Social media recently became the number one activity on the Internet. One of the often explored topics surrounding social media is why it is so addicting. Why do people spend an ever-increasing amount of time sharing details of their lives on Facebook or Twitter? What fundamental human desire does social media fulfill? One answer to these questions is that these platforms let you carefully craft your ideal self image. Social media is driven by idea that you can actively and precisely define how people see you.
Ever since cavemen drew on walls it has been a human desire to express oneself. Every thing from the clothes you wear to the car you drive to what you share on Facebook fulfills this need to tell the world who you are. Self expression is something social media does very well in a way that is never finished and costs only time. It is also easier than ever to lie. Creating a fake self is just as simple as defining a true self.
On Facebook self-expression takes an obvious form. You create a profile that showcases exactly what you want it to. You can show the world a you that doesn’t even exist. You can fabricate your tastes, your qualifications, your hobbies, everything except for your name and your photo. Although you can create fake accounts it is prohibited by Facebook in an effort to curb anonymity. For the most part people stick to this rule unless they need more friends to expand their gardens. However Staying true to their name or picture doesn’t stop people from fabricating public images of themselves. People create an elaborate personality map out of pictures, “likes,” sharing links, listening to music and more to share with their audience of Facebook friends. There isn’t one person who hasn’t used Facebook to, at the very least, stretch the truth and portray his or her self in a way to make someone else believe something. Think about the last time you or a friend had a less than amicable breakup. I bet their were more pictures of the two newly single people having a great time in the first month after the breakup than any other month previously. Even though both parties were likely miserable the instinct is to prove to the other person that everything is just fine without them.
On Twitter anonymity is much more common. People are identified by usernames which often do not resemble their real name. There is very little room to describe yourself and only one profile picture. People are less forced and have less of an opportunity to create themselves here than on Facebook. Therefore creating a self, real or imagined, is more easily accomplished. It comes in the form of fake “celebrity” accounts, an account that impersonates a brand or a personality. These accounts come in all forms from someone pretending to be their cat to someone impersonating a politician who recently embarrassed himself. It also comes in the form of “expert” accounts, an account that portrays the person as an expert in something. These people may very well be experts in what they claim to be but the proclivity of experts out there begs to differ. Accurate or not, portraying oneself as an expert is still an expression of one’s ideal or public self. Either you are an expert and you want to make sure people know it or you would like to be an expert do you fake it ’till you make it.
There are plenty of exceptions to this practice but I think that by looking you will start to notice more and more the tendency of people to spend a lot of time carefully crafting themselves. The ideal or imagined self shows up in every social network. The feasibility of creating a self is such that it is too tempting not to stretch the truth somewhere when defining your personality. The question that remains is how does the feasibility and public nature of these profiles affect society as a whole?