Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.
Identity, once an elusive concept, is now expressed constantly online.
We introduced this book with me. Now we move on to you – all of you, through whom culture passes and takes new shape. You are a huge part of social media – but what are the factors that come together to make you into you? is an iteration of the self that links individuals with how they are perceived by others. Identity combines how you see yourself and how others see you, in an endless riff that becomes your positioning in publics and in the world.
ANONYMOUS TRASH TALKING
My personal knowledge of social media
When it comes to my knowledge of online culture it only amounts to the online gaming community. Growing up my parents didn’t allow me to have social apps until middle school. However by then I was never interested in social media since I was able to interact with my friend by using my PlayStation Party. All through high school I would hang out with my friend playing online games like Minecraft, Rainbow Six Siege, and most Call of Duty’s.
What was hard for me was that whenever I meet new friends that would ask for my Snapchat or Facebook. Having to tell people that I didn’t make me feel awkward. I did not want them to believe that I just did not want to give it to them. Eventually after taking this class I decided that it was time for me to spread my social media presence by getting the other accounts.
Even though I got the app I made sure that I was careful of what I post and what my name is attached to. Many of my accounts don’t have my name attached to it. I know myself that one day I would slip up and post something bad.
I don’t regret not having social media apps since PlayStation party chat and game chat. These game chats taught me a lot. The most important was to develop thick skin over time. One thing that many games have is a toxic environment that I learn to love.
Anyone new to this community may struggle to understand the enjoyment of trash talking. Terms that can be thrown around can be like simp, trash, or garbage. These might not be that bad, however these are the words I consider safe to say right now – many times bad words are thrown around like nothing. Getting hurdled insults left, right, and center teaches you to have thick skin.
Many people consider people who play games to be anti-social. I believe that they are one of the most social people out there. What made being social online so easy was that there was no picture or name attached to you. When you create an account it is rare for people to have their real name. Many accounts didn’t allow pictures so they had icons instead. So with this in mind can build confidence in people who might be shy in person. This lack of link to your real identity is what leads to a toxic environment.
Other online environments are quite new to me. I want to try to expand my online environment. By getting more social media and exploring the community inside them. The closest I had before the other apps was YouTube which probably has the largest diverse community. But even with all those communities by my finger tip I would still tend to hover around the gaming side of YouTube. Overall I believe that the online gaming community is complex having a side of people. Those who are toxic to anyone or those who are just there to have a fun time with their friends.
About the Author
Hey, my name is Jorge I’m majoring in Physiology I want to become a plastic surgeon. I love to play game and watch anime. My favorite food are hot Cheetos. One day I wish to be sponsored by Arizona tea.
Next step: Create a profile
Let’s imagine that you were told that you must create a to continue reading this book or get a grade associated with it. Who would you be? I imagine many of you would reply, “Well I’m not sure yet. Who is the profile for?” The audiences or with you intend to interact shape your identity at any given time.
If the profile you are creating is simply for other students and instructors in the class you are taking, perhaps you’d craft the profile to reflect student teams or organizations you are part of; or perhaps you would keep it vague, if the student community on your campus feels large or impersonal. Compare that to the profile you might craft for a professional site, like LinkedIn, and you might see distinct differences. When students in my courses share LinkedIn profiles they often look very different from the same students’ profiles in our Course Management System (CMS). On our CMS students upload small, fuzzy photos if they upload photos at all, whereas on LinkedIn those same students look directly at the camera, proudly wear suits, and boast of their accomplishments. In class, they want to blend in; but when applying for jobs, they want to stand out.
And now compare your student and professional profile to the profile you might use in online dating. Is it different? I imagine so! Perhaps the focus moves to looking attractive and inviting to attract those you are interested in.
Student Content, Fall 2020
Body Image on Social Media
With my personal experience on social media, I have been influenced in unhealthy ways to change myself. By having multiple different apps on social media since I was as young as a middle schooler, I have grown up with the example of social media influencers and super models being the center of attention that most people followed. With apps coming out such as facetune, which is an app that allows you to completely edit and change your body and skin, everyone in our generation began to use this app to make themselves look like these influencers, even though they did not look like this in person. This causes people to be mentally drained from reality, as they are changing their entire complexion for the public to see.
