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Exploring Virtual Identity: Systems, Ethics, AI

The Concept of Virtual Identity

The concept of virtual identity refers to the way individuals and entities present themselves in digital environments. It encompasses aspects such as online profiles, avatars, digital footprints, and personal data. Virtual identity has become an integral part of modern life, as more and more people interact with each other and with organizations through digital channels. However, virtual identity also raises significant ethical, legal, and technological challenges that need to be addressed to ensure its responsible and beneficial use.

=== Historical Overview of Virtual Identity Systems

Virtual identity systems have been around for decades, dating back to the early days of the internet when bulletin board systems (BBS) and multi-user dungeons (MUD) allowed users to create online personas. The advent of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in the 2000s gave rise to a new era of virtual identity, where millions of users could build and maintain online profiles that reflected their real-life identities. More recently, blockchain-based identity systems are being developed as a way to provide decentralized and secure virtual identity management.

=== Types of Virtual Identity Systems

There are several types of virtual identity systems, each with its own characteristics and use cases. Some examples include:

  • Personal identity systems: These are systems that allow individuals to create and manage their digital identities, such as social media profiles, email accounts, and online banking accounts.
  • Organizational identity systems: These are systems that allow organizations to establish their digital identities, such as corporate websites, online stores, and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms.
  • Federated identity systems: These are systems that allow users to access multiple digital services using a single set of credentials, such as the OpenID Connect protocol.
  • Self-sovereign identity systems: These are systems that give individuals full control over their digital identities, including the ability to manage their personal data, share it with others, and revoke access when needed.

=== Ethics of Virtual Identity Creation and Use

The creation and use of virtual identity raise numerous ethical concerns that need to be addressed. For instance, virtual identity systems can perpetuate bias, discrimination, and exclusion if they are designed or used in ways that favor certain groups over others. Furthermore, virtual identity systems can compromise individual privacy and autonomy if they collect and store personal data without consent or use it for nefarious purposes. Ethical considerations should be central to the design, deployment, and management of virtual identity systems to ensure that they serve the public good.

=== Regulating Virtual Identity: Legal Frameworks

Virtual identity systems are subject to various legal frameworks that govern their creation and use. These frameworks include data protection regulations, privacy laws, consumer protection laws, and intellectual property laws. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe imposes strict requirements on the processing of personal data, including the right to be forgotten, the right to access, and the right to rectification. Legal frameworks can help mitigate the risks associated with virtual identity systems and provide a framework for ethical and responsible use.

=== Case Study: Virtual Identity in Social Media

Social media platforms have become a major source of virtual identity for millions of people worldwide. Users can create online profiles that include personal information, photos, videos, and posts. These profiles can be used to connect with friends and family, share opinions and experiences, and engage with content from others. However, social media platforms have also been criticized for their handling of user data, their role in spreading misinformation and hate speech, and their impact on mental health and well-being. Social media companies are facing increasing pressure to adopt more responsible and transparent practices that protect users’ privacy and mitigate harm.

=== Virtual Identity and Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly prominent role in virtual identity systems. AI algorithms can be used to analyze large amounts of data to identify patterns, trends, and correlations, which can be used to improve virtual identity management. For example, AI can be used to detect fraudulent activities, prevent identity theft, and personalize user experiences. However, AI also raises significant ethical concerns, such as bias, discrimination, and lack of transparency. Virtual identity systems that rely on AI should be designed and implemented in ways that prioritize ethical considerations and ensure that the benefits outweigh the risks.

=== Benefits of Virtual Identity Systems

Virtual identity systems offer numerous benefits to individuals, organizations, and society as a whole. Some of these benefits include:

  • Improved access to digital services and resources
  • Enhanced personalization and customization of user experiences
  • Increased efficiency and convenience in digital transactions
  • Better security and fraud prevention
  • Greater transparency and accountability in identity management

Virtual identity systems can also facilitate social inclusion and empowerment by providing individuals with a platform to express their identity, connect with others, and participate in public discourse.

