Will the Real Online Identity Please Stand Up?

Online identity differs from “in person” identity in the sense that people can show you what they want you to see online. Social media users have the option to post the best versions of themselves, which isn’t always possible in everyday life.  I mean typically, no one posts photos of when they have a booger hanging out of their nose or when they’re having a bad hair day. You don’t see people bragging on social media about how they wet the bed last night or that they secretly love Justin Bieber. It’s all about showcasing the best photos, the best statuses, and the best interests.

People online even have the option to select who sees those posts and who doesn’t, creating different identities for different audiences. For example, I know so many people who have more than one Facebook, creating a more cleaned up or professional looking Facebook for work or strictly for family. Those profiles tend to leave out the swearing and drunk pictures from the night before. That’s saved for their Facebook meant for friends.

Identity online is created for an audience, and that audience varies from place to place, just like with my differing Facebook example from the paragraph above. That is why there is so much variation in the way one chooses to represent themselves online.

Another aspect of varying identities online is about following the community norms. As in “real life,” the variations in the differing cultures of social media create variations in what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are unacceptable:

 “The desire to be cool on MySpace is part of the more general desire to be validated by one’s peers. For example, it’s cool to have Friends on MySpace but if you have too many Friends, you are seen as a MySpace whore. These markers of cool are rooted in the social culture of MySpace.” (Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life by Boyd)

While MySpace isn’t used much anymore, the idea of norms and unwritten of rules of social media remain the same. For example, it’s okay to post to Twitter five times or more in under an hour, but to do so on Facebook is seen as excessive and annoying.

Some questions for discussion:

 With this variation of identity from environment to environment, do you think anyone is ever fully themselves on social media sites? Do you think people are more themselves in person or online?

 What kind of norms and unwritten rules of social media do you see?

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26 thoughts on “Will the Real Online Identity Please Stand Up?

  1. I can’t say that everyone is always themselves on social media, but I’m sure some people fabricate themselves to seem “cooler” or for whatever reason they may have. People probably have friends on Facebook that they don’t really feel comfortable posting certain photos or views, like you mentioned, so they hold back on certain topics. I would think that people are more themselves in person because they probably feel more secure when talking to people face to face as opposed to online. I know I always double check and re-read what I post before I actually post it. As for the norms of social media, it’s pretty common that a lot of teenagers feel weird about adding their family members on Facebook. And if teenager’s parents post embarrassing photos or other information about them, then the first thing they try to do is get them to delete that.

    • That’s one thing that’s nice about being online, you can always think before you post. (Although it’s pretty obvious that not everyone does that!) You have more of a chance to limit your mistakes and edit yourself, where you don’t get that opportunity much in person.

  2. I don’t think that anyone is actually themselves on Social Media. Even though people might disagree with me the fact of the matter is that when we tweet or post a post on Facebook we are not doing it for ourselves, we are doing it for an audience. We want the people following us to think that we’re the bee’s knees. In a sense we are all performers and our followers are our crowds. People (even though it may not seem like it) are very strategic with what they post online because it’s an image they want to build around themselves and they portray how they want to be accepted in the world. People, when put on the spot in person are more themselves, having an online conversation with someone and having a face to face one are completely different experiences. And as for unwritten rules of social media, I don’t have a Facebook and I’m new to twitter but on Instagram if you post too many pictures in a day or at once then people see that as a violation (it’s really just annoying)

  3. To start off, I don’t think that anyone is ever who they say they are on social media sites. Everyone always tries to make themselves look as perfect as can be to impress others that they know or don’t know. People always act more themselves in person. Online you are pretty much talking to a computer screen, not to a person looking into their eyes. A lot of people find it hard to communicate face to face with someone so they prefer online because they think it is easier to get their message or feelings across. I don’t necessarily think this is a great idea, but this is what technology has come to.

    Norms and unwritten rules of social media that I see is that people always like to have attention. On facebook, or instagram, people like comments or likes on pictures. It’s not something you have to do, but it’s something people would like to see more and more of as they get more friends or followers.

  4. I don’t think people are fully themselves on social media sites, like you said people try to put the best image of themselves on their social media sites. People are definitely more themselves in person. When you are communicating with someone face to face you know it’s them actually talking whereas on a social network it could be their best friend or their sibling, you never can really guarantee who you are talking to through social media sites. Also, in person you can’t pretend to be someone that you’re not, meaning people see you for what you really are. On social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram people can photoshop their pictures and post photos that look nothing like them in real life.

