Social media use has evolved to include different aims and objectives. In recent years social media gas been used to promote social activism such as through the #MeToo movement (Mendes et al. 2018). Social media platforms such as social networking sites and blogs demand users to develop virtual representations of themselves intentionally. This form of self-representation can be conceptualized via the materials and information that individuals choose to share with others through their Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter profiles. However, identity is conveyed through interpersonal interactions through messaging services or email. Given the few identification markers accessible online than in person, whatever digital content an individual gives, from username and contact information, may and is utilized to draw conclusions concerning them (Bayer et al. 2016). This awareness explains why people attempt to curate their online identities to appeal to various audiences, proving Erving Goffman’s theory that individuals develop and perform unique personas or representations of themselves in various social situations.
In his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman states, based on the considerable observation that a person initiating engagement with others constantly attempts to influence the mental picture they form of that other and the perceptions the person thinks of them. This endeavor to retain control expresses itself in a conscious adjustment of the façade, which the author describes as typical communicative apparatus deployed by the performer throughout his engagement, whether purposefully or unintentionally (Goffman, 2021). The façade (social front) is separated into two components: the setting (stage), which serves as the backdrop for every socialization, and the individual façade (subjective front), which is composed of the person’s look and demeanor (Goffman, 2021). The former refers to those cues that serve to inform us about the performer’s social position at the moment (for instance, attire). Conversely, the latter refers to those inputs that serve to alert individuals to the engagement function that the performer will be expected to undertake in the next scenario (for example, speaking style).
Usually, users change these characteristics to conform to the demands of the expected audience, the role, the stage, and the desired outcome. The audience anticipates the individual components of the façade to be synchronized (Goffman, 2021). Even though Goffman originally related his theory only to situations where people meet face-to-face, his theory is also applicable to the environment of the social networks, despite certain limitations. While Goffman mainly applied his theory solely to circumstances in which individuals interact in person, it is arguable that, despite some restrictions, the concept is equally relevant to the context of online communities.
Every aspect of the theory is evident on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. For example, the user interface, generally the person’s profile, represents the platform. A profile photo and how the user interacts and the information they publish constitute the user’s unique disguise (Bucher, 2012). To meet the audience’s demands and adhere to social standards to get favorable feedback, the involved person attempts to exhibit their idealized self in the most pleasing attainable manner. As a result, they sensationalize some elements of their personalities and conceal or obscure others (Goffman, 2021). In this manner, the participant portrays himself as a particular character and exerts control over the image they give, consequently shaping the audience’s view of them. According to Goffman’s theory, this is known as impression management.
Research has shown that people use different methods to construct their online identities. According to Kang and Wei (2019), the principal techniques utilized are positive self-presentation and deceptive self-presentation. Online identity reconstruction is influenced by personality attributes, level of physical beauty, psychological status, and demographics. Positive self-presentation is a common online personality rebuilding method. It helps people to improve their self-esteem. Users may exclusively post positive information and avoid sharing unpleasant happenings (Bayer et al., 2016). Expressing one’s best image is sometimes employed as an online identity rebuilding technique. For instance, on social media platforms, people typically portray themselves in the manner they wish to be seen (Kang & Wei, 2019). They may have many profiles to manage their internet presence at any one moment.
Additionally, individuals may re-create their identities by distorting the things they publish online. Occasionally, some even fabricate physical descriptions like skin complexion, race, height, and weight. Furthermore, users modify the photographs they upload to social networking sites through camera features or special applications dedicated to that purpose (Dwivedi et al., 2018). Individuals of lower socioeconomic backgrounds aim to improve their online persona by adjusting their self-presentation to achieve social migration into the high class. Some may exhibit a fake self to mislead others or conduct identity exploration.
I have been on social media for more than ten years. The main social networking sites I use are Facebook and Instagram. I have constructed different online identities on each of these platforms with very different usernames. My username on Facebook has the term ‘Tech,’ and the one I use for Instagram adds ‘the_Techxplorer.’ The common feature in all my usernames is that they have the term “Tech.” I include this word in my usernames because I want people to see me as a tech-savvy individual. I primarily use positive self-presentation to construct my identity online on all these platforms. That is to say, I present myself as someone who loves the latest technology, especially smartphones and personal computers. For instance, my content is mainly related to the most recent smartphone releases from major manufacturers such as Samsung, Apple, and Xiaomi. I compare these smartphones based on their features and performance capabilities. This approach makes me appear knowledgeable about the tech and earns me praise from my audiences and, subsequently, more followers.
More importantly, most of my content is positive reviews as I seldom focus on the weaknesses of the products I post. I could touch on one or two weaknesses but avoid overemphasizing them. I use this strategy to try and earn the recognition of key manufacturers. I am not the only tech enthusiast with this habit since many people in the field use this strategy to earn promotional products and free product review units. This behavior is consistent with Goffman’s idea of impression management. By presenting myself as a less critical tech reviewer, manufacturers of the products I review may consider me as their brand ambassador or sponsor some of my content and give me paid promotions.
