Social Media and The Impact on Identity
This week, I’ve been contemplating the impact of social media on the formation of identity and the repercussions in our daily lives. Social media posting is often a form of self-expression. Individuals of all age utilize social media to share posts, videos, images and other media that portray them in a certain light. However, as Boyd (2014) indicates, there is often a disconnect between what people are posting online and their reality. One of the primary factors that influences this disconnect is that individuals often forget who their audience is. (Boyd, 2014) Though messages, photos ,or other media might be posted for the intended audience of friends, once items are online they can be viewed by a variety of unintended sources such as potential employers, family members or authority figures.
As Boyd (2014) indicates, we tend to focus on who is commenting and engaging with us online in lieu of who might be watching. As a result, our beliefs about our self-identity may be in conflict with how we are perceived by the outside world. This can lead to subsequent barriers in university acceptance and employment or, on a more personal level, conflict with families or loved ones if our postings are incongruous with the belief systems of others.
When engaging in online communication individuals are interacting in a variety of contexts. This can result in what is known as context collapse which can be defined as the infinite audiences individuals can engage with online in contrast to the limited audiences individuals engage with in real life. The problem with this for teens and youth is that intertwining a variety of social contexts can cause teens and youth to struggle with social norms.
This is exacerbated by the variety of social media sites available and their subsequent expectations. Teens often post on social media sites based on their perceived notion of the social norms of the site (Boyd, 2014).
Social media provides an opportunity for the development of individual identity through the opportunity to share and communicate with diverse groups. However, one of the consequences of increasing communication online is that the formation of identity is in large part influenced by the popularity of their postings and feedback individuals receive from their respective audiences (Ganda, 2014). This can lead to a lack of authenticity in the development of identity as individuals may be constructing their online identities based on popular opinion.
Profession Ulrike Shultz further elaborates on the consequences of social media on our identity in her Ted Talk:
The Role of Educators:
As educators, we have a role in teaching students about social expectations and issues with posting online. In my experience, students do not respond to fear-mongering about social media use but rather the modeling of positive online behaviour. Schools often still shy away from cell phone and social media use in the classroom. How can we aid in the development of teens and youth if we do not start speaking their digital language and helping them navigate the digital world they are a part of? By incorporating social media into the classroom, and demonstrating how to express one’s individualism but still conducting oneself in a multi-audience appropriate manner, we can aid students in navigating the murky waters of social media use. For example, you can see my post on how a teacher and I used social media as a tool for primary and secondary research in the classroom here.
Social media provides transformative opportunities for individuals to connect and share on a global level. However, we need to remain conscious of the following fact:
Boyd, Dana. (2014). It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press
Ganda, Madison. (2014). Social Media and Self: Influences on the Formation of Identity and Understanding of Self through Social Networking Sites. Portland, OR: Portland State University