    The kind of norms and unwritten rules of social media that I see are if someone posts too many pictures on Instagram in a day they become annoying and will probably lose followers. Some people care too much about how many likes/comments they get. If someone posts a status on Facebook that’s paragraphs long, people wonder why. I think some people post too much of their personal lives on social media and they just don’t realize it. I also think everyone has a different idea of what kind of “norms” they see on social media sites.

    • People do always share their best photos and whatnot for social media sites. But people do some of the same things in person if you think about it. People will dress their best, and put their best talents forward for a job interview, for example. People are always changing for the environment they’re in.

  5. I do believe that some people are, but for the majority, no. Every always has something to hide, or something they don’t want anyone to know about them. Social Media is a popularity contest like you stated the best statuses, pictures, etc. People will post things they know will get attention for lots of likes or comments, doesn’t mean they like it themselves or are interested in what they posted. People are definitely more themselves in person. It’s easier to hide who you really are online in my opinion.
    One rule I know for instagram that I have heard of is that for “throw back Thursdays”, the picture must be at least five years old. This is an unwritten rule I recently learned about. and like someone stated above, if you post too much people are more likely to unfollow you or unfriend you. I know I have done this to people before.

  6. I don’t think that people are ever themselves online, sometimes not even in person. Clearly, people want to display themselves online in a good or “popular” manner. You are completely right! People aren’t going to show what is embarrassing or uncool to others. I mean because why would you put yourself through that. So to me the answer is very clear! Make yourself seem as cool as possible online. People are also more daring online or through text. They often do/say things that they never would in person. People will always be themselves more so in person. It’s harder to control embarrassing things or look as perfect as one might make themselves look. It is so crazy to think that people have two accounts on Facebook! It’s a great point that you brought that up. As for unwritten rules on social networks I can’t really comment because I do not participate. I guess with twitter I would have to say that one shouldn’t tweet too many times a day because others will get annoyed. I would also have to say that if you tweet at someone they generally reply out of common courtesy.

  7. I think the way people behave online can be the way they behave in person as well. It really depends on the type of person they are. Additionally, people can behave different online than they do in person or vise versa. Personally, I don’t behave differently anyway, but some people do because the internet may be a better way for a person to communicate to others because they may be shy. Some may become a “Facebook celebrity” because they enjoy the attention. So all in all, I think that a person’s behavior on the internet and in person depends on thier personality as well as social trends and friends. For example, your friends may all start posting pictures of them at parties or wearing certain clothes and that may influence you to do the same.
    Some unwriitten rules I have noticed are that you aren’t supposed to use hashtags on Facebook because they are meant for Twitter and “#teamfollowback” on Twitter, meaning if a person folllows you you have to follow that person back.

  8. We all wear “masks”, for lack of a better word, in our everyday lives regardless if that is on a social media website or in person. In psychology they teach you that every person has multiple sides of self-awareness. On one hand a person tries to project themselves in a way that they want people to see them which usually involves hiding the bad and revealing the good. These sort of projections are evident in the way people use Facebook to show only the side of themselves they wish people to see. The fact that people do this means that you never really get the full story on Facebook or Myspace; only part of it. On the other hand you have the way people actually see you which is probably not exactly the same way the individual wishes to be seen. You also have the “true side” of yourself that nobody ever truly understands or sees. One could make the argument that even in person people are still conscious about how they are projecting themselves and they act accordingly. With that being said it is really hard to say for sure whether people are more themselves online or in person. I think the easy answer is that people are more themselves in person but perhaps this is due to the fact they are not hiding behind a keyboard. Since I don’t use social media as often as most people do I am not as accustomed to the norms and unwritten rules. It seems to me however, that an unwritten rule is to not put anything on Facebook that shows your flaws. Nobody likes to listen to a negative person and Facebook seems to be a fantasy land of people with perfect lives when in reality that is far from the truth.

    • I was about to say something similar to this! We all change our demeanor, appearance, personality, etc for the environment we’re in even in person. For example, people would act and dress differently at a job interview than they would for a party or a concert. It’s all about audience and the norms of the environment.

  9. I think majority of people using social media are fully themselves. They look at it as an opportunity to showcase the good things in their life and to hide their flaws. This is where things such as Facebook depression come into place because people think that others have the best life. People are more themselves in person because they are not able to hide as much. You can quickly delete a bad photo of you on Facebook, but you can’t delete your ‘look’ when your out in public. However, with all this there are people who hide things in public and turn to social media to broadcast their feelings. The people that do this are usually talking to people they don’t know in real life. I think this would be more common on Twitter than on Facebook.