Along with facetune, many people struggle mentally thinking that they are not good enough to be posting their natural selves, so they physically try to change themselves in unhealthy ways. Eating habits are extremely important in life, yet people are changing the way that they eat and the quantity they eat so their body can change in a way that matches the ideal body image that influencers portray. This is physically and mentally unhealthy and causes our generation to grow up in a messy environment. Although it is not influencers’ intentions to cause this type of habit, this is the result of growing up with the visual of a “perfect body.”
In my personal experience growing up, I have been surrounded by all of my friends who constantly edit and change the pictures that we take together to make them meet society’s standards of a perfect body. There is never a selfie, which is a photo taken by oneself of oneself, that gets put online without it going through facetune first. Not only do my friends and I facetune, but when we scroll along our feeds and see a picture that seems too good to be true, we often jump to conclusions and claim that the person who posted edited his or her picture. This is not a trend that only my friends and I are accountable for, but I know many people that call others out on facetune errors too. This is a toxic trait that our generation unfortunately has to deal with.
Influenced by other bodies, I have dealt with personal friends that struggled with eating disorders due to the influence of social media influencers. I know people who would go as long as they can without eating to allow their bodies to lose weight, which is extremely unhealthy physically and mentally. Other friends had tendencies where they throw up after meals because their minds feel so guilty after eating because they do not want to gain more weight and not look like your ideal supermodel. Each generation has struggles with body image, but growing up with social media, young kids are exposed to this type of behavior at an earlier age, causing a longer and more common issue.
Yael Hotz is a sophomore at the University of Arizona. She enjoys relaxing on the beach.
You may find your self-presentation of your identity is limited or enhanced by what options or features the platform you use offers. These are : cues in an environment that communicate how to interact with features or things in that environment and that can also communicate to others. A button affords being pushed; snapchat’s snap streaks afforded keeping a visible running count of two people’s interactions with one another. Affordances can also be expanded, as they often are by users in social media platforms. For example, many platforms that do not afford the claiming of gender identities other than male or female find users exploiting creative ways to express gender fluidity.
Of course users of social media are not always seeking to express their most “realistic” selves. Some platforms are desirable to users because they afford fantasy filters or the trappings of other identities. Video game avatars offer compelling examples of profiles that embody other lives and beings. But does that mean you don’t spend much time designing that avatar, since it’s “not you?” Of course not; it has become standard in the gaming industry to charge significant sums for downloadable content to customize your avatar or “skin” – because your avatar is you, for one or more gaming publics. And that avatar and profile will influence how people treat you in-game; they constitute your in-game identity.
Below: “Outsourcing” the labor of expressing yourself online to other types of identities is common…and complicated.
Who are you? Offline? Online? Across modalities?
Like the concept of information, identity is a notion that used to be amorphous and philosophical. You couldn’t easily set “identity” apart from the human to whom the identity belonged. Today, though, humans try to project every unseen aspect of our lives onto the binary-minded digital world. And that means the formerly shapeless concept of identity has to take shape, and if we want it to represent us online, we have to know what we want and put it out there.
As a human, you don’t just have one identity, or even one online identity and also one offline identity. Our legal world and policies from platforms like Facebook may limit people into having one identity, but in life, both online and offline, we play many roles and thus have many identities.
Two theorists have given us important tools to understand these identity roles, although both theorists began writing about these roles before the internet drew so many of us to craft identities online.
Backtrack to the 1950s. Social roles in North America were rigid. Then the sociologist Erving Goffman put forward a whole new way of looking at identity in his 1956 book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (see overview in the video embedded below). Goffman wrote that we are all actors on a “,” who play particular roles to create our identities and that these roles change as we interact with different people and situations. He also wrote that our selves can only really be understood when we look at all of the roles we play.
Then the cultural critic and feminist theorist Judith Butler advanced and honed the notion of identity roles in her 1990 book Gender Trouble (overview in the video embedded below), focusing on the roles that define gender. Butler’s theories introduced the notion that gender itself is our playing of roles like “boy,” “girl,” “man,” and “woman,” rather than these being “natural” or connected to our biologies. Butler’s concept of says that roles like gender are only constructed through our performances of them; they would not exist without our acting them into existence.
