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It is generally known that how an individual perceives himself or herself in lived

reality influences either his or her actions or behaviour in cyberspace. Venturing into
the world of cyberspace allows individuals to become somewhat detached from
reality. In other words, through the anonymity associated with cyberspace individuals
are allowed to create multiply identities which in turn allow them to “escape cultural
boundaries of gender, race and age” (Marneweck, 2005:76).However, it is argued
that online identities cannot be completely free from the social constraints that are
imposed in the real world(Westfall,2000). This essay argues that social identities
constructed in cyberspace are shaped by those constructed in offline realities.
Marneweck puts forward the idea that the study of identity and its influence on the
internet takes into consideration two theories. The first theory lies in the root and
ideas of postmodernism, “where identity and society are characterised by multiplicity
and fluidity.” (Reid, 1991; Turkle 1995, 1997, 1999 as cited in Marneweck, 2005:
21).The second theory suggests that context, history and primary identities play a
significant role in forming identity because individuals feel obliged to “anchor their
online identity in their offline embodied self” (Hardey, 2002:579 as citied in
Marneweck, 2006: 22). Both theories pave the foundation to understand how offline
realities influence the manner in which social identities in cyberspace are
constructed.
Chatrooms present individuals with the opportunity to transform into someone else,
someone completely different from their lived reality. An individual is able to take up
what is expressed as a ‘fantasy identity’. Fantasy identities are ideal versions of one
that constitute of the ideal physical appearance, personality, age and character traits.
Furthermore, Sigmund Freud argued that although everything that people are aware
of is stored in the conscious, there is an area of the mind in which underlying
emotions, beliefs, feelings, needs and fantasies are buried. These ‘ideals’ are
inaccessible in real life. He termed this the ‘unconscious mind’. Thus, chatrooms are
seen as the environment in which the ‘unconscious mind’ can be explored. In
addition, Marneweck argues that the “the chatroom created an environment where
they could give expression to their ‘true self’ without feeling shy” (Marneweck, 2005:
79) or overwhelmed by social interaction. For example, Flame, a chatroom user,
described his offline personality as introverted and shy. However, in the chatroom he
came across as being obnoxious and outspoken. Similarly, Mouse, another
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For example. also describes his offline personality as shy. For example. The abovementioned points. This project required learners from both The University of the Western Cape (UWC) 2 .From the preceding statement it is seen that expressing ones’ sexually orientation openly in society has a huge negative consequence for the individual. cyberspace can also be used as a medium that allow individuals express his or her ‘real’ identities. Corrective rape is “forced sex with a man to ‘cure’ the woman’s sexuality” (Sapa. he or she will rather express their sexually orientation in cyberspace because they will not encounter any physical harm. the level of education of the individual along with their expendable income also influences their online realities.chatroom user. personality. 2006). 2006: 66). indicate the power relations that exist between the offline realities and online realities. Marneweck (2006:66) argues that “inequalities evident in society” are also evident in the chatroom. these ‘tools’ allow certain individuals to control conversations in the chatroom as well as build a prominent online identity(Marneweck. physical appearance. even their gender” (Samovar. in the chatroom he came across as being quite sociable. Conversely. to a certain degree. Knowing that the individual will face the negative consequence associated with their sexually orientation. better technology. history. An example of the inequality within the chat room is the hierarchal structure of the room”. in Atteridgeville. may not approve of their identity. 2009: 161). Cyberspace does not only allow for the creation of identities. Furthermore. more developed technical skills or fluency in the conversational language” (Marneweck. Pretoria a thirteen-year-old lesbian girl was raped because she was “open about her sexuality” (Sapa. Chatrooms allow people to experiment with their identity by “changing their age. Some individuals may have advantages such as “more bandwidth. In addition. Porter and McDaniel. 2011). Individuals are forced to use this option because social constructions (such as religion) and the community. Fantasy identities are achieved by the simple rule of anonymity. in South Africa this type of rape is termed ‘corrective rape’.Furthermore.Therefore. in February 2006 researchers launched a project called ‘e-learning’. where the identity of a user remains hidden to other users. 2011). in which the individual is situated in. Offline society and identities ‘travel’ with individuals into cyberspace.

