Presentation of Self and Social Media
Who are you when you’re online? Are you the same as you are with your friends, family, colleagues? For many people, being online allows them the opportunity to express themselves in ways they can’t in their ‘real life’. Presentation of self takes many forms and perhaps online is our ‘front stage’.
Goffman (1995) discussed in detail the idea of the presentation of self. His theory revolves around the core assumption that all the world is a stage and all the men and women are merely players. The reason that Goffman chose this metaphor is that it perfectly encompasses his idea that people present themselves to others, as though they’re acting out a particular persona. Individuals present themselves to their ‘audience’ hoping to gain acceptance from them. If they succeed, the audience will view them how they wish to be viewed. The theory states that an individual’s identity isn’t a stable or fixed psychological entity and it is in fact constantly reworked over time based on the social situation, culture and interactions with others.
With regards to social media, this makes complete sense. People interact online differently dependent on the situation. If you’re on Facebook and you know your parents are on there also, you’re far less likely to discuss the drunken stupor you were in last night when you woke up in some strangers home. It’s far more likely you’ll present the self to them that you want them to see. Maybe you know people who do this and who actively manage their privacy settings so that certain people only learn things about them. Twitter is often another social media channel that people commonly present one persona online there and another offline. At times this can be quite measured, particularly with celebrities, businesses and people who want specific kinds of followers. You’ll often see people actively trying to create their persona on Twitter to gain more followers or to become known for a particular style of tweeting.
Goffman speaks about the idea of front stage and backstage presentation when it comes to the presentation of self. Front stage is the area where an individual puts on their show, attempts to manipulate the audience and present themselves in the way desire. Back stage is where the individual is alone and can be themselves without having to act or be something they’re not. In social media terms, being offline at home alone, or sometimes even with others in ‘real life’ is where you’re in your back stage area. Being online, engaging in Twitter and Facebook and creating your online persona is your front stage area where you have to convince your audience that you’re genuine and who you appear to be online.
Social media and all computer mediated communication can be a minefield when it comes to presenting your true self, or so many critics of this form of communication would have us believe. The ability to become someone else online and create different characters is generally easier than it is in ‘real life’. There are numerous articles and discussions online about how people pretend to be someone else online to ‘lure’ individuals into something unsavory, but that isn’t always the only reason people alter their identities. As mentioned above, people create their selves online to suit the situation and to affect the outcome they want to attain. It’s probably more difficult to manage this effectively via Facebook than via Twitter. The anonymity that Twitter currently allows is much more accessible for people who want to completely recreate themselves online. Facebook with it’s numerous limitations on account creation and so on makes it much more difficult, but as with all social media, it’s still possible to manipulate your identity online.
Social media and the presentation of self is an interesting topic. It raises many questions regarding how people present themselves through their online social identities, as well as whether they are presenting themselves legitimately. In social media, everything you show, from your icon to your tv viewing preferences helps to create your identity. It’s your front stage, where you’re always on and as Goffman pointed out, in this space it takes a lot to convince your audience you are who you say you are. So next time you’re online, try and be authentic. Be you, or the you that you believe you are at the very least.