Cyber-Identities and Social Life in Cyberspace

Cyber-Identities and Social Life in Cyberspace

Eleni Berki (University of Tampere, Finland) and Mikko Jäkälä (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-208-4.ch003
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Information and communication technology gradually transform virtual communities to active meeting places for sharing information and for supporting human actions, feelings and needs. In this chapter the authors examine the conceptual definition of virtual community as found in the traditional cyberliterature and extend it to accommodate latest cybertrends. Similar to the ways that previous social and mass media dissolved social boundaries related to time and space, cyber-communities and social software seem to also dissolve the boundaries of identity. This, in turn, questions the trust, privacy and confidentiality of interaction. The authors present a way of classifying and viewing self-presentation regarding cyber-identity management in virtual communities. It is based on the characteristics that cyber-surfers prefer to attribute to themselves and accordingly present themselves to others. In so doing, the authors coin the terms for five distinct phenomena, namely nonymity, anonymity, eponymity, pseudonymity and polynymity. They subsequently compare and contrast these terms, summarising information from their investigation, and outlining emerging questions and issues for a future research agenda.
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Cyberspace and virtual communities are often described by features such as structure, setting or formation. From the view point of the user more important than the features are the social qualities. One of the important social features is the sense of community. Sense of community is often described as a set of subjective experiences of belonging, mutual respect, and commitment that can be gained only through participation (McMillan & Chavis, 1986). It is not just the space but the people with their collective experiences. Furthermore, human empowerment in designing for sociability and usability for socially acceptable information and communication technology has become a research and development issue of increasing importance (Preece, 2000; Earnshaw et al., 2001; Berki et al., 2003). Online communities cannot merely be built, only facilitated in order to provide platforms for people to come and form a community of their choice. This emphasises the human factor within design and research of cyberspaces.

Cyberspace does not have physical borders but social life within cyberspace does have expression boundaries as well as norms and rules for behaviour. These boundaries for social actions and behaviour are either inherited by the structure of a certain e-space or different social software, i.e. discussion forums and work spaces, or imposed by the designers and users of e-spaces. In order to succeed, online communities, e-spaces and other electronic congregations need regular users. Cyberspace does not exist without electronic inhabitants; otherwise it is a deserted cyber place. Recent studies show that the degree of success and functionality of virtual communities is incorporated and built through trustworthy group interaction (Werry & Mowbray, 2001). The rise of social software technologies and online social networks impose new challenges for law, security and trust, identity and interaction (Kollock, 1999; Kimppa, 2007; Berki et al., 2007). The challenges go sometimes so far as to raise questions related to democracy and citizens’ degree of participation in private or public virtual communities (Wilhelm, 2000). The existence of cyberplaces also challenges the definition of membership since within digital worlds inclusivity and exclusivity have totally new semantics or terms of definitions with different applications and tools to facilitate membership management.

Boundless digital spaces also challenge the ways of participation. Entering cyberspace concerns issues of identity and identification. The possibility to participate in online communities anonymously may ease the entrance to digital worlds. Some participants, however, may dislike anonymous people and they, instead, gravitate towards digitally eponymous people welcoming them in an electronically-mediated social environment. To some extent identity, both in real life and cyber life, can be seen as composed of similar qualities. Notwithstanding, questions of security, safety and trustworthiness are often associated with cyberpartcipants and their identities. In real life, however, identities are not that often questioned, authenticated or even doubted.

Understanding cyberspace requires exploring the meaning of individual and group (collective) identities, in particular how they are built and how they affect interaction and participation (Renninger & Shumar, 2002; Georgiadou et al., 2004). Arguably, the identity shared by the cyber-societies participants should be empowering to facilitate participation and support communication. An overpowering group identity might block communication and create difficulties in promoting innovative ways of thinking and functioning. A shared, cohesive identity, used by eponymous or anonymous people facilitates the development of mutual trust among the participants and balances communication within a group. On the other hand, a pseudonym or plenty of names may decrease certainty and control in interaction but still increase the willingness to communicate. Technology-mediated-communication is often seen as faceless and task-oriented. However, it seems that communication in cyberspace may speed up initial interaction as well as self-disclosure, which, in turn, may facilitate interpersonal connections and building of relationships (Walther, 1994; Walther and Burgoon, 1992). Without doubt, anonymity, pseudonymity and eponymity affect trustworthiness, credibility and security of e-transactions and e-interactions (Jäkälä & Berki, 2004).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Polynymity: Polynymity is the property of having and presenting oneself with many different names. Thus, it is also associated to the state of being identified by several pseudonyms. Having multiple names as identifiers in cyberspace’s communities, means possessing and using a mix of real or artificial distinctive names and characteristics, which are presented in interaction with different persons or groups.