  10. People are always going to be only showing a portion of themselves even in public. Im sure there are things that all of us do by ourselves that you wouldnt want others knowing. But as far as a social media persona, you’re not even going to get 30% of the picture i would say. Because like you said, people can limit viewers, have multiple profiles, and not post everything that happens. As far as the norms and rules are concerned, it depends on what sites you use. There are some where just about anything goes such as areas of 4Chan. But there aren’t very many rules i would say, its all about what youre willing to post and make public.

  11. Interesting post. Given that people have the ability to curate their online persona, it is perfectly understandable that they maintain multiple online identities, as they maintain those same type of dichotomous identities in the physical world. For example, people present themselves differently in professional vs. personal settings. In fact they have even greater “segmentation” in each of these categories. For instance, people act and behave very differently with their parents vs. their siblings. They are more reserved around the boss and less reserved with colleagues. They are more comfortable with close friends than with strangers. These differentiated behaviors are analogous to multiple online personas. I believe these actions are in response to and recognition of differing expectations and cultural norms of each group and they people who curate multiple online accounts are sensitive to these norms and are ensuring they connect uniquely, fully and in the most appropriate manner. These people could be considered adoptive, multi channel communicators that can effectively conform to the norms of each group to obtain optimal connectivity.

  12. Regarding your first blog question about faking your identity in social media sites….yes, sometimes people try to impress the public by creating false or marketable versions of themselves in an effort to be cool or to fit in with a specific group of people. (True, no one wants to post ugly pictures of himself or herself.)

    Even if a person created different social media personalities, sooner or later, the identity of that person would be accidently revealed if one of their personal friendships decided to “expose” him or her. Unfortunately, this means that we don’t always control all the pictures of ourselves that are being posted; we may not even know the people who are posting those “unauthorized” pictures. (For example, a friend, family member or a person that is stalking us (http://jerseychaser.com/ewww-wisconsin-coach-caught-digging-for-gold-and-eating-it-during-2012-rose-bowl/).)

    What is the point of hiding information if it is being posted in (public) social media sites? When I am in class, at work, at home, or in public, I don’t fake my personality. I act normal even when I have to post a comment or give my personal opinion. I also have and use two different email accounts, one for school and one personal. However, I did not create the email accounts with the intention of hiding information; instead, I created them because I need both.

    Since I don’t use social media sites outside of class, the only unwritten rules I see is not to use insulting language or capitalize words as that could look like you are yelling.

  13. I do think someone can be completely themselves online. It is just a matter of comfort that individual has within themselves. I know some people who are completely transparent in Internet forums. This is definitely possible. Certain people find the most comfort in cyberspace rather than in person. Their blog, twitter or Facebook account is the best way for them to express themselves. If the person is more of themselves online then they generally may be more reserved in person and vice versa if they are more comfortable in person.

    And the online community does have a set of unwritten rules and norms. But with younger users most of them revolve around looking “cool” or following a certain standard of the Internet in crowd. People are judged for posting too much, or too little. Or maybe even being too personal, rude or friendly with social networks.

  14. As humans, we have always had the ability to adapt, hence one of the reasons we’ve evolved. I see a correlation in the ability to create different identities for any environment and our ability to evolve. As a child when you begin to interact with people (outside of your family) we begin to see different variations of our identities. For example, a seven-year-old boy may not cry around his seven year old buddies, but in front of his mother, he’s a virtual water work. These adaptations of various identities we create continue throughout our lives. As teens and young adults the way we act around our close friends and family is different than the way we act around teachers or authority figures and as adults our identities vary even more based on our environment, who we are at work, is different who were are with friends and so on and so on. So these variations of one’s identity are all collectively who we are.

  15. Identity can vary wildly from environment to environment. A person is only truly themselves when they are alone. Possibly with their closest friend. What people might think of things we do or say is always in the back of our minds. This is even more escalated when it comes to social media. People changes how they word a status or rather or not they should post a picture based on what they think what people would think. Anyone who says that they do not do this is lying, you constantly moderate the content of these pages for their audience that will view it. Even if it is not a conscious effort.
    I generally do not upload pictures of myself that could be taken as irresponsible, or misconstrued. I am not concerned about my friends or family but more about the people that I work with. I also do not post every day I think it is annoying when people post their schedule on Facebook. No one cares to hear everything that you need to do in the day.

  16. I’d have to say that it really varies from person to person. Not everyone who has a Facebook uses it in the same way. There are also some things that you can never found out about a person based on their Facebook alone. What people choose to reveal however, usually isn’t their bad side. They want to look attractive, and cool. I think that nobody is ever truly themselves on Facebook in particular. The window that lets others see what they really are only allows people to see what they chose. People are definitely more themselves in person. Whether intentional or not, you can find out way more about a person when you are actually with them.