=== Risks and Challenges of Virtual Identity

Virtual identity systems also pose significant risks and challenges that need to be addressed. Some of these risks include:

  • Privacy violations and data breaches
  • Identity theft and fraud
  • Discrimination and bias
  • Cyberbullying and online harassment
  • Misinformation and propaganda

Virtual identity systems can also exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities and widen the digital divide if they are not designed and implemented in inclusive and equitable ways.

=== The Future of Virtual Identity: Trends and Projections

The future of virtual identity is likely to be shaped by several trends and projections. These include:

  • Increasing adoption of blockchain-based identity systems
  • Greater focus on privacy and data protection
  • Advancements in AI and machine learning
  • Growing demand for self-sovereign identity management
  • Emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility

The future of virtual identity will also be shaped by societal, cultural, and political factors that are difficult to predict but will undoubtedly play a significant role.

The Importance of Virtual Identity

Virtual identity is a crucial aspect of modern life that offers both opportunities and challenges. As digital technologies continue to shape the way we interact and communicate with each other, virtual identity will become even more important in shaping our digital selves. To ensure that virtual identity serves the public good and respects individual rights and freedoms, it is essential to adopt an ethical, legal, and responsible approach to its creation and use. By doing so, we can harness the benefits of virtual identity while mitigating its risks and challenges.

=== References and Further Reading

  1. Solove, D. J. (2013). Understanding privacy. Harvard University Press.
  2. Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Doubleday.
  3. European Union. (2016). General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Retrieved from
  4. Kantara Initiative. (2019). Identity and Access Management for the Internet of Things (IoT) Primer. Retrieved from
  5. World Economic Forum. (2018). Empowering Identity: Blockchain for Development – A Primer. Retrieved from
  6. World Bank Group. (2016). Digital Dividends. Retrieved from
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VI8: Strategic analysis and future strategies

Strategic analysis and future strategies

Reza Jamali, in Online Arab Spring, 2015

In this chapter, we try to find social media penetration barriers to the development of democracy and social justice in the Middle East. We also try to suggest some strategies to overcome these obstacles. To achieve this objective, the context of political, economic, social, technological and technical, ethical, legal analysis (PESTEL) is used and the barriers in each context are considered. Although there is no priority among these barriers, it can be argued that political instability, legal uncertainty, corruption and ethical issues play the major role in reducing the influence of social media penetration for the promotion of democracy and social justice.

On the other hand, we have argued that what happens in the circumstances of virtual social media is a clear manifestation of events in the physical environment of the country. In social media or social networks, if people, whether using real or fictional identities, stand up to protest against a group, persons or particular government, this happens because of the oppression in the physical environment, which has suddenly crossed into the virtual environment. Consequently, with any policy for cyberspace (whether in an environment of 100% government control of the media or freedom of the media), if the physical environment is not accompanied by supporting policies, physical well-being and social justice it will lead to the failure of individuals to change their government through social media.

Analysis of ethical factors

In much of the research on social media, discussion of ethical factors is impeded by a lack of sufficient information and in some cases issues regarding copyright law and morality are raised. But given the difference in objective analysis, here we try to look at it from another angle. When can we expect to see real people with real faces promoting democracy and social justice from social media? Ethical issues in social media begin when a virtual identity is shaped and the user is able to create a picture of him- or herself as he or she would like to be, not what he or she really is. It becomes extreme when people in the real world cannot show themselves as they really are, while if they express their true opinions they face penalties that are more likely to be found in dictatorial regimes. Please re-read the previous sentence. From this statement we can clearly see that an unblemished environment and observing the ethics of social media are the effect of freedom and justice in the physical environment. It can upset all the equations, even when there has been heavy investment in social media, and we cannot obtain the desired result because of the problems in the physical environment. In this case it is better to revisit the examples of our listed companies. When a company invests a lot in their brand on social media but the employees in the organisation are not happy, the employees simply share their disastisfaction and the problems they have with the work on their personal pages on social networks.

