The Identity unit is designed to encourage critical thinking about self-expression and self-exploration with new media. The ultimate goal of these lessons is to create an understanding of the ethical dimensions—meaning, the positive or negative effects on others—associated with expressing one’s identity, or exploring new identities, online. A vital part of growing up is developing one’s identity. Offline, we are tied to bodies and other inherited circumstances that set strong parameters on what and who we can be. Online, we have far more (though not limitless) freedom from these circumstances. Youth can use photos, interests, and “favorites” lists, along with other content, to play up—or hide—different aspects of their identities. They can engage in “identity play”—in which they explore and receive feedback on new identities (for example, a more confident self), or develop facets of the self (sexual or gender identities, for example) that they may not feel comfortable exploring offline.
Online self-expressions and forms of “identity play” can affect other people in various ways. On the positive side, youth who celebrate gay, lesbian, or other kinds of identities through blogs or social network profiles may uplift others who feel marginalized and unable to express themselves. On the other hand, some forms of online identity exploration can be deceptive, undermining relationships and causing distrust in communities. The reality is that youth, and indeed all of us, still live much of our lives in a world in which a sense of who you are—and who are you are not—matters. Understanding when and where identity play is appropriate, and when and where accuracy is necessary, are critical skills for youth today. When presenting themselves and exploring new identities online, youth need to be reflective about the potential effects on other people and on the communities in which they engage.
• How do different forms of self-expression online affect others?
• What are the potential benefits and harms to others?
• When does “identity play” cross the line and become identity deception?
Linking Avatar and Self
Identity in Online Spaces