If these theories have truth in them – and I believe they do – what does this mean for our identities online? Well, our online identities offer some additional evidence that gender and other social roles are constructed. Many early internet adopters were thrilled at the possibilities of expressing themselves without being defined by their bodies. But what we have learned from maturing of the internet – aided by Goffman’s and Butler’s theories – is that humans’ “selves” have never existed only in or on our bodies. We perform our selves into existence. And so when we perform ourselves into being online, we carry much of that same old offline, embodied baggage with us
What if the profile I asked you to create above would be seen on multiple social media sites? What if you learned the profile would be associated with both your dating and your LinkedIn profiles? And also visible to your network where you connect with family? If this idea makes you feel uncomfortable, you are experiencing the threat of context collapse. is when the different contexts or worlds you associate with overlap or become mixed together. Friends snicker at an embarrassing comment your mother makes in reply to your photo online. A job recruiter sees an Instagram photo of you partying and decides not to recruit you.
Context collapse is a constant danger as our online identities proliferate. In her research, new media scholar danah boyd found that teens develop strategies for dealing with context collapse, including using coded language to communicate. It is also common practice for people to try to keep their social media accounts separate and hide some details or even entire accounts from specific people and publics (as we’ll discuss in more detail in Chapter 3).
What keeps us using platforms even when our interactions feel uncomfortable or compromising? Well, , which means that the more the platform is used – the more often we go there to interact with family, or friends, or customers, or all of these – the more valuable it becomes.
When my ‘professor’ and ‘mother’ roles overlap
I deal with context collapse too. As a professor of social media, I encourage my students to embrace their online experiences as part of their real worlds; in this professor role, I recognize the value in online interactions. And then I head home from class to find my teenaged son or daughter has been on social media for hours. I freak out. Enough screen time! I shout. I don’t care what you’re doing on there!
It feels hypocritical that I behave so differently in these two roles. So why do I do it? I ask myself this a lot, but I only have tentative answers; they have to do with what I perceive as distinct responsibilities in each role I play. When I teach, I don’t want my students to shut me out; I know from experience that they are only willing to examine their online interactions in my class when they feel comfortable I’m not judging them. But my job as a mother is not to help my son understand his online life. My job is to keep him safe and healthy, and when he spends too much time in virtual worlds, his safety and health slip out of my control.
Why context collapse is more extreme online
You could say I am getting off easy with my own professor-mother context collapse. My mother role is mostly an offline role, so context collapse between my mother and professor roles online is not frequent, and it doesn’t last forever online. Whatever roles you feel the need to keep distinct in your life, it is likely their online expressions that you worry about the most. There are that danah boyd emphasizes are far more pronounced than they would be offline (It’s Complicated, pg. 11). They are:
persistence: online content and expressions can last for a very long time
visibility: many audiences and publics may be able to see what you post over time
spreadability: it’s nearly effortless to share content posted online
searchability: content posted online can be searched for
The four affordances identified by boyd raise the stakes of online context collapse and communication in general. When we consider who controls our data, and what we agree to when we agree to use their services, it can be especially chilling to realize how easily what we express online might become visible to unintended audiences. They may spread this information to other publics, who will be able to search and find it easily. Finally, this threat will persist for a very long time.
Core Concepts and Questions
identity is an iteration of the self that links individuals with how they are perceived by others
sociologist Erving Goffman wrote in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life that we are all actors on a “social stage,” who play particular roles to create our identities, and that these roles change as we interact with different people and situations. Our selves can only really be understood when we look at all of the roles we play
in her 1990 book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler’s concept of performativity says that roles like gender are only constructed through our performances of them; they would not exist without our acting them into existence
context collapse is when the different contexts or worlds you associate with overlap or become mixed together
a concept meaning that the more the platform is used, the more valuable it is – because the more likely it is where we go to interact with family, or friends, or customers, or all of these. A shorthand definition is “the more, the merrier”
signals or cues in an environment that communicate how to interact with features or things in that environment
there are four affordances of online communication that danah boyd emphasizes are far more pronounced than in offline communication (It’s Complicated, pg. 11). They are: persistence (online content and expressions can last for a very long time), visibility (many audiences and publics may be able to see what you post over time), spreadability (it’s nearly effortless to share content posted online), and searchability (content posted online can be searched for)
A. Questions for qualitative thought:
In what ways have a social media platform’s affordances on how you can present your identity felt restrictive to you? If you were in charge, how would you rewrite them?
