Multiple Personality Social Media
    By Mark Changizi | February 22nd 2010 04:00 AM | 10 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Mark Changizi is Director of Human Cognition at 2AI, and the author of The Vision Revolution (Benbella 2009) and Harnessed: How...

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    For those who have not entered the world of Twitter, it is hard to fathom why people feel compelled to stream their lives to strangers 140 characters at a time. And such non-Twitter folk are also unlikely to fathom the purpose of blogging, especially in a world with more than 170 million blogs. Imagine the non-tweeting non-blogger’s disbelief, then, when they read story after story about how Twitter, Facebook, Wordpress, Posterous and the other “Social Web 2.0” heavyweights are changing the world as we know it. “Hogwash!” might be their succinct reply.

    But for those of us who have entered the world of social media, it is clear that there’s much more going on than streaming one’s life to strangers. So much is going on, in fact, that you could spend the rest of your life reading hack books on how to “do” social media more ably. And you could choose to connect only with “social media” gurus on Twitter and still acquire more than 100,000 “friends”.

    With more than a half billion people hooked into social media, something big is, indeed, happening. But what? There are a variety of candidates to point to: the greater interconnectivity, the nature of the connectivity (e.g., “small world”), the speed at which information courses through the networks, the exposure to a wider variety of people and ideas, the enhanced capability for collaborations, the tight wedding of human connections with web content, and so on. 

    There is, however, one facet of social media that has gone largely unnoticed: Multiple personalities. Upon soaking myself in social media over the last year, I was surprised to find that many of those most steeped in social media maintain not just one blog, but several (and in some cases more), each devoted to his or her distinct interests. I have also found that it is similarly common to possess multiple Twitter identities; in one case it was weeks before I realized two “friends” were actually a single person. Maintenance of multiple personalities in real-life flesh-and-blood social networks is considerably more difficult. 

    At first I felt these multiple personalities were vaguely creepy. “Figure out who you are, and stick with it!” was my reaction. But gradually I have come to appreciate multiple personalities (and so have I). In fact, I now believe that the ease with which social media supports multiple personalities is one of the unappreciated powers of the Social Web 2.0.

    To understand why multiple personalities are so powerful, let’s back up for a moment and recall what makes economies so innovative. While it helps if the economy is filled with creative entrepreneurs, the fundamental mechanism behind the economy’s genius is not the genius of individuals but the selective forces which enable some entrepreneurs to thrive and others to wither away. Selective forces of this broad kind underlie not just the entrepreneurial world, but also the sciences and the arts.

    Scientific communities, for example, chug inexorably forward with discoveries, but this progress occurs by virtue of there being so many independently digging scientists in a community that eventually some scientists strike gold, even if sometimes only serendipitously. Whether entrepreneurial, scientific or artistic, communities can be creative even if a vast majority of their members fail to ever achieve something innovative. 

    This is where multiple personalities change the game. Whereas individuals were traditionally members of just one community, and risky ventures such as entrepreneurship, science and the arts could get only one roll of the dice, in the age of Social Web 2.0 people can split themselves into multiple selves inhabiting multiple communities. Although too much splitting will dilute the attention that can be given to the distinct personalities and thereby lower the chance that at least one personality succeeds in its alotted realm, with a small number of personalities one may be able to increase the chances that at least one of the personalities succeeds. For example, with two personalities taking their respective shots within two distinct communities, the “owner” of those personalities may have raised the probability that at least one personality succeeds by nearly a factor two (although a factor greater than one is all one would need to justify splitting into two personalities).

    With multiple personalities in hand, people can choose to take up creative endeavors they would not have been willing to enter into outside of social media because the risks of failure were too high. Multiple personalities can lower these risks.

    One of the greatest underappreciated benefits of social media, then, may be that it brings a greater percentage of the world into creative enterprises they would not otherwise have considered.

    This, I submit, is good.


