Identity evolves around what we identify with, and it is through communication that we make these identifications. I think this leaves Baym’s argument redundant in many ways: whether media communication is interactive in the sense that is features a back-and-forth system is not mutually exclusive with interactions that simply mean ‘liking’ a Facebook page that has been liked by 100 other people, and subsequently identifying as part of some small community. Communities and community forums like this provide a sense of belonging to the individual.
Identity online is as ambiguous as anonymity; this is its appeal, however – catering to the user and allowing them a medium through which to present themselves in various ways.