Social media platforms over the internet have potentially profound effects on the creation of social identity of modern generation. Identity refers to a socially constructed attribute of self-concept as it is represented to the outside world. The formation or construction of identity is a unique practice in everybody’s life, since it is one of the ways through which we can find our place in our cultures and among other people.
As it would be observed, the transformation of this important social concept in the contemporary world is being conducted in new and even more global approaches. In this era of internet technology, humans are becoming accustomed to using various social media websites daily, where they spend a great deal of time talking about themselves, the people they know, and their interests, among other significant aspects of their lives.
The social media, whose reach and influence is global, is one of the most common avenues that are used to shape and enhance the concept of identity nowadays. This paper examines the ways through which we can use mobile and internet technologies to create our identities.
There is no doubt that social media has afforded people an important opportunity to establish a visible, strong record of themselves through interactive digital platforms (Rettberg 2009). This popular trend of technology is not only offering the very tools that are needed to construct our identities, but it also provides a basis upon which representations about ourselves can be promoted.
Social identify formation happens while people are busy establishing new communities around themselves over the internet, exchanging different aspects of their lives with one another and forming a visible profile of themselves for anyone to see. This self disclosure through personal web pages plays a significant role in identity formation.
Knowingly or sometimes even unknowingly, we tend to give representations about ourselves through our activities in social networking websites.
This mainly happens through our time to time conversations with other people in social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Social media offers a wonderful archiving of our personal information as it is posted in our personal web pages, thus making it easy for anyone to read it and get to know our identities.
When we decide to join Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Twitter, and MySpace among other social networking sites, we begin by filling out our profiles to give other people an overview of who we are. Some of the personal details filled in those templates include, but are not limited to, names, gender, age, residence, and national identities. Some sites may also require us to give our hobbies and interests, among other things.
All these information diversify our opportunities of connecting to larger cultural templates. This is the data primarily used to tell our stories to the outside world through the social networking websites mentioned above. The templates in the social networking sites that usually begin with a virtual blank page continue to get filled with everything that interests not just us, but other people as well.
These contents can include things such as photos and their descriptions, our current moods, our favorite activities, and status feeds, among other things that may be of significant meaning to our lives.
The best thing about many social networking websites is that user privacy and security have been ensured, and people can use different features on the platforms to control the operations of their personal web pages (Livingstone 2008). In this regard, not everything that we fill in our social media profiles is visible to other people.
Facebook, which has rapidly emerged as the most expeditious means of social communication in the contemporary world, serves as a perfect example of how social media helps to create and shape our identities. Because of its popularity and social prestige across the world, Facebook is arguably the most preferred social media channel.
This global reputation can be confirmed by the fact that, Facebook is the social site with the biggest number of users in the world today. After filling up the templates of our Facebook accounts with implicit and explicit information about ourselves, we sit back and wait for other people to comment on the contents.
Stories and images posted on social media platforms are likely to attract all types of reactions from the people who read them. In some cases, posts may be ignored and passed around, but this depends on the nature of the posts and the information or message they portray.
Apart from posting images and stories on our social media pages for others to read and respond to with relevant feedback, people can also use the platforms to chat with one another directly, either through messaging or live video chatting.
The kind of feedback we get on social media sites is a crucial element that is necessary in helping us determine how we are faring as far as self exploration is concerned. While some people, especially those who know us better, may give positive and interesting responses to our wall postings, others will tend to criticise them in an outright manner.
No matter the kind of responses we get on our posts, they play a significant role in helping us understand what other people think of the way we have told our stories through the social media. This, however, helps us to make better decisions on the improvements that we might need to make regarding the way we represent ourselves through social networking sites.
For example, every positive feedback on the stories I post on my Facebook wall helps me to realise that I am not alone in my concealed interest. This actually gives me confidence to reveal more about myself and the interest to expand my social boundaries by joining more online social communities.
Exposure and disclosure are two significant aspects that would tend to have a serious impact on the way we use social media to represent ourselves. Social media exposes us all to the public, irrespective of who we are.
Even though young users of the social media are focused mainly on self representation where they intend to give the best impressions about themselves, it is surprising to discover that many just end up tarnishing their real identities unknowingly.
As it would be observed, some social networking sites have kept their user age-restriction levels very low, thus making it easy for minors to join the sites, without even having a better understanding of what the social media entails. A good example here is the Facebook, Inc. which has declared thirteen years as the acceptable minimal age one should have attained in order to possess and manage a Facebook account.
This does not only expose minors to the many dangers of the digital world, but it also offers an opportunity through which they can misrepresent their true identities unknowingly. Many people, especially the minors, don’t have a perfect understanding of what social media can do to their identities, and for that reason, they end up exposing themselves in bad ways.
Sometimes, we don’t have the slightest idea of how our actions in social media platforms can affect our identities, and this ends up giving the wrong picture of ourselves. For instance, let us take the idea of ‘Liking’ as it applies on Facebook. Many Facebook users don’t know that there is more than just showing other people that you are impressed by their stories, images, or even ads by liking them (Zhao, Grasmuck, & Martin 2008).
However, the truth of the matter here is that, by liking somebody’s post, you become part of their social media identity as far as that post is concerned. This has the meaning that, you will be tying yourself to that person or whatever they have posted that you have liked in a more public way.
This can give a wrong impression on someone’s identity, especially if what they have liked entails a distasteful message or a set of values that they would not want to share in. In this regard, it is always important for people to try to understand what something really means before they click that button to express their feelings about it. This ensures that we stay safe as far as social identity formation is concerned.
Online self-presentations can have serious implications on our identities and that’s why we should always think twice before we post things about our lives on social media (Thompson 2013). This is very important considering the digital memory associated with the social media. As a matter of fact, identity construction through social media is a process of deterrent memory-formation.
The activities involved in online identity formation are conducted and exchanged in the nature of digital technology. This has the meaning that the images and stories we post on social media can be circulated very fast on the internet, even after we have removed them. The way we represent ourselves on social media speaks a lot about our real personalities, thus making it easy for other people to understand us better.
There is no doubt that many of the most successful individuals and organisations in the world have achieved their glory through internet technologies, particularly the social media.
A good example here is President Barack Obama, who had successfully used social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate his presidential bid to the American people in 2008. This tactic is also being applied by brilliant marketers who use popular social networking sites to establish identities for their brands.
As a matter of fact, social media is a very powerful tool that can be used for identity formation. With today’s advancements in digital technology, we can easily create and maintain good identities of ourselves. However, just as it can it be used to present our true identities, social media can also misrepresent us if used in the wrong way.
In this regard, it is advisable for people to use social media wisely so as to benefit from it as far as construction of identity is concerned. In situations where individuals and organisations are seeking recognition and attention, social media is a powerful tool whose effectiveness can never be overestimated as it has been shown in this paper.
Livingstone, S 2008, ‘Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression’, New Media & Society, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 393-411.
Rettberg, J 2009, ‘Freshly Generated for You, and Barack Obama: How Social Media Represent Your Life’, European Journal of Communication, vol. 2009, no. 209, pp. 451-455.
Thompson, J 2013, Media and modernity: A social theory of the media, John Wiley & Sons, New York.
Zhao, S, Grasmuck, S & Martin, J 2008, ‘Identity construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationships’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 24, no. 5, pp. 181-185.