Online Identity: Developing Valley Lizard

I guess like many people I’ve used social media without much thought. When I created an online presence through this blog three years ago I didn’t really have a plan. It was just a blog for myself to practice writing, so I didn’t really have any grand plans or strategies to promote it. While I’m not a sophisticated user, over time I learnt to use the various built in features (affordances) of the various platforms I use to make Valley Lizard successful.

Creating and maintaining Valley Lizard is an exercise in online identity formation. This identity I’ve created can be viewed as separate to my own like a product. Poletti and Rak (2014, page 8-9) discuss how even though identity is “a process of self-knowing” it is also a product or property that can be stolen. I could for instance sell or allow someone else to run Valley Lizard. In fact my dad is already an admin on my Valley Lizard Facebook page (mainly so he can also upload pictures too). Presently my online identity includes Valley Lizard, so I’m reluctant for someone else to take charge of it. I guess this is partly because I started my blog as something just for me.

I didn’t expect to gain an audience, but as more people read my blog it changed how I approached it. I also felt content from my university assignments on cosplay and pop culture were worth sharing with an audience.  According to Smith and Watson (2014, page 74) “online venues assume, invite, and depend on audiences”. While in the beginning I didn’t depend on an audience I later felt I had posts worthwhile sharing to social media through Facebook and Twitter. Sharing is one of the main affordances of social media, allowing and motivating you to reach a wider audience. Knowing my posts were being read encouraged me to seek out an audience. Observing WordPress’s analytics told me I had an international audience. This influenced me to write Life of a Victorian Cosplayer.

I usually only write about topics I’m interested in or events I’ve been to. It’s easier to write about what I know and I can add my own personal touch. For example if I go to an event, such as a convention, I can add my own photos (or photos my family took) of the event and my own account of what happened. The post then forms a narrative with my personal touches adding authenticity. Another way of looking at identity is through the lens of narrative. As Poletti and Rak (2014, page 8) say “identity formation is the result of narrative building.” They also go onto say how the web contains both narrative and non-narrative forms of identity formation. An example of a non-narrative driven blog post is my top ten lists. All my posts still communicate aspects of my identity.

Is it really my identity though? Is it Valley Lizard’s identity? Whose identity is being communicated?

I wonder: how connected am I to who I portray online? I understand that some people use social media as either an outlet for a different part of themselves or a way to create a completely different identity (Online and Lying 2014). While I haven’t created a completely separate person I have created a persona. This means I reserve it for certain things. On Valley Lizard Cosplay on Facebook in particular there is a big emphasis on cosplay. It is where I post pictures of characters I hope to cosplay someday.

Screenshot (48)
Screenshot of my Valley Lizard Cosplay Facebook ‘Cosplay Goals’ album

Part of my behaviour on Facebook and Instagram has been influenced by seeing what other cosplayers post online. I saw other people sharing about characters they’d like to cosplay, so I did the same. I saw other people sharing cosplay pictures of themselves on Instagram using #inandoutofcosplay, so I did something similar. This is an example of the influence and shareability of social media. Some of these trends may have been started by celebrity cosplayers then filtered down to something that everyone seems to do. P. D. Marshall (2010) looks at how celebrities not only initiate trends offline, but also provide a template for people’s self-production online.

Unlike celebrities I didn’t consciously set out to build an online identity, however before I knew it that’s what I was doing. I built a sense of authenticity by sharing my own pictures and writing about what I knew. Authenticity is an impression people get therefore I don’t completely control my online identity. It’s about the relationship between the platforms, my own representation and how that gets interpreted.

 

Note: all pictures, Tweets, Instagram posts and associated images are my own except the featured image:

sapling on fallen log by Dennis Yang (CC BY 2.0)

References:

Marshall, P, ‘The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media’ Celebrity Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 35-48, DOI: 10.1080/19392390903519057

Online and Lying 2014, streaming video, SBS 2, retrieved 5 May 2019, Informit EduTV database

Rak, J & Poletti, A, Smith S & Watson J ‘Introduction: Digital Dialogues’, ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presenation’. 2013, Identity Technologies : Constructing the Self Online, Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography, University of Wisconsin Press, retrieved 5 May 2019, <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=677350&site=eds-live&scope=site&gt;.

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