The famous quote “all the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (Shakespeare et al., 2004 pp.165) from William Shakespeare’s as you like it comes to mind when thinking about the different identities that we create for ourselves online. Granted, back then it was meant to be a metaphor of the different roles that we as individuals play in society throughout our lives, I think it is also very relevant to our online presence and how we strategically engage across different social media sites. In order to truly understand why we construct different online identities we must acknowledge the fact that “a poststructuralist conception of identity involves rejecting the notion of a singular ‘true’ self and acknowledge that there are multiple ‘selves’”(Chalkley et al., 2012, pp. 168).
The first time I actually thought about online identity and how we portray ourselves online was about 4 months ago. It wasn’t some incredible epiphany that I had, but rather it was a conversation I had with one of my best friends about the way she uses the social media site, Snapchat. I was using her phone (my phone was out of battery) to film our other friends having a hilariously heated discussion about the merits of Leonardo DiCaprio, and just when I was about to post the video onto her Snapchat story she stopped me and said “that’s not the type of stuff that I post on my story”. This statement was very interesting to me because it demonstrated how we as individuals create different versions of ourselves online, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are creating a false image of ourselves, instead I think It just mean that we as users have become increasingly aware of how we use media and as a result we have now created specific rules for ourselves as to what we post online and what image it sends out to the rest of the world.
Online identity is a subject that many people are dealing with nowadays. The increasing number of social media sites that are emerging on the internet today means that we are finding more and more ways to present ourselves online. I believe the different personas that we present online are a direct result of the social media site itself and its features. For instance when I look the different identities that I have constructed for myself across all the social media platforms that I have signed up for, this pattern is very evident.
My online presence has grown a substantial amount over the years. Everyday I scroll and post on different social media sites, the fact that all these sites are now available as apps on my phone enables me to essentially have the digital world at my fingertips. It is interesting to see how I manage to conduct myself differently through each site and post and interact accordingly.
Infogram made using Piktochart showcasing the digital footprints I have created over the years through various social media sites.
When I think about my own online identity and how it varies across different social media sites, there are two key factors that come into play. One such factor I believe is age, as I have grown older the way in which I use social media has also matured with it. For example, Recently, It became clear to me that my Facebook profile was severely outdated, I was becoming increasingly annoyed by my newsfeed- the posts that I was seeing were really not appealing to me. Eventually I realised that this was because I had outgrown the pages and groups that I had ‘liked’ and as a result I wasn’t interested in what they were posting. This prompted me to go on an ‘un-liking’ spree and the end result was a completely different and updated newsfeed which gave me a much more enjoyable experience on the site. As a result of this it can be said that the way in which our social media actually evolves over time makes us more self-aware and “becomes a function of adulthood” (Fleur, 2014, pp.109). In this way it is evident that over time the way in which I use social media has changed and will continue to do so.
clicking the ‘unlike’ button for pages I was no longer interested in following gave me a better overall experience of the site.
Another factor that has an effect on how I portray myself online is communication. I think this is a factor that affects a lot of people as “lives presented are often interactive; they are co-constructed; they are linked to others- family, friends, employers, causes and affiliations” (Smith & Watson, 2014, pp. 71). As a result of this, having multiple versions of yourself online can actually be justified in that an individual needs to adjust their personality accordingly depending on the groups of people that they are targeting.
Take for example my use of the micro blogging site Twitter. Even though I had actually created my Twitter profile as far back as 2009, it wasn’t until I started my media and communication degree at Deakin last year that I actually started to use it actively. My units required me to post on the site and in doing so I was better able to engage and communicate with both my peers and lecturers. It is the same for other more professional sites such as LinkedIn. You conduct yourself in a more professional manner as a result of the nature of the site and your own expectations of it. The concept of different social media sites having specific requirements of its users is called affordance and as a result of this these sites “direct us to act in certain ways and even be a certain type of person” (Poletti & Rack, 2014, pp. 5)
links to tweets that I have made since starting my degree.
In comparison, my use of more relaxed social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are more casual and social in nature. These social media sites are key in my being able to maintain a connection with my friends and family back in Sri Lanka while I complete my degree here in Australia. Here I find that I share my more social activities such as pictures of my vacations or outings with friends and family, and I do so because I believe that this is the aspect of my life that my followers and friends would be more interested in seeing. Posting my resume or thoughts about various academic content would not be interesting to my friends nor will it help me advance in my career. Therefore, as a result of this, I have without really being aware of it, adjusted my online identity accordingly.
A screenshot of my Instagram profile which I use to showcase what I believe is a more casual, adventurous side of myself.
A snapchat that I sent out during the semester break while i was in Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka.
Ultimately at the end of the day, whether we are aware of it or not, out online identities are ones that we have strategically constructed according to the characteristics of different social media sites and who we are engaging with as a result. As for the future of my online presence, I think that now as a result of me being more aware of how I present myself online it will enable me to more effectively create my online persona and build up my portfolio as I go on.
(1080 words not including citations and captions)
Chalkley, T, Brown, A, Cinque, T, Warren, B, Hobbs, M & Finn, M 2012, Communication, new media and everyday life, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Vic.
Gabriel, F 2014, ‘Sexting, selfies and self-harm: young people, social media and the performance of self-development’, Media International Australia, no. 151, pp. 104-12
Poletti, A and Rak, J 2014, ‘Introduction: Digital Dialogues’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 3-11
Shakespeare, William, Marshall Cynthia, Hankie, Julie 2004, As You Like It, Cambridge University Press, New York
Smith, S and Watson, J 2014, ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online SelfPresentation’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 70-95
My broader online activity and engagement
In the 6 weeks since i have started this unit I have made a conscious effort to strengthen my level of online engagement. I have done so by increasing my level of activity on Twitter (and have also written a blog post about effective twitter use) and created an About.me profile for myself as well, which also provides links to the other social media sites that I am active on. Although I have had a LinkedIn profile for sometime now, I have spent some extra time updating my profile by adding more information such as links to previous articles that i have written for magazines as a freelance writer.