This project started as an attempt to show how you are not in control of your online persona, but through the process of making it it developed into something more.
Reddit.com is a web site where people post links or text-based posts. Other "redditors" upvote or downvote their content, and if it gets enough upvotes it will go on the front page, where more people can see it. The reddit demo is largely male, 18-34, technologically saavy, and liberal. There are many "subreddits" (like r/funny, r/atheism) geared toward a specific subject. I posted a picture of myself on reddit.com (of which I am am an active member) on r/picrequests, where people ask others to photoshop pictures for them, with the request to "either Photoshop it in a way that reflects your online persona or however the fuck you want." Here is the original post (here is the link to it):
When writing it, I actively tried to write it in a way that would get people to do it. I figured that most redditors (and people) are a bit narcissistic, so doing it to show how great a community reddit is would be helpful. I even made up the community part to try and garner more pictures. It was interesting to think of how I could best manipulate these people into helping me, and ultimately I think it worked. But even though I originally just made up the bit about community, in the end that's what the project ended up as.
The project overall shows how people on the Internet create their own opinions of you without knowing you at all, or in this case, only having a picture. But the pictures that people created ended up representing a pretty accurate cross-section of the reddit community as well. You had the person making it sexual, the Lord of the Rings picture, a few dirty puns, some inside reddit jokes, some really silly ones, and some really beautiful ones. I set out only to show my constructed online persona through this project, but it also ended up demonstrating the persona of the average reddit user, or the site's own sense of "self" if you will.
I linked each picture to the reddit page of the redditor who created it. So their own "self," their personality, was reflected in the pictures. And if you scroll through their reddit comment and post history, you can get a pretty good idea of what that person is like. So it worked both ways- them representing me, and me representing them. And in the description I asked people to either show their own persona or whatever they wanted. Only one person actually elaborated on the fact that they were representing their persona, so for the others, it's a mystery. I kind of like that, not knowing which they were choosing. It still works with my idea.
It also shows the beneficial side of the mass Internet communities. These people were not getting anything in return for making these images besides my thanks and "upvote." But I still got a fairly large number, and many comments on the project. So while the large numbers of anonymous users on the Net may feel impersonal, this shows that people can be giving and helpful even with the aspect of anonymity. I think the fact that my request allowed them to be creative also helped. Often picrequests are something like "can you remove the dog from this picture?" or "can you brighten this picture up?", so I think people liked that I was giving them freedom to do whatever they wanted.
One other unexpected side-effect of the project was concern regarding my identity. Quite soon after I posted the request, a moderator from the site commented that if I didn't prove my identity, they would have to take down my request. I never even thought about that aspect, that someone could be using another person's picture for unknown purposes. I posted a picture proving I was who I said I was and everything was okay, but I still found it interesting. A small debate even erupted over what is "safe" for people to post (safe for work, that is), and what isn't. All in all, it was a very satisfying social experience, where I learned a lot about people on the Internet and about myself. I think it resulted in a pretty cool and meaningful piece of art as well.