Write about an example of context collapse you have seen or experienced online. Who were the intended publics, or audiences, or each presentation of self involved? How did the situation end up?
Consider one or more aspects of yourself that do not feel like they have places to be expressed online. What is happening with these aspects of yourself that cannot be expressed online? How does it feel? Envision and describe or map out a platform where this type of expression can be shared.
B. Review: Which is the best answer?
Scholarly Sources on Identity (cited in APA):
boyd, d. (2013). White flight in networked publics. How race and class shaped American teen engagement with MySpace and Facebook. In L. Nakamura & PA Chow-White (Eds.), Race after the internet, 203-222. Find in Google Scholar
Pitcan, M., Marwick, A. E., & boyd, d. (2018). Performing a vanilla self: Respectability politics, social class, and the digital world. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 23(3), 163-179. Find in Google Scholar
About these sources: Racial and cultural identities are expressed online through everything from choice of platform to user language choices. These articles use interviews and observation of online environments to unpack how such choices culminate in cultural coding of online spaces and performances.
Read it: Internet Society’s Understanding Your Online Identity
The organization Internet Society, or internetsociety.org, was founded in 1992 to manage and guide technical and social standards for internet use. Today they are “a global cause-driven organization …dedicated to ensuring that the Internet stays open, transparent and defined by you.”
Online identity can be viewed through many lenses. The internet society has dived deeply into online identity through the lens of technical infrastructure, and found that not only public policy, but public education is essential in managing identity-related data collection and privacy online.
Click here to open the short reading “Understanding Your Online Identity” by InternetSociety.org, then highlight the passages you find useful. Be sure you understand the terms below.
The complete set of characteristics that define you
Name, nicknames, birth date and any other unique characteristics that com- bined make you who you are
A way of referring to a set of characteristics
Your email address (myID@me.com) or user name (RaulB) or an account number (7633)
A subset of the characteristics that make up your identity
Demographic information about you or any purchase history is stored in your account at a website
Profile (according to InternetSociety.org)
Information collected by others about your actions and characteristics. (See also chapter definition.)
A search you conducted for “discount shoes” or a list of websites visited
A partial identity created by you to represent yourself in a specific situation
A social network account or your online blog
Hear It: “Timelessness” from the Social Media and Ourselves podcast
Listen to / read the transcript of this second episode of the podcast Social Media and Ourselves, “Timelessness.” Then consider: What were or are your past “selves” captured on social media? If they can still be found online, are you comfortable with that? If not, imagine you had the power to right this situation from the tech side. How would you change things. Envision making changes not only so that these past selves no longer haunt you online, but so that the shame of a past self online does not affect so many younger people in the future.
An iteration of the self that links individuals with how they are perceived by others
A selective presentation of your identity online. This term can also refer to information collected by others about your actions and characteristics and without your knowledge or intention, such as data drawn from a search you conduct or a series of websites you've visited.
people paying sustained attention to the same thing at the same time
signals or cues in an environment that communicate how to interact with features or things in that environment
Sociologist Erving Goffman wrote in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life that we are all actors on a "social stage," who play particular roles to create our identities, and that these roles change as we interact with different people and situations. Our selves can only really be understood when we look at all of the roles we play.
This concept from Judith Butler's her 1990 book Gender Trouble asserts that roles like gender are only constructed through our performances of them; they would not exist without our acting them into existence.
Context collapse is when the different contexts or worlds you associate with overlap or become mixed together.
A concept meaning that the more the platform is used, the more valuable it is - because the more likely it is where we go to interact with family, or friends, or customers, or all of these. A shorthand definition is "the more, the merrier."
There are four affordances of online communication that danah boyd emphasizes are far more pronounced than in offline communication (It's Complicated, pg. 11). They are: persistence (online content and expressions can last for a very long time), visibility (many audiences and publics may be able to see what you post over time), spreadability (it's nearly effortless to share content posted online), and searchability (content posted online can be searched for.)
the more the platform is used, the more valuable it is - because the more likely that platform is where we go to interact with family, or friends, or customers, or all of these
A way of referring to a set of characteristicsYour email address (myID@me.com) or user name (RaulB) or an account number (7633)
A subset of the characteristics that make up your identity. Example: Demographic information about you or any purchase history is stored in your account at a website.
A partial identity created by you to represent yourself in a specific situation. Example: A social network account or your online blog