Reclaiming your Digital Identity from Social Media

Behind you, on the web, you leave many traces, which form your digital identity. But is it a real “mirror” of yourself, or just a facade?

On the web, you share many things – photos, videos, Facebook statuses, tweets, comments, likes … Whether by narcissism, spontaneity or calculation, you transmit (sometimes unconsciously) information about yourself .

The manifestation of your digital life

If this information was scattered everywhere – on your profiles, in your emails, on your blog posts – everything would be fine. But today, the traces that you leave behind can be captured and agglomerated, then analyzed by algorithms … And the problem is that in the end, all these “signs” that manifest you in social networks, and that can be analyzed for you “profiling”, form part of your identity – your digital identity.

All traces that you leave on the web can be perceived as so many “clues” to reconstruct this digital identity. “These are signs that bear the trace of the life of the user who produced them, and who manifest,” said Fanny Georges, researcher in digital identity recently, at a conference.

In a hyperconnected world, the anonymity of the beginnings of the web is over: we act with an open face (Facebook, for example, forces you to use your real name), and we must therefore pay attention to the image of us that we convey online. But what do we show of us on social networks is a mirror of ourselves, or just a facade?

To represent oneself to exist

In some cases, the user will share everything about him, spontaneously, with a will (often naive) of transparency. In other situations, he will control what he transmits, to manage his image. And sometimes, he will go so far as to build a false image of himself, in a “strategic will to act on others by displaying and masking certain traits his identity,” says sociologist Dominique Cardon.

“Life is a theater,” said Shakespeare … and whether you are “IRL” or online, the image you give of yourself to others varies according to the audience. The digital identity, compilation of “traces” left behind, is not initially built strategically. “But it participates in building a social identity, and even personal,” says Fanny Georges. So, what we do on Facebook can it “participate in the construction of oneself”, and constitute a kind of “mirror” … Distorted when what we share is only a staging .

“It’s natural, man needs to feel himself in the eyes of others. To do this, he does not hesitate to highlight elements of his personality that will enhance it, “writes Ronan Boussicaud, community manager and blogger. The “personal branding”, in vogue, comes from the idea that it is possible to give a good image of oneself by acting on one’s digital identity.

This “image that one gives of oneself, and that one makes of oneself”, can be professional or personal. And according to your tastes and the social network, you will manifest different facets. You will use Facebook to share personal info with your family, Twitter to chat with strangers, Instagram to highlight your artistic photos … But you will soon find that the virtual identity is not limited to what you show yourself.

Your friends, your family, your “contacts”, also share things about you, and shape part of your “digital presence” for you. Hence the importance of monitoring what is said about you on the networks … and thinking about what you leave on others – starting with your children, whose digital identity you build from the first pictures of shared babies .

When the digital mirror turns

Hence, the importance of managing the boundaries between your personal life and your professional life, between your “public” life and your private life. Because we must keep in mind, observes Louise Merzeau, researcher in information science, that “everything that we share on the web, including what is private, is published in a public space”.

The “porosity” between private and public, between personal and professional life, can sometimes make quite “schizophrenic, even paranoid,” notes Ronan Boussicaud. It can also lead some people to “pretend what is private” (in the hope of manipulating others), or to act according to the “digital image” they want to give of them.

On Facebook, “we try to give a certain self-image, which may be different from reality. And this image influences the real world: this is where the mirror turns, “says Saadi Lahlou, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics.The risk is that in the end, we end up all act of the same way, loving (or pretending to like) and sharing the same things, adopting a “mainstream” behavior to please others.

This “normalization” is all the stronger as social networks, unlike blogs that once allowed us a lot of freedom, tend to “put us in boxes”, and “we format by constraining the forms of expression of “, notes Louise Merzeau. To break out of this “standardization” of digital identities, the researcher advocates the use by individuals of several social networks, instead of one, and the development of alternative platforms.

Digital identity, beyond death

Will our traces left online survive us? As noted by Fanny Georges, who coordinates a research project on “post-mortem” digital identity, social networks “become virtual cemeteries, the accounts of deceased persons being often taken back by their relatives to constitute” memorials “, and kinds of “fictitious identities” of the dead.

Some are so fed by the desire to continue to support their loved ones that they come to hope to recreate real “avatars”, from the traces disseminated on social networks. An episode of the Black Mirror series imagines the dialogue between Martha and an AI, possessing the “personality” of her missing husband, reconstituted from his digital identity.

In 2016, a Russian programmer, Eugenia Kuyda, made this fantasy almost real, by designing a chatbot based on the data spread on the web by her deceased friend. For its part, the engineer Marius Ursache develops, a platform designed to create his “avatar” during his lifetime. He imagines an I.A. that would connect to “all accounts of the user”, and “learn everything from him”, in order to talk one day with his descendants.

But to create the “copy” of someone from his digital identity is it enough to replace him? Is our digital identity our identity, or just a part of our identity? And can we talk about digital identity when the traces left behind are embellished, exaggerated, even downright false? In Black Mirror, Martha has a replica (addressed to the avatar of her husband) that summarizes everything: “you are not the one you are. You are only the meager echo of yourself. You do not have a story to you. You are only the poor staging of what he could express of himself, on the Web, without thinking … and it is not enough. “