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?