There must be a better way than this to eliminate problems. Using the network to communicate directly with the government and the people can be useful before people share their dissatisfaction with the government, whether as themselves or under a false identity, on the public network. This is a safety valve to prevent an overflow of people’s grievances. The next thing that has become clear during our research is that when a group of people who believe that social media have taken steps toward achieving their goals, the ethical points have peaked, but if the team feels that social media are phenomena that are harmful to them and which in the long term will weaken the group, failure to take note of the ethics and social media gossip from the group can eventually turn the tide in their favour. The most important points evident here are that the beginnings of such failure to comply with the ethics of such groups not only arise from social media but also from the physical environment. Suppose a religious group is strongly dissatisfied with the development of an anti-religious culture in the social media and do not see a way to deal with it. So gossip in the physical environment against social media represents attempts to blacken the reputation of social media and reduce their role in society. However, experience has shown that gossip does not end with the physical environment but evolves. The next step is for the group to create multiple pages, blogs and websites, opening up a new front in the struggle against the social media. And in the third stage of evolution, this group finds that social media must be confronted by other social media, for success to be achieved. The next thing that is one of the positive aspects of social media in the area of ethics and social justice is the high percentage of respondents who believe that regardless of whether or not governments have a role in the distribution of wealth and social justice, people must exert pressure through the Internet and social media to create justice. The minimum amount of work that must be done in this area is helping people who have low incomes and live in poverty. In all the Arab countries surveyed and Iran over 55% of people are in this situation, while the percentage in America is 38%. Most of the former are in Iran and Tunisia, at 69% and 68% per cent, respectively. This creates a strong potential for governments to increase people’s capacity to take advantage of democracy and social justice, while it appears that in some Western countries, this is more of a burden on the state.

Given the importance of ethical issues and social responsibility in the virtual environment, the researcher came up with the idea of seeking new criteria for ranking websites and social media pages. provides website ratings in terms of the number of visits, which is a factor that has an important role in the value of a web page or website. There will be a greater need to value sites in terms of ethical standards. That is why, in the middle of 2014, an elite group of programmers in the web field came together to launch the site, and readers of this book can also assist in measuring the observance of ethics on the web. According to our investigation, the principal costs of material and moral wrongdoing in virtual space in the Middle East and developing countries are higher than in developed countries. Owing to the nature of governments in the Middle East and the need for the constant monitoring of virtual environments to counter threats, Middle Eastern countries have defined more crimes in cyberspace and consequently there is greater punishment. This can be useful, leading to a reduction in non-compliance with ethics, but it also leads to changes in the identity of most people in the virtual community and therefore it becomes uncontrollable.

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VI3: Philosophy of Computing and Information Technology

Philosophy of Computing and Information Technology

Philip Brey, Johnny Hartz Søraker, in Philosophy of Technology and Engineering Sciences, 2009

Philosophy has been described as having taken a “computational turn,” referring to the ways in which computers and information technology throw new light upon traditional philosophical issues, provide new tools and concepts for philosophical reasoning, and pose theoretical and practical questions that cannot readily be approached within traditional philosophical frameworks. As such, computer technology is arguably the technology that has had the most profound impact on philosophy. Philosophers have studied computer technology and its philosophical implications extensively. Philosophers have discovered computers and information technology (IT) as research topics, and a wealth of research is taking place on philosophical issues in relation to these technologies. The research agenda is broad and diverse. Issues that are studied include the nature of computational systems, the ontological status of virtual worlds, the limitations of artificial intelligence, philosophical aspects of data modeling, the political regulation of cyberspace, the epistemology of Internet information, ethical aspects of information privacy and security, and many more.

5.6 Cyborgs and virtual subjects

Information technology has become so much part of everyday life that it is affecting human identity (understood as character). Two developments have been claimed to have a particularly great impact. The first of these is that information technologies are starting to become part of our bodies and function as prosthetic technologies that take over or augment biological functions, turning humans into cyborgs, and thereby altering human nature. A second development is the emergence of virtual identities, which are identities that people assume online and in virtual worlds. This development has raised questions about the nature of identity and the self, and their realization in the future.

