Multifaceted, not multiple

Interviewer:Great to have your here to talk about what it means to have multiple online identities.
Me:Absolutely. Except, of course, that I don’t buy into the idea of multiple identities.
Interviewer:Okay. Can you elaborate?

Well, I play many different roles in my life. And even though I give myself wholeheartedly to each, if you asked someone from, say, my book club about me, they’d paint a different picture than those who know me as a colleague.

So, while it might be true that I’m not the very same person in one context as I am in another, I’m not an entirely different person either – I’m simply showing different parts of my whole self at different times depending on the context and circumstances.
Labels – or roles – are context dependent and represent only one version of who we are. Quote from SJ Norman. Image km lambert.

Yes, but what about your online life?

The principle holds true for my online life as well. And it’s not just me that says so; there’s research that supports the idea that contextual or ‘situational selves’ exist in the online world (Qin and Lowe 2021:92).

Indeed, Barnett (2019:334) suggests that ‘Identity … is a multiple construct, [and that] we have a number of social selves with each identity’. Furthermore, she suggests that ‘we present a different self to different audiences and they reflect back to us a version of ourselves as multiple selves.’
Interviewer:I’m confused. You’re saying you don’t accept the idea of multiple identities, but you’re quoting Barnett who’s suggesting they exist.
Me:Okay, let me explain.

Multiple identities or a kaleidoscope of me?

Me:Barnett’s concept of ‘social selves’ is useful in helping us understand how we engage in different online contexts, but if I try to apply the idea of ‘multiple selves’ to my online presence – what Smith and Watson (2013:71) would call my ‘online self-presentation’ – it isn’t a great fit because the idea that we have multiple identities doesn’t really capture the overlap and interplay between my online selves1.
The concept of multiple identities seems to suggest that the ‘selves’ are all discrete (left), however there is often considerable overlap and interplay between the various selves (right). Image created by km lambert.

Interviewer:Okay, you’re saying your selves are interlinked and, in fact, influence each other. Actually, now you say that, Qin and Lowe (2021:68) talk about identity as ‘a fluid or … dynamic process’.
Me:That’s right, the ‘selves’ are not static. Our social media accounts give us the perfect case study for this given that our online activities are archived. Take me, for example. I’ve only been active on SM for a relatively short period, but I can already see an evolution between my first rather awkward post and the more relaxed voice of my more recent posts.
Interviewer:How would you describe your collective online presence then, if not by way of multiple identities?
Me:Think about how a kaleidoscope works. You have a finite number of pieces but as you turn it, a different pattern – or a different expression – of those pieces comes into focus. Some patterns are similar, others more distinct depending on which pieces come to the fore. That’s me online – multifaceted, not multi-people.

Multiple identities ≠ not authentic

Interviewer:Can I ask you then about the idea that people that have multiple identities – or, in your case, kaleidoscopic identities – are not authentic?
Me:While Mark Zuckerberg might like us to believe otherwise, I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. Although I bring different parts of me to my various online identities, underpinning all my activity and engagement are the same core values. I’m consistent in the way I represent myself and the position I put out into the world. Over time, my consistency within and across SM platforms establishes my authenticity and builds trust with my audience.

Co-construction and discovery of the online identity

Interviewer:Okay then, so the last thing I want to touch on today is the idea that one’s online life is co-constructed. Your thoughts?
Me:I’d agree with that. Furthermore, if we accept the premise that our online lives are co-constructed (Smith and Watson 2013:70-71), then it holds that online identity is discovered in the doing. Indeed, my own experience supports this.

In one of my earlier posts, I talk about using this blog to overcome my fear of releasing my words into the world. While I was simply hoping to become braver by engaging though my site, the reality is that every time I post and every time someone comments, there’s an incremental shift in my online identity.

In effect, there’s a positive feedback loop of doing and discovering that’s influenced by the audience that I’m engaging with. While this might seem a bit odd, when you think about it, it’s the very same process that happens in our offline lives.
Interviewer: Thank you. I guess that means we both leave this interview as slightly different versions of ourselves!  


Barnett SJ (2019) ‘Digital me in a virtual world: Identity construction on LinkedIn by Aotearoa/New Zealand entrepreneurial professionals’, International Conferences ICT, Society, and Human Beings; Connected Smart Cities; and Web Based Communities and Social Media.

Qin Y & Lowe J (2021) ‘Is your online identity different from your offline identity? – A study on the college students’ online identities in China’, Culture & Psychology, 27(1):67-95.

Smith S & Watson J (2014) ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation’, in Poletti A & Rak J (eds.), Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.


[1] I acknowledge that Barnett (2019:334) goes on to say that ‘multiple roles or identities can overlap’. My issue is with the language of ‘multiple selves’ which suggests definitive and discrete selves or identities.

Main image – ‘4 polymer clay kaleidoscope designs by Deb Davis‘ by It’s all about color is marked with CC BY 2.0.

For the sake of clarity, this interview is entirely made up by me, for me.

One Comment Add yours

  1. CG says:

    Exactly we say!


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