In which I explore how authenticity is needed to create a corner for yourself online and why this might be troublesome.
This is something I struggle with a lot since my behaviour on social media not only influences my private life but also my professional life. How am I presenting myself, what am I going to give away and what should I leave out? Sometimes it’s not a question of “should I?” but rather of “do I want to?”. Finding what I’m comfortable with sharing online is a fine line, as I imagine it is for everyone. I realised that since I’ve started to write essays more regularly, these questions arise more often as well.
We all have different behaviours online that reflect our personality and interests in some way. Some accounts may appear more “authentic” and inviting than others and thus may have a larger following. It’s important to note that I’m not talking about celebrities here, but rather about people like you and me that just use a platform as a way of communication and self-staging. Some people manage to get a larger following and are then able to put ads on their posts that help them generate money. This is a point I’ll get back to later but for now, let’s just stick to the foundation of this essay.
The main platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are part of our everyday life nowadays. We all use them in some shape or form and can’t avoid them if we’re not exactly willing to shut off all our electronic devices and ignore the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Ignoring them or denying their influence is useless, so we need to figure out how to deal with them and what platforms offer and represent. That’s why it would be so important to add media literacy to our educational system since it has become such an essential part of our lives, but I guess since we’re all still figuring these platforms out as we go along, it might be difficult to add a clear curriculum that’s generally accepted. (Though I don’t think that we can wait much longer for classes like this, waiting until we’ve figured it all out might take decades - and I also think that it’s better to add classes that have a basic approach rather than do nothing at all.)
Let’s focus on Instagram (this is not at all because it’s the only platform I still use regularly) and how people use it. Some use it in a more “conventional” and maybe “approachable” way by posting selfies and putting themselves in the foreground, others may use it for their art, memes or politics. It doesn’t really matter so much what you post but rather how you stage it and how it correlates with your entire feed and self-presentation. This, I’ve learned, is important. From that, people can then tell what you’re like by just looking at your feed and catching your presented and orchestrated “authenticity”.
No matter the content you post, how you are participating or might not be participating at all (by not having an account for instance) is enough to position yourself within the grand scheme of social media. Not having an account sends out a signal that’s just as strong as posting regularly.
People assume that their social media behaviour and appearance is different by not posting the 100th selfie from the same angle but by instead sharing minimal landscape pictures when really, it’s all the same. The context might be different but the content is almost always the same - your interest compressed into one little post to attract as many souls like you from all corners online.
Either you’re good at building a platform for yourself by following all the steps that supposedly lead to success or you’re not and you’re just trying to have some fun by (not) participating. The motives behind having an account or trying to build it can vastly vary. I’m just not sure whether we’re always clear of those motives or if we’re just drifting along because it seems like the right thing to do at the moment and we don’t want to miss out. Maybe these platforms can be seen as proof for our deep-seated wish of documenting everything that we can get our hands on and then showcasing it to others hoping for acceptance. At least some part of us is, by now, stored within those platforms, even if it will never be able to represent the whole being of ourselves.
A post from 4 months ago might’ve been just funny to me back then but might reflect badly on me now and the person I changed into. Social media can be used as an archive that you can fall back onto to see the change and growth you might’ve experienced and I think that’s a positive aspect of it. But some things that I find funny or want to share might come across completely different to what I’m trying to convey and that’s where the problems arise. Mistakes aren’t ever forgotten online and they’ll haunt you for a long time. I won’t ever be able to create a completely authentic account that reflects myself in a way that is in any way true, since everyone’s interpretation of authenticity is different and thus makes it difficult for mistakes, learning and growing to happen – all parts of human life that aren’t appreciated on the internet.
Which exactly raises another important question: Is Truth important online?
Sure, we can all coincide that we want our news to be truthful, factual and backed with evidence, and yeeesss, we’ve all by now heard it a million and one hundred times; “Don’t believe what you see! It’s just a glimpse of someone’s life! Anything can be photoshopped!”. Thanks yeah, that really just eradicated all issues and questions regarding the topic and we no longer have any problems dealing with social media… Granted, I’m in no position to judge or declare anything since I’m overwhelmed with the question whether to have or not to have an account at all which leads to me deleting my account in regular intervals and then after a few months restoring it once again. I have far fewer skills in media literacy than you do, I guarantee it. Just making such a big case for it because I want to get that education myself and finally know whether it’s really necessary to share that cool pic from last night or whether I could just lay back and let others do the work who might enjoy it more, and who won’t fall into deep anxiety after pressing ‘post’.
We need to consider questions of what, how and why we share something subjectively but can’t do so without at least regarding our surroundings and taking them into account as well. Yea, you can argue that nothing actually matters in the end, especially your post from 3 years ago. But these platforms change our behaviour and are thus capable of influencing our lives and forming it. It doesn’t matter whether you turn on ads after having gathered enough followers or if you’re just browsing for yourself without monetary compensation - these platforms turn your life and the parts and information you choose to share from it into capital. The more time you spend online, the more they earn. They wilfully try to alter your behaviour to get more money out of you, so to scrutinise these companies, as well as our motivation behind getting on those platforms and spending so much time on them, is crucial.
Be more aware of your time, who you follow, what you post and of the reasons for that. Realise that authenticity involves mistakes and growth and can be understood in vastly different manners. Only then will we be able to deal with social media constructively.
Credits: - drawing by daniel zineldin