Philosophical studies of cyborgs have considered three principal questions: the conceptual question of what a cyborg is, the interpretive and empirical question of whether humans are or are becoming cyborgs, and the normative questions of whether it would be good or desirable for humans to become cyborgs. The term “cyborg” has been used in three increasingly broad senses. The traditional definition of a cyborg, is that of a being composed of both organic and artificial systems, between which there is feedback-control, with the artificial systems closely mimicing the behavior of organic systems. On a broader conception, a cyborg is any individual with artificial parts, even if these parts are simple structures like artificial teeth and breast implants. On a still broader conception, a cyborg is any individual who relies extensively on technological devices and artifacts to function. On this conception, everyone is a cyborg, since everyone relies extensively on technology.

Cyborgs have become a major research topic in cultural studies, which has brought forth the area of cyborg theory, which is the multidisciplinary study of cyborgs and their representation in popular culture [Gray, 1996]. In this field the notion of the cyborg is often used as a metaphor to understand aspects of contemporary — late modern or postmodern — society's relationship to technology, as well as to the human body and the self. The advance of cyborg theory has been credited to Donna Haraway, in particular her essay “Manifesto for Cyborgs” [Haraway, 1985]. Haraway claims that the binary ways of thinking of modernity (organism-technology, man-woman, physical-nonphysical and fact-fiction) traps beings into supposedly fixed identities and oppresses those beings (animals, women, blacks, etc.) who are on the wrong, inferior side of binary oppositions. She believes that the hybridization of humans and human societies, through the notion of the cyborg, can free those who are oppressed by blurring boundaries and constructing hybrid identities that are less vulnerable to the trappings of modernistic thinking (see also [Mazlish, 1993]).

Haraway believes, along with many other authors in cyborg theory (cf. [Gray, 2004; Hayles, 1999]) that this hybridization is already occurring on a large scale. Many of our most basic concepts, such as those of human nature, the body, consciousness and reality, are shifting and taking on new, hybrid, informationalized meanings. Coming from the philosophy of cognitive science Andy Clark [2003] develops the argument that technologies have always extended and co-constituted human nature (cf. [Brey, 2000]), and specifically human cognition. He concludes that humans are “natural-born cyborgs” (see also the discussion of Clark in Section 3.6).

Philosophers Nick Bostrom and David Pearce have founded a recent school of thought, known as transhumanism that shares the positive outlook on the technological transformation of human nature held by many cyborg theorists [Bostrom, 2005; Young, 2005]. Transhumanists want to move beyond humanism, which they commend for many of its values but which they fault for its belief in a fixed human nature. They aim at increasing human autonomy and happiness and eliminate suffering and pain (and possibly death) through human enhancement. Thus achieving a trans- or posthuman state in which bodily and cognitive abilities are augmented by modern technology.

Critics of transhumanism and human enhancement, like Francis Fukuyama, Leon Kass, George Annas, Jeremy Rifkin and Jürgen Habermas, oppose tinkering with human nature for the purpose of enhancement. Their position that human nature should not be altered through technology has been called bioconservatism. Human enhancement has been opposed for a variety of reasons, including claims that it is unnatural, undermines human dignity, erodes human equality, and can do bodily and psychological harm [DeGrazia, 2005]. Currently, there is an increasing focus on ethical analyses of specific enhancements and prosthetic technologies that are in development, including ones that involve information technology [Gillett, 2006; Lucivero and Tamburrini, 2008]. James Moor [2004] has cautioned that there are limitations to such ethical studies. Since ethics is determined by one's nature, he argues, a decision to change one's nature cannot be settled by ethics itself.

Questions concerning human nature and identity are also being asked anew because of the coming into existence of virtual identities [Maun and Corruncker, 2008]. Such virtual identities, or online identities, are social identities assumed or presented by persons in computer-mediated communication and virtual communities. They usually include textual descriptions of oneself and avatars, which are graphically realized characters over which users assume control. Salient features of virtual identities are that they can be different from the corresponding real-world identities, that persons can assume multiple virtual identities in different contexts and settings, that virtual identities can be used by persons to emphasize or hide different aspects of their personality and character, and that they usually do not depend on or make reference to the user's embodiment or situatedness in real life. In a by now classical (though also controversial) study of virtual identity, psychologist Sherry Turkle [1995] argues that the dynamics of virtual identities appear to validate poststructuralist and postmodern theories of the subject. These hold that the self is constructed, multiple, situated, and dynamical. The next step to take is to claim that behind these different virtual identities, there is no stable self, but rather that these identities, along with other projected identities in real life, collectively constitute the subject.