    Yes, I too am a social media schizo! I'm like that in real life but there are some important differences - in real life one can shut up about things that are not interesting to the group you're in. I think we all have different interests but if one blogs about everything on the same blog readers get confused, unless they share the same eclectic outlook. So split the blogs up and, if it seems sensible, link them together (or not). Same with Twitter - eclectic tweets may be amusing from someone already famous but otherwise cause followers to unfollow pretty quickly.

    In public we can edit our discussions, online it's all there all the time, hence best to separate them into themes - or personas.
    Well said..If you spend enough time at any one social-networking site, you're likely to find that some of your friends may have chosen to take up residence on a different social network, while work colleagues can be found at a third and neighbors at yet another.Ne ways good informative post!Keep sharing..

    Great Post! Indeed, you can be all you want with social media. As you said, people can choose to take up creative endeavors they would not have been willing to enter into outside of social media because the risks of failure were too high. With entering "inside" the "social media" there is nothing to lose and there is more to gain.


    But is it really "multiple personality" a variation on pseudonyms (Mark Twain vs Samuel Langhorne Clemens), or simply the online equivalent of real life friendship/social circles and cliques? Throughout our 'offline' lives we behave, share and present different facets of our personality and interests depending on where we are and who we're with. (think work vs faith group vs hobby club vs poker buddies, etc.). Some may know you across several circles, but often not.

    Main difference: offline all those 'versions' of you are naturally tied to one body, one face. You may still vary the name-tag on that body, (real name, nickname, Dr, Ms, Your Highness, etc.) but usually 'you' are you while what you say and how you act may be vastly different (con artists, the delusional and secret life folks not withstanding). If those in your circles compared notes they may think they're talking about different people until you walked in and they say "Hi Steve/Dr. Octopus/Sweet Cheeks".

    The cliche is "Online, nobody knows your a dog."

    The nature of online technology (especially social networking) requires you to register or "brand" who you are before you publish - no body, no face and sometimes ... no truth required: a comment from "anonymous coward" confirmed by is still registration. It's just a matter of whether you intentionally to use the same "brand" everywhere for what you do and say - and that folks trust you are who you say you are. ( am I REALLY Lyle Turner? )

    What you describe as multiple personalities seems more like just a 'branding' of the you that is publishing a certain aspect or facet of your interest and the content you share. The difference is that online it's impossible to "see" the body attached that lets you recognize when you run into it again elsewhere.

    Gerhard Adam
    The difference is that online it's impossible to "see" the body attached that lets you recognize when you run into it again elsewhere.
    Let's not say impossible ... just more difficult, even if you're looking for it.  People often think they're being clever in how they disguise themselves online, but invariably they leave a trail that can still connect the dots.  To truly be anonymous you almost have to be egoless ... anything else invariably causes you to become more careless because ultimately you want the attention.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Mark Changizi

    That may be a nice way of putting it. But I don't really even mean to refer to hiding your alternative personalities. One can easily keep one's name attached, but end up with followings that effectively never know about the other aspect of oneself. Social Media 2.0 makes it easier for one individual to push in independent directions, thereby easing the risks. 
    Sockpuppeteering can be great fun if done in good faith.  I have used different online idents for different sites, but mainly because the 'logicman' slot was already filled.

    What is entirely unacceptable is when somebody uses sockpuppets to promote articles across multiple sites in order to gain a financial advantage without actually contributing anything useful to the site content.

    Spammers do this all the time and it is a source of annoyance globally.

    So, when somebody has two identities on, when they have other identities elsewhere, when they delete comments which 'call them out', I would ban them.

    It isn't censorship - it is a protection for the good reputation of this site as a science site with science writers and a heavily science-oriented readership.

    Mark: Sorry if that comes across as a rant, but people who put money or readership figures before ethics really p*ss me off!
    Mark Changizi
    Alas, all good things can be used for evil as well. (Including peanut brittle, for example.)
    Gerhard Adam
    ... oh, that just begs for a follow-up question. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Mark, I agree with all of you...

    but I only am one, you'll all have to read it many times ;-)