I Tweet Therefore I Am: Social Media and the Formation of Identity

Orphan Black cast images
Who are we, really?

Facebook is having an identity crisis. The social media giant is undergoing some recent scrutiny for threatening to remove drag queens’ profiles unless each drag queen remakes the page using his own real name. You can read more about Mark Zuckerberg’s philosophy of online personas at Michael Zimmer’s blog but here’s an important snippet wherein Zuckerberg declares that, regardless of context, people don’t change who they are:

“You have one identity,” he emphasized three times in a single interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect.” “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” (emphasis added)

Clearly, the way we communicate to others has tremendously improved because of technology. While Zuckerberg might argue that I am only one person–technology merely reflects that oneness–what’s certain is that technology has allowed for the multiplicity of both communicators and communications. Before, we would have to send letters through messengers or the mail, but now we not only can have conversations at any given moment, we can communicate with hundreds of people at a time. Facebook, email, Twitter, and Tumblr are a few ways that we can connect with many people at one time instead of stretching and balancing your time for multiple phone calls or outings.

Gone are the days when you would call your BFF to make plans and you HAD to show up because you didn’t have access to a landline phone. Now, you can just text them and express that you are not feeling well or you want to meet up somewhere else. Also, now we can express our opinions more clearly because of being able to attach pictures, locations, music, links, etc. For example, when talking on the phone and trying–and failing- to describe the plot of Inception and your friend obviously doesn’t understand, you now can easily text, email, or share the trailer link to them. If you are unable yourself to be understand by someone else, you reach out to other resources–here, media–to help you make a point. In so doing, you either cement your own singular identity as researcher (Zuckerberg’s arguable stance) or practice another kind of identity than friend or movie reviewer, exchanging your usual roles for more context-specific ones like analyst or internet user or existentialist philosopher.

But what is particularly crucial is that we can also express our personality and image through social media, which can be a good and bad thing. Now we can share information about a relationship status, religious beliefs, and professional experiences to anyone in the world who is interested in getting to know us. However, the downside of being able to express every opinion, activity, and interest you have through Facebook and Twitter is that this can lead others to form a negative image of you, one that you don’t think matches up to who you actually are. So while Zuckerberg might think that technology just reflects humanity it also crafts that humanity in this reflective process. This 24/7 window of communication allows you to tweak and alter who you want to come off as, adding messages and images to try to present a whole picture of selfhood as you meet/learn about new people or current friends, promote events, and multitask, all in the blink of an eye.



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