Undoubtedly, operating two different profiles on social media requires good management, especially for a budding tech reviewer. Managing one’s online persona is critical because, more crucially, a person’s online content will be accessible for eternity. Firstly, I take every opportunity to reflect critically on online and offline impacts. I consider the motivations of those who provide information and double-check information sources that appear misleading. Likewise, I maintain a diverse digital intake to expose myself to various viewpoints that will give me a complete picture of the tech world.
Secondly, I constantly review my data and privacy settings as part of maintaining my profiles. To maintain control over the information I disclose online, I constantly verify who my online friends are and what information they publish on the sites they visit. Additionally, I conduct frequent Google searches on my usernames to regulate what material is publicly accessible and delete any material that may be inaccurate or detrimental to my image. Thirdly, I understand the value of internet safety and thus observe ways to maintain my authenticity online. This is accomplished by sharing only material with others who give positive support and preventing and reporting harmful online occurrences.
My Facebook and Instagram accounts are quite different in presentation and appearance. Perhaps the most obvious difference can be seen in the usernames. While my Facebook moniker has the word ‘Tech’ alongside my first name, my Instagram name is more descriptive as it adds ‘the_Techxplorer.’ This name choice is deliberately intended to reflect the content posted on the respective social networking platforms. On Facebook, I majorly post information about newly released tech and upcoming technology. For example, if Apple releases an iPhone today, I will most likely post about it within 7 to 21 days, depending on how fast I can get my hands on the products. Similarly, I will post about an upcoming iPhone as soon as I verify the authenticity of the information I receive regarding the upcoming product.
I talk or write about ‘killer’ features or updates that users should expect in these posts. In short, I show my audience the ‘what’ and the ‘hows’ of the product. My goal is to present my Facebook account as the fastest and most reliable news source for my followers or friends. This strategy seems to work because I frequently get random messages from individuals asking about upcoming products. Some ask for my suggestion on whether they should get a particular device. Thus, my Facebook account is curated to fit the identity of a tech advisor or support. I feel that creating this Facebook persona has enabled me to live my childhood dream of being an IT consultant despite taking an entirely different career path.
My Instagram profile is meant to portray me as a versatile and social tech enthusiast as well as an explorer. Unlike the content, I post on my Facebook account that Instagram is not restricted to reviews or product opinions. Instead, my posts on Instagram are intended to showcase my experience with different products. For example, I can post a video of a product I have been using for the past several weeks, which can be a laptop or a unique gadget, accompanied by my honest opinions. In the video, I am shown using the device in different environments and social settings. It could be at a swimming pool with friends or at a restaurant.
My Instagram account aims not to earn new followers or increase profile visits but to earn the trust of the enthusiasts on the platform and to present me as a social person. Acquiring new followers is not difficult; the challenge is retaining current followers. Furthermore, I believe that walking my audience through the products they use in typical social situations is one way of ensuring that I maintain engagement with them. In other words, my Instagram account is curated to portray me as a social individual who loves to explore new things to appeal to like-minded users.
Goffman’s theory is evident in my two online identities created on Facebook and Instagram. In both cases, the user interface marked by the different portrayal of my names on the platform. My personal façade is defined by my profile photo and how I interact, and the information I publish online. My two online identities remain consistent because they use the same communication style, which is technical jargon. I believe that sounding technical when communicating with my audience helps to affirm my status as a reputable and informed tech enthusiast.
Having different identities online has benefits as well as demerits. Principally, managing more than one version of an online identity gives individuals an opportunity to reconstruct who they are to fulfill a particular purpose. For example, I have curated my Facebook profile to make me appear like a professorial tech reviewer. I can earn product endorsements from companies willing to work with me. Conversely, my Instagram is designed to portray me as a dynamic and social individual. The profile is ideal for acquiring and maintaining a community of enthusiasts like me seeking a deeper understanding and connection with their devices. Lastly, reconstructing one’s identity online has a favorable correlation with audience reactions. People who display themselves in a favorable and publicly acceptable manner on Instagram get more engagements on their posts and followers (Gardner & Davis, 2013). This is true in my case since I get a high number of likes and comments when I post less critical reviews or product opinions.
On the contrary, various group affiliations may exacerbate confusion and risk, posing a problem for the person. Different identities may cause difficulties in interpersonal relationships by triggering disunity in the group. When there is a contradiction in one’s identity, several identity approaches help to resolve it. Jones and Hynie (2017) examine the encounter and handling of tension between several forms of multiple identities, including responsibilities, interpersonal, and social identities (nationality). They recommend four identity management approaches: reflection, reconciliation, realignment, and introspection. As discussed previously, I manage my online identities through reflection. The major challenge of managing several identities is that it may lead to further confusion between what is real and virtual.
The increase in online interaction and social networking has widened the scope of the old concept of personal identity and belonging. Individuals today have internet identities in tandem with their real-life personas. Goffman’s theory asserts that people create and execute many identities or versions of themselves in various social circumstances. This claim is valid based on the evidence presented in this paper alongside the author’s personal experience of having multiple online identities. Maintaining a healthy connection between online and real-life personas may be difficult. This is because items that are placed online may be accessible in perpetuity and might influence a person’s interpersonal perceptions of one in the actual world. As a result, it is critical to know the most efficient methods of managing online identities. Future research should examine how cognitive growth is linked to responsiveness to criticism on online self-presentations and how teenagers anticipate the audiences of their online conduct.
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