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Social Media: a Performance and Quest for affirmation

Shaping our own identity:

We utilize many items and tools to establish our identity. Cultural historian, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, claims, “Without external props, even our personal identity fades and goes out of focus; the self is a fragile construction of the mind.” Without the reaffirming external props, one’s identity is all in the mind or conscience. This is alarming to many because their identity relies upon something intangible. There is no physical evidence or proof and instead relies upon the construction of our self in our mind. Many minds are fickle and easy to change and the idea of having a fickle and constantly changing identity is perturbing to many. Czikszentmihalyi continues, “Our addiction to materialism is in large part due to a paradoxical need to transform the precariousness of consciousness into the solidity of things.” We use objects to secure and establish our identities. Thus, people surround themselves with these objects through customizing their spaces and personal areas. Through research, social psychologist, Sam Gosling, found that, “it is possible to scan the objects in someone’s personal space to make indirect inferences about certain personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.” Inference about ones personality can be made because, as Csikszentmihalyi believes, the objects, with which we surround ourselves and fill our personal spaces, play “a vital role in how we construct our sense of self.” People utilize the items in their home as indicators of their identity and personality.


ImageIn addition to our rooms and personal spaces, we also use social media to construct our identities. This is especially evident through our Facebook profiles. Now along with external objects, we customize our spaces through our Facebook activity. Our profiles broadcast our interests in TV shows, music, movies, books, sports, and more. We determine which photos we appear in and express our opinions through our likes, posts, and shared links. Furthermore, with Twitter and Instagram, we choose which thoughts, events, and snapshots of our lives that we allow our followers to view.



Social media is a performance of shaping and validating our identity, for ourselves and for everyone else. In his book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman believes that, “we perform for ourselves just as much as we perform for others. Individuals perform even when there is no audience because it affirms our sense of identity.” This act of performance is especially evident through Facebook. As blogger, Nel states, “[F]acebook is as much a performance for ourselves as it is for others. The friend counter on our profiles not only shows other people how cool and popular we are, it is affirmation for ourselves that we have friends. A study from the journal, Media Psychology, has shown that people receive a significant self-esteem boost when looking at their own Facebook profile compared to looking at the profile of a stranger. This study supports the idea that Facebook is a performance and that we are its intended audience just as much as our friends and internet creepers.” Our activity and profiles on Facebook are used to define our identity and project the certain image of ourselves that we want to convey. As Jennifer Ouellette says, most social media are, “tool[s] we use for self-verification: We want to be known and understood by others in keeping with how we feel about ourselves.”



Lindsay Abrams, producer for The Atlantic’s Health Channel, notes that social media has allowed people to, “present a highly specific, carefully curated version of themselves to the world.” Facebook allows us to select and filter what we share with others. Because social media platforms are so customizable, we feel the need to control and obsess over shaping our projected image. This obsession is frequently found in those who suffer from narcissism and/or low self-esteem.

Elias Aboujaoude, researcher at Illinois University, states, “As we get accustomed to having even our most minor needs met [and] accommodated to this degree, we are growing more needy and more entitled. In other words, more narcissistic.” The instant gratification, which we receive from social media has an effect on us and makes us more self-absorbed.


Moreover, many who are self-obsessed continually update and check their pages for affirmation and activity found through likes, retweets, and favorites. They allot a large amount of the time to affirming themselves. Studies show, that on average, people in the US spend 16 minutes per hour on social media. As social psychologist, Dr. Susan Newman, Ph.D., says, “The more ‘likes,’ ‘retweets,’ etcetera, that some people receive gives them a feeling of importance. They represent a form of reassurance that they are recognized by a large number of ‘friends’ in spite of the fact that they may not really know most of them.” Social media can boost one’s self esteem and confidence by reminding individuals that there are people who affirm their life and identity.


Disconnect between online and real life:

Facebook and other forms of social media are a performance and allow us to project a certain image to the world. They are a performance. Our Facebook identity and our real life identity are two different things. While there is overlap between our Facebook identity and real life, one is completely fabricated by the user.


Yet, Goffman explains, people “sincerely believe that the definition of the situation they habitually project is the real reality.” Our performances are not only for our audience or friends on social media. They are a way of establishing the identity that we wish to have. And although we fabricate our own profiles and meticulously select what others want to see of us, many people do not acknowledge the extreme filtering which goes into many social media profiles. They believe they are portraying the true image of themselves, despite the drastic selection process.



Very negative effects:

People should be aware of the implications of social media and its call for affirmation and establishing identity. There are tons of users on social media websites, the numbers are rapidly growing and increasing. ImageNot only is it primarily the youth using social media, but plenty of adults. With more and more people joining these social media sites, people should also be wary of some of the many negative effects of social media and our obsession with crafting our identity.


Our fixation on shaping our online identity has become overwhelming. Our obsession with posting everything and updating everything takes away from experiences which previously did not involve heavy mobile phone use and media updates. Concerts, parties, sporting events, any sort of public event are now flooded with mobile phones and flashing cameras. We are focused on capturing images and videos of the event for our profiles and our followers to view, rather than appreciating the present and living in the current moment.


Additionally, when the constant cry for affirmation is not met via social media, people’s neglect is even stronger. Those who do not feel affirmation from friends and family on their social media websites can become insecure. This lack of affirmation can build up over time and people can feel as though they do not matter, because people are not constantly reminding them that they are. If individuals like these become desperate enough, they will turn to violence (the ultimate act of creating identity) to draw attention to themselves and confirm their existence. With the continual rise of social media, people are constantly reminded of their affirmation/support or lack of it. We should be attentive for those who do not have these needs met, because they are more likely to turn to violence.



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