What is 'Cyber Identity'

Cyber identity refers to the personality or personalities that are created through a person’s online interactions. Cyber identity may differ from a person's actual, offline identity. In the early days of the internet, anonymity allowed for people to create very different personalities and express themselves in comments, posts and other interactions in ways that they could otherwise not. As the anonymity on many platforms led to less than friendly environments with cyber-bullying and illegal transactions conducted, several large internet firms have taken steps to authenticate cyber identities with their real world counterparts.

BREAKING DOWN 'Cyber Identity'

Cyber identities were commonly used as a way to escape reality, and so the idea of having a separate cyber identity wildly different from your own wasn’t uncommon prior to the rise of social media. Some used this sense of escapism reasonably, taking a break from real life to pretend that they were someone else online, where no one could easily call them out. In chat rooms, people would often pose as different genders, races or simply as richer, more attractive versions of themselves. In many online communities this is still possible and, in most cases, harmless fun. In some cases, however, people used their cyber identities to be menacing. Racism, sexism, and homophobia were so common in many forums and comments sections that the primary job of moderators was to ban people. This understandably turned people off of interacting on some major platforms, which is bad for business when you are Google (YouTube) or Facebook.

The online world started to authenticate cyber identities with real world counterparts in 2012, when YouTube began encouraging users to use their real names and Google+ profile pictures. Facebook started weeding out fake profiles around the same time, and began purging profiles in large numbers in 2015.

Your Idealized Cyber Identity

Even in this “authenticated” environment, however, most people’s cyber identity still differ from their real one. The pictures and posts we put on the internet are carefully curated to show the best of who we are. The groups we follow and engage in may represent who we want to be seen as rather than who we are. This gap between the real identity and the cyber identity is a gold mine for marketers. By matching up demographic data with behavioral analytics from online sources, marketers can better target offers and ads based not just on who you are, but on who you want to be seen as. Do you post most frequently when you are vacation and go blank the rest of the year? Guess who is going to see a lot of travel rewards cards and ticket deal ads.

The value of a person’s cyber identity grows when it can be authenticated. Google, Facebook, and other large online companies collect all the data they can and use it to keep you engaged in their platforms. They also sell it to others, marketers being one of the big buyers. As we pour more of our lives into our profiles and add data from new internet enabled devices, our cyber identities are becoming less anonymous and more and more like our real selves - just with a better lens and slight filter to touch it up.  

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