My online alter ego

Most people who know me in person (what some people refer to as “in real life”) don’t know that I have an online alter ego. Participating in a social networking site like Facebook does not mean you have an online alter ego (unless the people you are “friends” with are people you’ve never met in person). Your online alter ego is the person you are to people you have “met” online and even befriended online and had arguments with online but have never met in person.

I try, believe it or not, to make my online alter ego as much like the in-person me as possible, but somehow people who “meet” alter ego me don’t always react to me the same way in-person people do. A number of factors contribute to the difference in reactions:

  • Whether we admit it or not, when we meet people in person, we judge them by how they look—and not just their facial features: we judge them by physical stature, mannerisms, gestures, tonal inflections, eye movements, and other social cues.
  • Online venues tend to cut down on a lot of the small talk that happens in in-person social situations. People online have shared with me their sleeping habits, political opinions, sexual orientations, pet peeves, angers, and joys without asking me where I went to school or how long I’ve lived in the Bay Area.
  • Online venues offer anonymity, which leads to more honesty… and sometimes unwarranted abuse.
  • Written language allows you to put more thought into what you say. You can edit, you can proofread, and you can mull over before anyone even has an idea that you are even considering offering an opinion.

You’d think that with all those factors involved, people would think more highly of my online alter ego than they do of me. Such is not the case most of the time. I’m a friendly guy. People in person tend to like me (or at least do an awfully good job of pretending they do). Online, though, I’ve had people accuse me of being sexist, racist, homophobic, too politically correct, pedantic, lacking in a sense of humor, and enforcing draconian policies (I’m a moderator of an online forum). Oddly enough, I’ve had people accuse me of opposite things. Some people have said I’m anti-Linux. Others have said I’m a Linux fanboy. Some have said I’m too pro-Gnome. Others have said I’m biased in favor of KDE. Some have lorded over my newbieness with their “leetness” (re: elitism), and others have considered me to be very knowledgeable in the geek realm.

All of this makes me wonder if some of the people online whom I’ve grown to like and respect would actually get along with me in person. I suspect probably not. Many of the people I connect with in the Ubuntu world or even through this blog are anti-gay gun-toting right-wingers, or at least present themselves that way. Some of them drink too much beer.

Well, such is life… and online life. I’ll close with a message from my online alter ego: If you don’t read me laughing, it’s not because I lack a sense of humor; it’s because your joke wasn’t funny.


  1. Are you serious? That’s cool. There are other things on the horizon, though. You may want to check out some of the competitors, like the HP Mini-Note or whatever Acer and Dell have up their sleeves. I’m assuming, since you’re not a Linux guy, you’ll probably go for XP.

  2. Hmm. I’m a pro-gay gun-toting centrist, and I have to say, you’re the only left-wing christian I’ve spoken with on the internet. I think I’d like you if I met you in person, if only because you tend to bring something to the table that I just don’t see anywhere else.

  3. If I were to list the things I really am, in terms of which side of the pro/anti lines I fall on topics, I think lots of people (online) would hate me. A few people who could actually be honest with themselves would realise they agree with me. The thing is, no one in person hates me for those things because whether I approve of someone’s actions/choices/perspective doesn’t make a difference to how I treat people, which is generally pretty well (I think, I hope). In real life that’s obvious, online it’s not. For some reason people online assume that being anti- something means you’re hostile to the people that are pro- that thing. It’s just not the case at all.

    Wow, I didn’t think I was going to go on that rant… in response to the first part of the post: I’ve been thinking recently that I might open up my real life to people I know online. I’ve haven’t shared my real name, or let people I’ve never met befriend me on Facebook and stuff like that… I wonder if I will, since online communities are becoming *almost* as significant as some real communities.

  4. I’ve actually had a very similar experience as you’ve had ….i’m polite and quiet in real life but on the net and in a particular fandom, I tend to fight for my reasons and beliefs till the end which have led many to think i’m a troll XD…And online, people also tend to generalize your likes and dislikes a lot. Like if you write that you don’t like reading about homosexual romances, people immediately judge you to be a homophobe when they could have easily concluded that its just not your taste ….online people forget that tolerance is a two way street…they preach about spreading tolerance for gays, promiscuous people etc and yet….they show their intolerance at the slightest dissenting comment…its like fighting hatred with hatred …very hypocritical

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