Performativity and Me: How I Present Myself on Social Media

It’s difficult to pinpoint my exact online identity because personality takes different forms depending on which social media site I’m using. I imagine it like all elements of my online persona are spread across different sites, and all have to be taken into account to get a full understanding. For instance, if you only look at my Twitter profile (amy_thompson97), you could find out a little about me, but you wouldn’t get the full picture. To get a better grasp on how my online personality is varied across social media, I’ve made a Prezi that goes through various social media platforms and how my self-presentation may differ across these platforms.

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‘How I Present Myself Across Different Social Media Platforms’ At Prezi

Fox and Vendemia (2016, p. 593) defines self-presentation as “a conscious effort to enact behaviors to create a desired persona for an audience.” As my audience may differ across social media platforms, so does my behaviour. For instance,  I am using Twitter to communicate with teachers and classmates while Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are used mostly to interact with family and friends. The screenshot of my Facebook profile shows that I have been tagged in a photo and haven’t posted anything myself. The rest of my profile reflects the same thing – I am more passive than active on this social media platform.

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Screenshot of my Facebook timeline, retrieved April 8, 2017.

To further explore this, consider Smith and Watson’s (2014, p. 71-72) argument that online personas are “fundamentally relational or refracted through engagement” with others, and in this sense they are “co-constructed”.

Going through my Prezi, you might have noticed that the words I have used to describe my Twitter use are quite different from the descriptions of the other social media platforms listed. I have started using Twitter in a more professional sense, keeping in mind my future career. This requires not only the ability to create media, but to also be original in doing so.

As seen in my embedded tweets, I am focused on practicing making my own media content, from making mind maps and gifs to creating a short video presenting my own ideas. Power (2015, p. 65) highlights using Twitter is beneficial for professionals as it provides “opportunities for cost-effective, real-time communication, collaboration and diffusion of knowledge on a global scale.” I’m still just starting out on Twitter, but I am already reaping the benefits of connecting with people in my field of interest in such an efficient way.  When my teachers retweeted the mind map that I made with a peer, as seen in the first embedded tweet, my work was delivered to a larger audience and was liked by many other users because of this. This simple interaction has demonstrated to me how Twitter can build professional networks so quickly and easily, and all for free.

Tweets embedded from my @amy_thompson97 profile.

 

Taking all of this into account, it is actually advantageous that my online persona differs across social media platforms. I present myself on Twitter as creative and proficient because my intended audience involves those who I wish to build my network with in a professional context. It is therefore strategic that I do not behave the same way on Twitter than on Snapchat, for instance, where far less formal and polished.

Moving on from the professional sphere, I also wanted to look at my online self-presentation in a casual, everyday sense. Over the past few years, I have increasingly paid attention to how my Instagram feed looks as a whole as opposed to just posting individual photos. This increased awareness has been influenced both by my friends, as well as other Instagram users, usually with a large number of followers, who seem to put a great amount of effort into curating the perfect Instagram feed.

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Screenshot of my Instagram feed, retrieved April 3, 2017.

At one point, I tried to follow a theme of my own for my feed. I wanted the dominant colour of all of the photos I posted to be white, similar to that of simply_kenna. As you can see, this worked for several posts. I would try to post photos where the background was already white, or I would heavily increase the brightness and highlights of a photo if white was not already dominant.

This only lasted so long though. I felt like what I could post was restricted to this theme and because of this I felt less authentic. Instead of posting a photo of something I actually wanted to post, I would post one that I cared less about but thought it would fit in with my feed better.

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Screenshot of my Instagram feed, retrieved April 3, 2017.

I decided to give up that theme and find a new strategy. I still wanted my feed to be aesthetically pleasing, but also be able to post with more freedom. Now I don’t use any filters or follow a specific theme, however I always turn up the brightness and contrast. I want each photo to stand out on its own, but also attractive in my overall feed.

I’ve been thinking about what it is exactly that makes me (and others) so concerned about how their Instagram feed looks.  Does an aesthetically pleasing feed make me seem more organised? Like I’ve got it together in all aspects of life? I have the idea that a “messy” feed, one that is not attractive or cohesive, reflects badly on my own personality. 

These feelings of mine link back to self-presentation, or more accurately, selective self-presentation. Fox and Vendemia use “social comparison theory” as an explanation for this; our concerns about self-presentation are influenced by how others present themselves online, using comments and likes as a form of currency (2016, pp. 594). Although Fox and Vendemia are discussing social media in a general sense, this relates directly to my own experience comparing my Instagram feed to others, and trying to imitate simply_kenna.

Self-presentation and social comparison are often linked to social media usage and have consequently sparked a moral panic, particularly in relation to young people’s social media behaviours. Gabriel (2014, pp. 104-105) acknowledges that while “social media present new possibilities for expression and sociality”, concerns about young people’s development and self-presentation was pre-existing. I agree with this and would argue further that it is not limited to young people. Outside of social media, people are always competing with each other. For instance, as a child social-comparison for me meant how many Barbie dolls you owned compared to your friends. For adults, this might mean comparing your annual salary to a co-workers.

The point is, we are always comparing ourselves with others to develop a sense of identity, social media is just a new, and perhaps more intensive, way to do so. Last night my mum asked me, “How can you do any work with so much social media about?” I considered this, and how I’ve been using Twitter to build a professional identity and network, and answered, “The trick is to get social media to work for you.”

 (1021 words, not including citations and captions)

References:

Fox, J, & Vendemia, M 2016, ‘Selective Self-Presentation and Social Comparison Through Photographs on Social Networking Sites’, Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, vol. 19, no. 10, pp. 593-594.

Gabriel, F 2014, ‘Sexting, selfies and self-harm: young people, social media and the performance of self-development’, Media International Australia, no. 151, pp. 104-105

Power, A 2015, ‘Twitter’s potential to enhance professional networking’, British Journal Of Midwifery, vol. 23, no. 1, p. 65.

Smith, S and Watson, J 2014, ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 70-95.

My broader ALC203-related online activity:

This unit has allowed me to reflected on my broader online activity as well as improve it. The interactive nature of ALC203 has not only equipped me with tools to enhance my online activity, but has also given me confidence in doing so. For instance, I felt comfortable to upload this video of myself to Twitter, and in the past I probably would not have shown my face. Additionally, learning about Creative Commons has helped me outside of the unit when writing my blog post about Maisie Williams. I am more aware of the importance of ethics in online activity.

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