Anonymity: Anonymity is the state of not being known by any name. Anonymity is defined as freedom from identification and implies lack of distinctiveness. An unnamed person is someone, who is unacknowledged as the doer of something because of a lack of distinctive features.

Nonymity: Nonymity, or rather non-appearance, is the state of not being identified by any name nor any other distinctive individual features. Being at the state of nonymity implies not having a set of known, distinctive characteristics, such as name, title and affiliation, used for identification and/or authentication. Actually, nonymity refers to identity that avoids detection consciously or unconsciously.

Eponymity: Eponymity is the state of being identified and recognised by name (eponym) and other distinctive individual features. Being eponymous implies having a set of known, distinctive characteristics, such as name, title and affiliation, used for identification, and to some degree for authentication.

Pseudonymity: Pseudonymity is the state of being identified by a pseudonym, that is by a name, which is not somebody’s real, correct name. Furthermore, being pseudonymous in virtual communities means bearing a set of false distinctive characteristics, such as name and title that are used for identification and to some degree for interaction of the person concerned.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Jennifer Preece
Stylianos Hatzipanagos, Steven Warburton
Chapter 1
Jon Dron, Terry Anderson
Understanding the affordances, effectiveness and applicability of new media in multiple contexts is usually a slow and evolving process with many... Sample PDF
How the Crowd Can Teach
Chapter 2
Chris Abbott, William Alder
Although social networking has been enthusiastically embraced by large numbers of children and young people, their schools and colleges have been... Sample PDF
Social Networking and Schools: Early Responses and Implications for Practice
Chapter 3
Eleni Berki, Mikko Jäkälä
Information and communication technology gradually transform virtual communities to active meeting places for sharing information and for supporting... Sample PDF
Cyber-Identities and Social Life in Cyberspace
Chapter 4
Werner Beuschel
Weblogs are a popular form of Social Software, supporting personal Web authoring as well as innovative forms of social interaction via internet. The... Sample PDF
Weblogs in Higher Education
Chapter 5
Mark Bilandzic, Marcus Foth
Web services such as wikis, blogs, podcasting, file sharing and social networking are frequently referred to by the term Web 2.0. The innovation of... Sample PDF
Social Navigation and Local Folksonomies: Technical and Design Considerations for a Mobile Information System
Chapter 6
Rakesh Biswas, Carmel M. Martin, Joachim Sturmberg, Kamalika Mukherji, Edwin Wen Huo Lee, Shashikiran Umakanth
The chapter starts from the premise that illness and healthcare are predominantly social phenomena that shape the perspectives of key stakeholders... Sample PDF
Social Cognitive Ontology and User Driven Healthcare
Chapter 7
Jillianne R. Code, Nicholas E. Zaparyniuk
Central to research in social psychology is the means in which communities form, attract new members, and develop over time. Research has found that... Sample PDF
Social Identities, Group Formation, and the Analysis of Online Communities
Chapter 8
Jillianne R. Code, Nicholas E. Zaparyniuk
Social and group interactions in online and virtual communities develop and evolve from expressions of human agency. The exploration of the... Sample PDF
The Emergence of Agency in Online Social Networks
Chapter 9
A. Malizia, A. De Angeli, S. Levialdi, I. Aedo Cuevas
The User Experience (UX) is a crucial factor for designing and enhancing the user satisfaction when interacting with a computational tool or with a... Sample PDF
Exploiting Collaborative Tagging Systems to Unveil the User-Experience of Web Contents: An Operative Proposal
Chapter 10
Utpal M. Dholakia, Richard Baraniuk
Open Education Programs provide a range of digitized educational resources freely to educators, students, and self-learners to use and reuse for... Sample PDF
The Roles of Social Networks and Communities in Open Education Programs
Chapter 11
Sebastian Fiedler, Kai Pata
This chapter discusses how the construction of an adequate design and intervention framework for distributed learning environments might be... Sample PDF
Distributed Learning Environments and Social Software: In Search for a Framework of Design
Chapter 12
Yoni Ryan, Robert Fitzgerald
This chapter considers the potential of social software to support learning in higher education. It outlines a current project funded by the then... Sample PDF
Exploring the Role of Social Software in Higher Education
Chapter 13
Kathryn Gow
This chapter focuses on the identification of a range of competencies that entry level workers, and thus graduating students, will need to acquire... Sample PDF
Identifying New Virtual Competencies for the Digital Age: Essential Tools for Entry Level Workers
Chapter 14
Jerald Hughes, Scott Robinson
