Identity Construction and Facebook
The internet offers many different options for users to construct themselves and the images they put out about their personalities and interests. These options, such as social networks, online gaming, forums, chat rooms, instant messaging, and virtual worlds all offer different ways of showing parts of ourselves that we want others to know about. The internet has become an important way in which many in networked countries identify themselves and construct their identities. Facebook is one such service which has become an everyday thing for many Americans.
This discussion, however, is not adequately discussed without a short description about identity. Identity itself is a representation of who we are. The theory of coordinated management of meaning contends that our identities are in a constant state of flux, and that we create these images through communication. George Herbert Mead in his symbolic interactionism theory holds that we are all constantly negotiating with others to help define ourselves and our identity. This indicates that the question of identity is not merely who we are and how we define ourselves, but also how others define us and who they think we are (Griffin, 2009).
Now, in continuing with this, the internet, or more appropriately, the web, has opened up new venues in which people can communicate and assert themselves as independent and autonomous thinkers while, at the same time, belonging to several groups. One such example is Facebook. Katie Ellis wrote an article exploring how Facebook has created a social network where users create their selves online and to what extent this plays in identity.
In Facebook, as many know, you answer some personal questions which help to identify yourself such as where you live, where you are from, when your birthday is, your marital status, your race, and even your sexual orientation by answering questions about what gender you are and what gender or sex you are attracted to. You do have the opportunity not to answer some of those questions, but many do. You can also create networks based on where you went to school or where you are going to school, where you work, and so on. Though these things can be changed on your profile at any time you choose, many leave them static. This creates an identity that your friends can see. You can also choose your privacy setting, which allows you to choose if this information is open for anyone who searches and finds you on the site to see.
In all this, Ellis contends that people put their “real selves” on Facebook. They use their real names, put on their real gender, their real birthday, etc. This, along with the seemingly straightforward way of creating an identity through the profile, creates the image that identity is static, which goes against the theories discussed above. However, these accounts can be changed as the individual sees fit, and much of the identity is not just created by the profile, but by the news feed. Users are free to put what they want up on the news feed including pictures, links, videos, and thoughts. Friends are free to comment on these status updates, and to like them. If we go by the theories mentioned above, this creates a dynamic venue through which individuals continue to construct their identities.
Ellis also mentions how the social networks can extend much further than many think. She has many friends on the site, but knows only a few of them offline. She knows them by the identities they have portrayed on the site and by nothing else. This happens quite often. However, how much of what is portrayed is the real self, how much of it is false, and how much of it is just a portion of the self?
Unlike Ellis, I do not have a great deal of friends on my main account. I did use my real name, place of residence, birthday, and work, but I included nothing about sexual orientation because I think it is not important. I created the account so I could keep in contact with my students after they are out of my class, and am careful not to post anything that may be deemed inappropriate for my work status. Is that an identity construction? Of course. Is it all I am? No. Do I have a lot of friends on there I don’t know offline? No. However, I do have another account I created using a pen-name I hope to use if I ever get any novels published. That account is completely different, and offers another part of my own identity. I also know that I am not the only one who has done this, as another of my friends has (Ellis, 2010).
In conclusion, the internet has offered many ways for individuals to communicate and to assert their individual and social identities. Facebook is one of the more prevalent and more popular sites offering such a service. However, to what extent is the self we portray on such sites our real selves, and to what extent is it just a portion of ourselves? To what extent is the internet changing how we construct our identities and negotiate those of others?
Ellis, K. (2010). Be who you want to be: The philosophy of Facebook and the construction of identity. Screen Education (58), 36-41.
Griffin, E. (2009). A First Look at Communication Theory (7th Edition ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Eduction.
Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., & Tomic, A. (2004). Computer mediated communication: Social interaction and the internet. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications Inc.