Social media and identity

I’ll admit, I have several social media profiles and I use all of them in very different ways. I have different friends/followers, talk about different subjects, share different things. I have several online personas. 

Aaron Balick has summed it up perfectly in his latest blog post

Identities are complex beasts. The are at the same time personal, social, public and private.”

But how in control are we of these online identities?

Aaron describes active and passive online identities. Active being the ones we can control; fluid and tailored to what we specify. Passive being the ones constructed by others and more ‘restricting’: Google search results, friends’ Facebook comments, Twitter mentions. I think to a large degree, you can determine what your ‘passive’ identity is. Comments can be deleted, posts hidden, unwanted Twitter followers blocked. We can be careful about what we post and really think about it before we hit ‘Send’ or ‘Tweet’.

What I found really interesting in his blog post was the concept that our online identities will stay with us into the future, and it’s hard to start with a clean slate. That may be true; I started off on Twitter constantly tweeting about journalism, then Liverpool FC which caused a big gain in LFC-related followers, and now it’s more about social media and personal observations (with a little bit of LFC). My Twitter account does feel a little disjointed without focus but that’s me – I have a lot of interests that have changed over the years (as have I) but that hasn’t changed my followers’ opinion of me. I haven’t lost any followers, I’ve gained. 

So the concept of online identities staying with us into the future I think needs further exploration; the more savvy social media users can probably save themselves and make sure they put out the version(s) of themselves that they want (to some extent, we can’t control everything about us that’s out there) but it is probably those who indulge in “unchecked and rather constant posting” (as mentioned by Balick) are more likely to face the consequences. 

In life we can control a lot of what we put out to the world, and the same goes for our activities online. There’s no question though that online, people tend to act completely differently, resulting in multiple personas. This is something that has fascinated me for many years and a subject I am exploring further.

I must thank Aaron for highlighting Sherry Turkle’s new book, which I’m reading at the moment.  

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About Karen Patel

PhD candidate in social media and cultural work at Birmingham City University.

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