The word “identity” holds many definitions. It can refer to the identities that I was born with, such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, eye color, and my overall appearance. I can also refer to the parts of my identity that are more open to change or that others help to shape, such as talents, hobbies, memories and experiences, dreams, goals, and the communities I am a part of in both real-life and virtual life. For the purpose of this paper, I am going to focus on my online identity, or my virtual self. I would define my online self as witty, pretty, educated, informative, supportive, and child-like. Similar terms could describe my real-life self as well, but with a few factors that I keep separated from my virtual self. Selective self-projection, or the ability to choose how an individual presents themselves, can be seen in one of two ways: a benefit, or a deception.
There are differences between my online self and “real” self: my online self can control what physical characteristics people see by choosing, and sometimes altering, what photos I share on social media platforms. I can also control my online identity by governing what I want to share via posts and updates. In some instances, I share certain things on Facebook, and other things on Twitter, because my audiences are different for both social media sites and I can present myself differently. However, I do not put everything I am thinking or feeling online for various reasons.
I am careful about what and where I share information as I do not want other people’s input, unless I specifically take my thoughts to them and ask for it. Additionally, a comment or thought may appear to be mean or rude, and I do not want people to think that of me, and so I use social media how I need to, in order to fulfill certain needs. Papacharissi (2008) points out that “interpersonal and mediated communication motives… [as] media frequently are employed to fulfill both mediated and interpersonal needs” (p. 140) and that “individuals select media and content to fulfill felt needs or wants,” or more simply stated, “individuals use media and experience related gratifications” (p. 137) (emphasis added).
Discovering and portraying who you re as a person is a difficult, and never-ending, ever-changing, process. And while many believe that online platforms allows individuals more ways to express and discover themselves, “Personal identity, a difficult philosophical problem that seeks to account for the identity of a self or a person, is still a problem in the online world too” (Hongladarom, 2011, p.2). My online identity tends to be only a fraction of my “regular” or “true” self. As mentioned, I tend not to post or share as often as I could because of the way it would make me appear to others. This is especially true on rough days or at times when I am angry and frustrated- times when I could become another individual who “airs their dirty laundry” for all and asunder to see (and comment on).
However, I have noticed that wherein my behaviors and personality use to influence how I used social media, my use of social media has started to influence my behaviors and personality. Hongladarom (2011) mentions how “The lines between the real person and her projection onto social networking sites are becoming blurred” and that “There are situations where a real person who has multiple accounts on Facebook, each having a unique personality. Hence the person might appear as a serious professional in one account, and a completely different personality in another. These accounts, or to put it better these personae, seem to be on a par with the real person herself when it comes to the question of identity” (Hongladarom, 2011, p.5).
I have already mentioned how I sanction which social media site, and subsequent identity, will host and share certain thoughts. On LinkedIn, I appear to be a young professional and only share things that are related to my professional career. On Facebook I am connected to a lot of friends and family members, all of whom have varying opinions on certain things- politics, religion, education, local happenings, etc. and so I tend to only showcase photographs and status updates that are based upon opinions, but focus more on sharing what I have been doing. Twitter and Whisper are where I am virtually unknown, meaning that I do not have a lot of real-life friends with whom my profile is linked, and so I tend to share my opinions and thoughts more openly on these forums. All of my online social media identities are a fraction of myself, but they all are a reflection of me in some way. As Hongladarom (2011) points out, “The connection is always mediated by some kind of construction of ‘identity’ which more or less represent the real person behind it” (p.2).
Hongladoram, S. (2011). Personal Identity, the Self and the Online World. Retrieved November 9, 2014, from http://www.academia.edu/971695/Personal_Identity_the_Self_and_the_Online_World
Papacharissi, Z. (2008). Uses and gratifications. In M. Salwen and D. Stacks (Eds.) Uses and Gratifications. An Integrated Approach to Communication Theory and Research (pp. 137-152). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.