  17. I love that you brought up the whole idea of posting so many status’ on Facebook in a certain amount of time. I’ve never understood why there is such a double standard for it when you post on Twitter and you post on Facebook.
    On Twitter, if you post every once in a while, maybe like every few days, you’re basically considered inactive. However, if you post every minute, nobody cares and nobody goes “she tweets so much, it’s so annoying!” On the other hand, it is the exact opposite on Facebook. I know what it’s like to sit there and unfriend people, or block their posts because they post random, basic stuff every few minutes. It’s very annoying and I’ve said to myself, why don’t they just go over to Twitter? The thing is, why is it annoying on Facebook and not on Twitter? This is a question I’m still trying to figure out.
    To be honest, I think people just do it for attention, especially when they’re posting their daily schedules on Facebook. Nobody needs to know when and where you’re going at every point of the day. I’ve even come across instances where people literally post stuff like “Going to get ripped at the gym!” with a picture of them in their gym clothes and then they don’t even go out to the gym. (The person was quite embarrassed when I pointed this out.)
    Social media has become a popularity contest. People basically go on there and post things so that they can get more likes or comments than another person. It’s all for attention, because in reality, do we really need to know that you’re going to spend the rest of your night working on homework? Not in the slightest.

  18. No way people are completely themselves on social media sites. People definitely use them to their advantage, crafting a particular image of themselves. I suppose in some aspects this is not a bad thing, but creating a false image of yourself is for the most part a lie to the people you wish to “friend”. I think it’s interesting you bring up the facebook posts versus the tweets. A person who posts to facebook many times over a short period gets rather annoying. I believe this has to do with the intent of facebook. It’s made to get you connected with friends, so you can see what’s up with an old room mate or something. Twitter however is made so you can catch a quick update on what your “friends” may be doing, hence the limited characters per tweet.

  19. I think that for the most part people themselves. But there are those that are featured on MTV’s ‘Catfish’. A show that tells the story of people who fall in love on social media sites and when they finally meet the person is not who they portrayed themselves to be online. Some people feel it necessary to present a different reality for those that they do not see normally. This is for several reasons one main reason is because of our competitive nature. For example, when you reconnect with friends from high school on Facebook, you want them to think that your life is great, you only make certain pictures and statuses available to them and you only meet in person when you can live up to your Facebook persona. Another reason is if someone is shy, this a way for them to be whoever they want(dont agree with that it but it happens). But when your face to face with someone its harder to deceive them, especially if they are looking you in the eyes. You cant delete the comment, unlike your like or just go offline.

  20. I don’t think anyone is fully themselves at all times on social media sites. Their personality will show through, but there is always a front. We are always presenting ourselves any time we post on a social media sight. However we also are presenting in person in almost every social situation, outside of interactions with an intimate friend or family group. It is far easier to present or act in an internet setting. You have time to formulate and reflect on how what you post will be perceived by others. You don’t always have time to do this in person (unless you’re a really good actor). So I think that people are generally more “themselves” in person, due to the mere fact that they’re unable to completely falsify themselves on the spot.

    As far as norms go, I believe they are still unsettled. Many people are still finding a comfort zone on what they are comfortable with reading and posting on a social media site. However, I think a very prominent norm is getting caught presenting yourself. No one likes when another person brags, embellishes a story, or post something just to get attention (even though everyone does it!). This is irony of social media sites.

  21. This blog brings up a bunch of great points. I definitely believe that social media allows us to get only a small glimpse into who a person truly is. Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, most social media users are definitely crafting a perfected and ideal version of themselves through what they select to post. Although online content affects the perception we have of each other, ultimately face to face communication leaves little room to hide. You’re much more likely to get a better understanding of who someone is from spending actual time with them rather than chatting online.

    Ultimately I dont think anyone is every truly themselves online. There’s always a small part of us that knows the audience who will be seeing our profiles and like you said we cater to those audiences.

  22. I definitely feel that people are more themselves in person than they are online.

    No matter how much they think it’s not true, people on the internet put out the version of themselves that they want to portray. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing this, in fact I prefer it to people who are too brutally honest on the internet — no one wants to hear your sob story.

    I think that it also has to be said that the internet persona can branch out farther than the actual internet. People pick and choose to show certain parts of their personalities to certain people, depending on how close they are.

    I see many norms unwritten rules of social media: Never like your own status, you can’t leave something unacknowledged i.e- “favorites on Twitter,” Pokes on Facebook mean they’d like to fool around… the list goes on and on.

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