Using social media to portray ones’ life as being perfect has become increasingly common and a very simple task for Internet users. Many people use their online identities as an opportunity to display their best self. Then, they turn to the feedback from those who visit their social network profiles as validation of whether their online identities appear interesting to others. In addition to the ability to easily impress others, social media provides users with an outlet to organize the different spheres of their lives and create their online identity accordingly. For example, while using LinkedIn one may execute a more business and conservative identity, whereas on Facebook, one may be more likely to be more free with the way they present themselves.
As mentioned above, different social network accounts may require different types of identities. In an article called “Why Mainstream Social Networks Complicate Our Identities,” the author Jamie Beckland, argues:
“The way we present ourselves to others is constantly shifting based on whom we are talking to, and why. The current social media environment has evolved. It is made up of a number of independent social channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, etc.) that allow users to create and maintain separate and distinct parts of their identity with different social circles.”
Social Media users often times filter the way they present themselves based on the purpose of their account. Depending on whether it is intended for professional use, leisurely use, or promotional purposes, users will change the way that they interact with others and represent themselves.
On personal social media accounts, posting pictures of beautiful vacation spots, flashy jewelry, nights out with friends, dates with your significant other, and delicious food all contribute to a sense of a successful online identity. I’m sure we all know someone who meticulously plans out his or her next post on Instagram, is constantly waiting for something funny to happen to tweet about, or finds it necessary to “check-in” on Facebook to every remotely interesting location they visit- especially the gym. Social media users often publicize these things in an effort to impress those who view their account. They are not doing it simply for themselves, but rather are doing it in the hopes that others will see their online identity as a reflection of their offline selves as well.
However, often times, the persona revealed through online identities is far from the truth. In an article by Shauna Niequist, called “Instagram’s Envy Effect,” the author says,“My life looks better on the Internet than it does in real life. Everyone’s life looks better on the Internet than it does in real life.” Niequist then goes on to say, “The Internet is partial truths—we get to decide what people see and what they don’t.” Users are able to filter what others view of them. They can artfully craft profiles that aim to make others envious of their lifestyle by leaving out the gritty details. By maintaining an impressive online identity, social media users are able to mold the reputation that they desire more precisely than they often can in everyday life. By highlighting posts that they find most valuable and interesting, users often times find that their online identity is much more exciting than their true identity.
When using business-oriented social media sites, such as LinkedIn, one is likely to keep their online identity strictly appropriate. They decorate their profile with accomplishments, previous internships and jobs, skills, and any other impressive information that may attract employers to their page. They keep any unprofessional pictures far away from their account. Much like on the personal social media sites mentioned above, users are molding their online identity in hopes that those viewing their profiles will believe that it accurately mirrors their real life identity.
Social media users often aim to conceal the not-so-glamorous times in their lives from their followers. They may post a picture with extravagant makeup on to their Facebook account, but leave out the details on how long it took to apply the makeup. They may post pictures of lavish vacations on Instagram, but leave out the amount of hours they had to work to afford such a luxury. They may list their internship experience on LinkedIn, but leave out the fact that the majority of their daily duties included getting coffee and making copies. These types of details are left out in an effort to hide the boring and unpleasant details of their lives.
As a way to measure whether they are creating a successful online identity, users turn to social media queues as a source of validation. Ben Parr provided a metaphor to describe the need that social media users have for validation through social media. He claims, “Validation is the crack, Internet is the crack pipe and Facebook & Twitter are the dealers. Yes, I just compared Facebook and Twitter to drug dealers” (“Likes, Retweets, Comments & the Rise of the Validation Society”). Social media users have become so obsessed with perfecting their online identity that they turn to responses to their posts as a way to gauge whether their online identity is making a good impression on those who view their networks. Abundant and positive feedback is what makes their obsession of keeping their online identity noteworthy, worth the work that they put into maintaining it.
Social media has become an outlet for people to display the best parts of their lives. Many people carefully manage their online identities in an effort to control the way that others view their reality. Through the various social media channels, users are able to cater to the different spheres of their lives and specifically target their audiences to create a particular reputation and impression upon others.