An often-quoted cartoon that was published in the New Yorker magazine shows a dog sitting at a computer and saying to another dog, 'On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.' Morahan-Martin and Schumacher (2000) discussed this phenomenon in the context of problematic Internet use, suggesting that the ability to self-represent from the safety of the computer screen may be part of the compulsion to go online. The lack of face-to-face communication ensures some level of anonymity, which can lessen social risk and lower inhibitions. Turkle (1995) likened this to the ability to try out new ways of relating, new roles and new identities. Such new identities might include playing with changes in gender, age and race. On the Internet the 'bandwidth' of communication is relatively narrow, and the scope for controlling the presentation of self increases. 'In cyberspace you have more control over how someone sees you. Everything begins with words. You are who you say you are. And you can make yourself sound really good' (Horn 1998:294). These changes are not impossible in the offline world, but are potentially more difficult to sustain, and carry with them greater risk of discovery.
The relationship between identity and self-representation is complex. For example, in the offline world we make choices all the time about how we wish to present ourselves, and some of these have become very conventional. An interview for an important job influences the choices we make about what to wear and what aspects of ourselves we choose to portray. Giese et al. (1998) suggested that these rituals of self-representation will now be transferred to a textual mode in the context of the Internet. However, the ability to self-represent in a radically different way in the offline world is more difficult. Adopting another gender or another age is open to constant visual challenges. Sustaining identity change on the Internet may also be problematic, as the individual may not have the wealth of experience to draw on to maintain credibility, but it certainly carries with it less risk. In the main, if a person is discovered playing another persona, this may result in some sanctions within the community, but the person also has the capacity to disappear, and to reappear as another persona and in another context.
The ability to 'become' may operate at many levels, from the individual who wishes to enhance their status through purporting to have done something special, or possess something important, through to the assumption of a completely new
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Publication information: Book title: Child Pornography: An Internet Crime. Contributors: Max Taylor - Author, Ethel Quayle - Author. Publisher: Brunner-Routledge. Place of publication: Hove, England. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 97.
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