Social media, performance, identity and resistance to it

Some may assume that social media and identity construction work hand in hand, but it is becoming more apparent that the platform itself and audience play a larger role in how and what we choose to share of ourselves. To fully express ourselves and how we shape our online self-presentation and identity tends to be dictated by the medium which we choose. Last class’ lecture dove into the creation of one’s ‘self’ through online platforms, whether it is a ‘performed sense of self’ or balancing multiple identities on various platforms. It was also noted how the creation of an online persona can be somewhat necessary to then be able to fully participate in social media. In order to then critically engage how social media affects our identity, it is important to then ask: how do we alter our real offline identities for our audiences through various social media platforms?

Social media has taken so many forms that it truly is difficult to provide a simple definition of what it all entails. Over the years, especially within the last decade, social media has transformed and evolved into an all-encompassing arena that infringes onto various aspects of our day to day lives. For example, social media has grown to play an increasingly relevant role within most personal lives as well as businesses. Platforms under the umbrella of social media have provided a space where society has the ability to outwardly expresses themselves to an audience. When analysing the critical implications of our behaviour, we often forget to consider the way in which we are participating within the realm of social media and what sorts of things shape and affect our behaviour online. In particular, the compulsory aspect of participating in social media itself requires the creation of an ‘identity’. According to Uğur Gündüz, “social communication platforms or social networks allow people to share their photographs and events with friends and to follow profiles and events of their friends by creating a digital identity” (Gunduz, 2017). Gunduz’s linkage of content creation and the formation of a digital identity is explored further and justified through multiple studies and authors. For example, findings show that through various posts and continuous communication social media requires for one to stay active which facilitates ‘identity construction’ (Kavakci et. al, 2016). An absolutely essential facet of content creation and identity construction is the physical image (otherwise known as a ‘selfie’) one posts of themselves online and essentially gives a face to a username. The use of a selfie or any sort of indication of one’s physical self behind the computer screen has become imperative in identity construction. We then insert this self-portrait into diversified settings to create a narrative for our audience. Furthermore, it seems that the creation of an online personality is absolutely necessary when it comes to communication and fully reaping the benefits social media has to offer.

            The notion of constructing an identity through one’s social media profile is a fairly new phenomenon and has more recently started to become such a necessary component that it renders the question of whether or not what we see displayed online is actually an accurate representation of an individual’s offline identity. Myself, being an avid Instagram user from 2012, I have noticed the stark contrast of what the social media platform used to be, regarding content creation, versus what it is today. Instagram users have rapidly begun to generate and curate content that is excessively edited illustrating an idealistic version of oneself and overall self-presentation. Self-presentation is defined as altering our outward appearance or behaviour in order to gain control over the impression our audience has of us (Chae, 2017). Selective self-presentation within digital platforms is especially prevalent amongst photos which are  very carefully selected as well as edited before shared with an audience. A study conducted on teenage girls in Singapore regarding self-presentation on their social mediaprofiles, found that they edited their selfies in order to meet their peer norms that would ultimately lead to popularity in the form of likes, comments or a higher follower count (Chae, 2017). A culture of revising our own identities online has become so prominent due to the positive feedback loop Instagram necessitates, the generation of a fake Instagram, or otherwise known as a ‘finsta’ has become a resulting factor. A ‘finsta’ stands for ‘fake Instagram’ and functions as an individual’s secondary Instagram account. Finstas provide a more unfiltered and real experience, ranging from a variety of content for typically a smaller private audience (Bryan, 2018). The pressures of a revised and perfect account has surprisingly not resulted in people removing themselves from Instagram, but instead creating another account where they can outwardly display themselves creatively without any discrimination or judgement from a larger audience. We must ask ourselves where should we draw the line on what is an accurate depiction of our true selves and not just what our audience would be fascinated to see?  

            Digital and virtual spaces enable the process of construction of an identity and persona. The creation of an identity has become the only way in which we are able to fully utilise and participate within the world of communication and presenting ourselves to a wider audience on social media. Our identity tells our ‘story’ online. Furthermore, the presentation of how oneself chooses to portray themselves is unfortunately dictated by social pressures and what is around us. We compare the images we choose to share and overall the content we curate with peers. This action causes us to then suppress our true selves and create identities that only different sets of audiences would be pleased to see. Social media has come a long way from a decade ago, yet it is less about creative self-expression, and now more about how others will perceive us, and more importantly how they will set us apart from the rest of the millions of identities online.  

WORKS CITED

GÜNDÜZ, Uğur. The Effect of Social Media on Identity Construction. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, [S.l.], vol. 8, no. 5, Sep. 2017, pp. 85, ISSN 2039-2117. Available at: <https://www.mcser.org/journal/index.php/mjss/article/view/10062>. Date accessed: 10 Feb. 2020.

 Kavakci, Elif, and Camille R. Kraeplin. “Religious Beings in Fashionable Bodies: The Online Identity Construction of Hijabi Social Media Personalities.” Media, Culture & Society, vol. 39, no. 6, Sept. 2017, pp. 850–868, doi:10.1177/0163443716679031.

Chae, Jiyoung. (2017). Virtual makeover: Selfie-taking and social media use increase selfie-editing frequency through social comparison. Computers in Human Behavior. 66. pp. 370-376. 10.1016/j.chb.2016.10.007.

Bryan, C. (2018). The case for having a ‘finsta; as an adult. [online] Mashable. Available at: https://mashable.com/article/should-i-make-a-finsta-instagram/ [Accessed 10 Feb. 2020].

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