This chapter examines interaction-oriented virtual religious communities online in the light of sociological theory of religious communities. The... Sample PDF
Social Structures of Online Religious Communities
Chapter 15
Helen Keegan, Bernard Lisewski
This chapter explores emergent behaviours in the use of social software across multiple online communities of practice where informal learning... Sample PDF
Living, Working, Teaching and Learning by Social Software
Chapter 16
Lucinda Kerawalla, Shailey Minocha, Gill Kirkup, Gráinne Conole
With a variety of asynchronous communication and collaboration tools and environments such as Wikis, blogs, and forums, it can be increasingly... Sample PDF
Supporting Student Blogging in Higher Education
Chapter 17
Lisa Kervin, Jessica Mantei, Anthony Herrington
This chapter examines blogging as a social networking tool to engage final year preservice teachers in reflective processes. Using a developed Web... Sample PDF
Blogs as a Social Networking Tool to Build Community
Chapter 18
Jennifer Ann Linder-VanBerschot
The objective of this chapter is to introduce a model that outlines the evolution of knowledge and sustainable innovation of community through the... Sample PDF
A Model for Knowledge and Innovation in Online Education
Chapter 19
Petros Lameras, Iraklis Paraskakis, Philipa Levy
This chapter focuses on discussing the use of social software from a social constructivist perspective. In particular, the chapter explains how... Sample PDF
Using Social Software for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
Chapter 20
Dimitris Bibikas, Iraklis Paraskakis, Alexandros G. Psychogios, Ana C. Vasconcelos
The aim of this chapter is to investigate the potential role of social software inside business settings in integrating knowledge exploitation and... Sample PDF
The Potential of Enterprise Social Software in Integrating Exploitative and Explorative Knowledge Strategies
Chapter 21
M. C. Pettenati, M. E. Cigognini, E. M.C. Guerin, G. R. Mangione
In this chapter the authors identify the Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) pre-dispositions, skills and competences of the current effective... Sample PDF
Personal Knowledge Management Skills for Lifelong-Learners 2.0
Chapter 22
Sharon Markless, David Streatfield
This chapter questions whether the shift from the Web as a vehicle for storing and transmitting information to the new Web as a series of social... Sample PDF
Reconceptualising Information Literacy for the Web 2.0 Environment?
Chapter 23
Catherine McLoughlin, Mark J.W. Lee
Learning management systems (LMS’s) that cater for geographically dispersed learners have been widely available for a number of years, but many... Sample PDF
Pedagogical Responses to Social Software in Universities
Chapter 24
Alexandra Okada, Simon Buckingham Shum, Michelle Bachler, Eleftheria Tomadaki, Peter Scott, Alex Little, Marc Eisenstadt
The aim of this chapter is to overview the ways in which knowledge media technologies create opportunities for social learning. The Open Content... Sample PDF
Knowledge Media Tools to Foster Social Learning
Chapter 25
Luc Pauwels, Patricia Hellriegel
This chapter looks into YouTube as one of the most popular Social Software platforms, challenging the dominant discourse with its focus on community... Sample PDF
A Critical Cultural Reading of "YouTube"
Chapter 26
Ismael Peña-López
The author of this chapter proposes the concept of the Personal Research Portal (PRP) – a mesh of social software applications to manage knowledge... Sample PDF
The Personal Research Portal
Chapter 27
Andrew Ravenscroft, Musbah Sagar, Enzian Baur, Peter Oriogun
This chapter will present a new approach to designing learning interactions and experiences that reconciles relatively stable learning processes... Sample PDF
Ambient Pedagogies, Meaningful Learning and Social Software
Chapter 28
V. Sachdev, S. Nerur, J. T.C. Teng
With the trend towards social interaction over the Internet and the mushrooming of Web sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube in the social... Sample PDF
Interactivity Redefined for the Social Web
Chapter 29
Sue Thomas, Chris Joseph, Jess Laccetti, Bruce Mason, Simon Perril, Kate Pullinger
Transliteracy might provide a unifying perspective on what it means to be literate in the 21st Century. It is not a new behaviour but has been... Sample PDF
Transliteracy as a Unifying Perspective
Chapter 30
Martin Weller, James Dalziel
This chapter looks at some of the areas of tension between the new social networking, Web 2.0 communities and the values of higher education. It... Sample PDF
Bridging the Gap Between Web 2.0 and Higher Education
Chapter 31
Steve Wheeler
The use of group oriented software, or groupware, encourages students to generate their own content (McGill et al, 2005) and can foster supportive... Sample PDF
Destructive Creativity on the Social Web: Learning through Wikis in Higher Education
Chapter 32
Scott Wilson
This chapter describes the mechanisms of presence in social networks and presents an ontology that frames the purpose, content, methods of... Sample PDF
Presence in Social Networks
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