Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have the power to drastically alter the ways in which people see themselves in terms of communal identity, the chief scientist for the government, Professor Sir John Beddington, claims.

Writing in a new report, entitled ‘Future Identities’, the Professor argues that social media can help generate temporary – but powerful – allegiances among otherwise socially unconnected individuals and sub-groups.

Some of these new communal identities can be positive, he argues, but some can have negative consequences.

The Professor claimed that an example of a positive new sense of community identity emerging from social media connectivity is that which came about during last year’s major sporting events. The Professor says that during the summer, social media helped nurture new shared feelings of national solidarity.

On the other hand, an instance where social media contributed to more negative communal associations occurred, he says, during the rioting and looting in summer 2011.

The Professor points out that this new temporary bonding between different groups and individuals has been further encouraged by the growth in smartphone take-up, and what he terms ‘hyper-connectivity’ – an almost constant hook up to the internet.

These new temporary communal bonds are likely to be a growing feature of our society in the course of the next decade, the Professor argues – leading, he says, to a major shift away from more traditional determinants of identity such as career or ethnicity.

The Professor also referred to the importance of online fantasy gaming as further helping individuals explore the true nature of their identity.