Social networks & the online reality of identity

Photo courtesy of ThoughtCatalog via Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/photos/cuTcfqsES6o)

Like everyone else, I watched the Washington Social Media circus with interest. A lot of words were used. Crocodile tears shed. Promises made. Bouquets of derision thrown. But no one actually said what needs to be done with the social media platforms and their social responsibility.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that social platforms should take cues from real life social networks – cities, states, and nations. Just as these geographically defined social networks have amenities such a policing, rules and clear identities, our social platforms, and related online social environments to need to add a layer of humanness to the platform.

If social networks are about people, why aren’t they focused on the whole person instead of some small part of us? Profiles are for people, and about people — and they should be more human. A singular identity — not for login or data tracking – but for being an equivalent of a business or an identity card wouldn’t be such a bad start.

Sadly that is not the case at present. Our online profiles have been an afterthought for the company. A one-liner, while pithy and fun, doesn’t really tell who I am on Twitter. Why not go beyond the blue check mark? And instead start using rich profile data to give people more context on who is spreading what half-truths, facts or fiction.

There is no coherence around identity and our online profiles. Like most people, my web presence is a mashup of many different profile pages — ranging from my Twitter account to that Tumblr I haven’t updated in ages. Despite having so many of these profiles, it takes a long time to actually build a full profile of a person.

A LinkedIn Page is devoid of any personality. At the same time, Twitter profiles have no details. Instagram is just a soft sell. It’s a lot of work to add up the information on someone’s LinkedIn profile and Facebook page, and you will still end up short of a complete view of that person. What if like me, there isn’t any presence on Facebook?

At present, whether it is real people, corporations, news organizations or bots — it is hard to distinguish one from another. What I am suggesting is that all the social platforms create multiple layers — for people and companies. If there are bots, then they are either official or nefarious. In doing so, an enriched profile becomes the first line of defense against manipulation.

To be clear, I am not saying this kind of an enriched identity needs to go beyond what we already have shared online — instead, I am saying it needs to provide context. For instance, if you go to a profile service provider like About.me (disclosure: a True Ventures company), you can very quickly get an idea of who the person actually is. It’s a good starting point to learn more about a person.

Big companies such as Twitter and Snap, can produce a more textured profile, one that can be updated constantly and in general stay relevant. And why just them — wherever we all gather as humans online — from Reddit to photography communities to blogs  — a clear representation of us is a good way to add a layer of civility.

Is this a pipe dream?

The truth is, fractured and fragmented versions of our online selves don’t add up to an authentic version of ourselves. It’s not possible to stitch together your story across multiple profiles and sites — what we need is coherence and the ability to tell our story in our own words, and using that as a way to build a consistent presence on social environments.

September 11, 2018, San Francisco

A letter from Om

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