The dynamics of virtual identities have been studied extensively in fields like cultural studies and new media studies. It has been mostly assessed positively that people can freely construct their virtual identities, that they can assume multiple identities in different contexts and can explore different social identities to overcome oppositions and stereotypes, that virtual identities stimulate playfulness and exploration, and that traditional social identities based on categories like gender and race play a lesser role in cyberspace [Turkle, 1995; Bell, 2001]. Critics like Dreyfus [2001] and Borgmann [1999], however, argue that virtual identities promote inauthenticity and the hiding of one's true identity, and lead to a loss of embodied presence, a lack of commitment and a shallow existence. Taking a more neutral stance, Brennan and Pettit [2008] analyze the importance of esteem on the Internet, and argue that people care about their virtual reputations even if they have multiple virtual identities. Matthews [2008], finally, considers the relation between virtual identities and cyborgs, both of which are often supported and denounced for quite similar reasons, namely their subversion of the concept of a fixed human identity.

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VI2: Cyber personalities in adaptive target audiences

Cyber personalities in adaptive target audiences

Miika Sartonen, ... Jussi Timonen, in Emerging Cyber Threats and Cognitive Vulnerabilities, 2020


Target audience analysis (TAA) is an essential part of any influence operation. To convey a change in behaviour, the overall target population is systematically segmented into target audiences (TAs) according to their expected responsiveness to different types of influence and messages, as well as their expected ability to behave in a desired way.

The cyber domain poses a challenge to traditional TAA methods. Firstly, it is vast, complex and boundless, requiring effective algorithms to filter out relevant information within a meaningful timeframe. Secondly, it is constantly changing, representing a meshwork in formation, rather than a stable collection of TAA-specific data. The third challenge is that the TA consists not of people but of digital representations of individuals and groups, whose true identity, characteristics or location cannot usually be verified.

To address these challenges, the authors of this chapter suggest that the concept of TAA has to be revised for use in the cyber domain. Instead of trying to analyze physical people through the cyber interface, the authors have conceptualized an abstract entity whose physical identity might not be known but whose behavioural patterns can be observed in the cyber environment. These cyber personalities (some of which can be artificial in nature) construct and share their honest interpretation of reality, as well as their carefully planned narratives in the digital environment. From the viewpoint of TAA, the only relevant quality of these entities is their potential ability to contribute to the objectives of an influence operation.

As a first step, this chapter examines the cyber domain through a five-layer structure and looks at what TAA-relevant data are available for analysis. The authors also suggest a way of analyzing cyber personalities and their networks within adaptive TAs, to conduct a TAA that more effectively supports influence operations in the cyber domain.

Syntactic layer

The syntactic layer consists of the software that operates the devices of the physical layer (Sartonen et al., 2016). The corresponding cyber personality aspect is a virtual identity: a local user account on a computer or device. In other words, once a cyber personality starts using a new device (computer, mobile phone), a virtual identity has been created in the syntactic layer. A single virtual identity can provide access to multiple network identities, such as e-mail addresses or cloud-based user IDs, and can thus be the means of connecting multiple network identities to a single cyber personality. Linking a physical device, such as a computer on a campus or in a working place, to a virtual identity also provides demographic information about the physical identity of a cyber personality. The browser used by the cyber personality is also a good source of information. It can leave traces of past browsing and other information (such as user agent and operating system) (Wang, Lee, & Lu, 2016).

Again, conversely, supposing we have established a possible connection between the physical as well as the virtual identities of a cyber personality, we can assess the likelihood of the connection being real by comparing the information on both levels. Is the network usage pattern as expected and does it correspond with the physical trajectory? If there are discrepancies, it is possible that the cyber personality is fraudulent, such as an automated social media bot that is not utilizing a browser and is only focussing on application programming interface (Chu, Gianvecchio, Wang, & Jajodia, 2012). Discrepancies can also occur if a cyber personality uses different techniques, such as encryption (Gupta, Gupta, & Singhal, 2014) and TOR network (Haraty & Zantout, 2014), to avoid detection.