Performance of Online Identity

Our social media profiles provide a platform to tell a narrative about a subject we have the ultimate authority on: Ourselves.  So how does this tie into branding?  As highlighted earlier, “branding is not the logo, it is not the name, but rather it is a conceptual idea, which gives consumers ‘something to believe in.” (Turner, 2015).  Placing this into a personalised context, it means that our  digital identity is not based solely on our avatars, usernames, and bios; it is formed around what we utilise our platforms for, what message we communicate though our tweets, our Instagram pictures, our status updates on Facebook.  The avatar/username/bios form a quick overview, while the content we publish allows the audience to get a better understanding of who we are. “In essence, our online selves represent our ideals and eliminate many of our other real components.” (Green, 2013)

Are our online identities accurate reflections of who we are as a whole?  Do we successfully communicate the way we understand and approach life through our digital profiles?  Or do we instead present a false construction of ourselves online?  One of the ideas I suggested in my post about branding and transmedia, is that perhaps our online identity varies across different platforms, together creating a larger narrative of the self, but also existing separately, without the need of information from another network.

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If we are displaying different aspects of ourselves through different social networks, it becomes clear that we are curating our online presence for different audiences.  Our representation of self, although only an aspect of our identity is still a vital part of it, not making it any less valid than a social network which includes all possible information in one space; but rather targeted towards a more specific audiences.

“When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess, that the task he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be.” (Erving Goffman, 1959)

We enter into the social media space, assuming that the content published is an accurate representation of oneself, in some way; however when the narrative presented conflicts with itself, the authenticity has been lost.  Davis (2010) suggests that we “preemptively alter our offline selves in order to authentically convey ourselves online in a particular way”,  which is an interesting concept if we acknowledge that we present different aspects of ourselves through different social networks.  If we are trying to authentically portray ourselves, do we lose authenticity if we omit certain aspects of our lives? I would argue that this is not the case, and Owen’s (2011) takes the idea of authenticity and how showing different aspects of self in different environments is still an authentic representation of ourselves: “James is an honest man and also kind. At the funeral of his wicked uncle, he will not be honest about his thoughts about the deceased, in order to be kind to the feelings of the rest of his family. […] Our identities are not socially universal.”  As such, we perform for different audiences, we aim to create a highly curated feed of information about ourselves, which is specifically directed at an audience, with similar interests, similar personality types, similar ideals.

As some extra food for thought; if we portray a different element of our overall identity on digital platforms, and chose to invest in AI technology after we died, would that mean our varied social presences would generate a number of vastly different versions of ourself as a result of the content we have access to?

3 thoughts on “Performance of Online Identity

  1. While it is incredibly easy to superficially discuss factors of authenticity and self when discussing representation of identity online, you have delved (delightfully) deeper into what it means to be a cohesive persona in a really meaningful way. I particularly resonate with the research you have done on how the fragmentation of the online persona into differing selves across various platforms is a form of personal transmedia; this absolutely makes sense in my case, where I have only just recently fragmented my Instagram and Twitter identities into ‘business Gemma’ and ‘every else Gemma’ so that I can re-awaken my political, activist and academic self while keeping my ‘business woman’ persona separate. This speaks to the natural differences in audience types that occur across platforms, and in a less formal way, uses traditional models of Marketing theory to demarcate targeting of (personal) content to demographic profiles and social context (see for more http://www.getbrandwise.com/branding-blog/bid/18617/What-are-marketing-demographics). As an extension of this intentional delineation of various aspects of self, you could also look at how platform design contributes to the limiting of personal expression and the homogenisation of character, therefore putting a cap on the extent to which we have agency over the construction of our online identity (see Grosser, http://bengrosser.com/blog/how-the-technological-design-of-facebook-homogenizes-identity-and-limits-personal-representation/).

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  2. I definitely agree that online identity is a performance but it’s a symptom of identity in general being a performative phenomenon. We perform identity every day – social media simply gives us a very thorough (if desired) filter through which we can mediate our performance even more so. Consider the possibility of a constant live feed of your life to the internet. It’s as much a public space as the street outside your house. I think the issue with this possibility (becoming more and more likely with the growing trend of vlogging and live streams) is a huge psychological toll of always being “on”. Conversely, it may have the same kind of effect that the metadata laws have, in which people care even less about the performance and perhaps true authenticity might be reached. Regardless, this notion of authenticity is completely arbitrary and based on identity which in itself, through postmodern reading, is utterly fluid and constantly being constructed and reconstructed.

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