privileged) . 2008). 2008: 139). People tend to attach or identify themselves 3 . Did these offline realities shape the way in online identities were shaped? In my opinion it most certainly did.and the University of Stellenbosch to “engage in a personal reflexive way with issues of community and identity” (Rohleder et al. these students had to use computer labs and probably spend a long time to waiting in queues to access the computer (Rohleder et al. as citied in Rohleder et al.)..d.d. However. 2008 139). they face “a kind of identity crisis (Evans. n. The patterns of power in offline realities found their way into cyberspace. as cited in Rohleder et al. in terms of computer facilities and internet access. A hierarchy exist between student’s offline realities with regard to power (poor vs. It is argued that often when people immigrate to countries. students from the University of Stellenbosch most likely have internet access at home and are more likely to have laptops.d.d: 6).d. Due to their socio-economic circumstances.. n.). students from UWC could only access computers and internet at their universities. In contrast. n. especially the patterns of class and inequality. However. Many students felt that the chatroom was an ineffective and a frustrating method of communicating with one another.These offline realities certainly shape the social identities constructed in the chatroom. “it assumes we [the students] all have equal access” (Anonymous as cited in Rohleder et al. 2008: 139). Since the project made use of electronic resources.. the project was successful. compared to students from the University of Stellenbosch. upon arrival they discover that their ‘new country’ “is not always as familiar as he/she might have hoped” (Evans. students from the UWC found that group projects were inconvenient because “of the students not having access to computers as computers needed to be booked in advance”(UWC student. In addition.It was evident that students from UWC came from socio-economic backgrounds that were less resourced. Overall. n. which they can use at university as opposed to using computer labs. People assume that the country to which they immigrate to shall be similar to their home country. Furthermore. 2008: 131).. some underlying problems were indentified.. n. “The chatroom communication was plagued by misunderstandings [and] long delays between comments” (SUN Student. This identity crisis often “manifest in a plethora of patriotic declarations on expat sites on the Net” (Evans.

his memories and the way in which he presents himself. The Homecoming Revolution Initiative is a website dedicated to publishing alternative and optimistic news about South Africa (Evans. n. n.d: 10) and guaranteeing individuals safety.d : 8). which allowed people to participate in discussions regarding South Africa’s future. For example. “The HR team assumed that South Africans would come forward in praise of their country and publish positive personal testimonies on the forum” ( Evans. n. instead of informing the world about South Africa’s “untapped potential” (Evans. n. n. Ironically.d. the type of responses become more pessimistic and traitorous.d).) argues that most of these dreadful comments came from homesick youngsters who found themselves in cold. biltong and braais” (Evans. “the site become a thriving virtual community for the bewildered expats who were suffering from the same demise” (Evans. The above example illustrates a direct relationship between that the type of responses that appear in cyberspace (in this case the online forum discussions) and the individuals’ living condition.d: 10). Additionally the speech used by users is described as a kind of “racist hate speech”( Evans. most of comments or reports published by the forum users refer to violent crimes . negative perceptions of “the outcome of the Zuma’s trial and what it holds for South Africa’s future”( Evans. Some users even “openly define themselves as Afrikaans speaking and adopt names such as Afrikaner X or Boetie” (Evans. Evans (n. associates his South African indentify with the manner in which he speaks.d:8). Furthermore. n. 4 . n. Similarly. Users bring these perceptions of negativity and racism from their offline realities into the cyberspace. the type of experiences that occurred in their living condition also affected the type of responses in cyberspace. South African blogger. n.d. now living in Australia.with symbols of their nationality. Instead. As their living condition worsened.d :8). The Homecoming Revolution Initiative also opened up a forum discussion panel. They suddenly feel a strong yearning for “Johnny Clegg.). This illustrated that offline identities of being patriotic shapes and constructs the social identities found on the website.The tone of most news articles published on the website is patriotic and optimistic. miserable and dirty parts of the world. the things he finds funny.d : 7).

social inequalities. [Total words: 1564 words] Reference List 5 . education and socio-economic status also play a vital role in the shaping and construction of online social identities in cyberspace. futhur research should be done to thoroughly understand and investigate the correlation between how offline realities shape and construct online social identities. offline realities such race. This relationship indicates that offline realities are integrated into online social identities. However. they tend to overlap. Chatrooms are associated with anonymity that allows individuals to create fantasy identities.All the examples that I have used in this essay illustrate that offline realities and online realties are not two separate worlds. that is. However.

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