I’m going to approach this essay in three ways each of which will give you a personalized answer to the question addressed in the header:
- The positive effects social media has on teens who are trying to find themselves.
- The negative effects social media has had on teenager identity.
- Finally I will neither go left, right, nor down the middle about the follow up question I want you to think about as you read this:
- Does giving teens a mask (anonymous online identity) encourage them to act differently than they would normally offline?
Oscar Wilde is talking about identity. In todays times we all wear masks the moment we open up an application on our smartphone or computer screen. We feel a sense of empowerment because we have the luxury to take our time in whatever we say. We have the power to do so much in so little time when things wouldn’t be the same in the real world. We talk, sound, and look different online. Identity is something that should be more considered in our society.
A popular quote that ties into this is, “fake it till’ you make it”. But what happens when you finally do make it? Most of us don’t have multiple personality disorder. So because of that we only have one identity and for some people it is easy maintaining the identity they want because they just act the way they normally do regardless of who they are around. For others, they have to put on a mask and appease to society’s needs as a way to fit in and not be ridiculed. Where does social media fit in to all this?
The answer is: in your decisions.
This video portrays exactly how high school life is and the struggle teens face to show their true identity.
Social media serves as an escape for many teens. For me, it did just that. It allowed me to express myself in a variety of ways which is what most teens say is the benefit of social media. But the main reason I created and stay on social media is to keep up with my friends and for me to share what I am doing so that way when I see them I wouldn’t have to tell them everything since they would have a gist of it. One of my biggest moments that I shared on social media was on June 3rd, 2015.
During my graduation I was able to give a speech to my graduating class in which I said everything I wanted to say for my high school experience. I had prepared so long for this speech and I knew it was going to be the biggest day of my life so I wanted everything I said to be what I wanted to be remembered by. I was able to get one of my teachers to record it for me and the next day I posted it on YouTube for everyone to see. Social media helped me capture this moment so I would never forget it and so my speech can live on forever for the world to see. After hearing my speech, teachers decided that every year on the first day of school this video will be played to inspire and motivate other students that my representation, “anything is possible with hard work and determination” is true and they too can achieve whatever it is that they want. Today my speech has over 500 views of which I never expected to happen.
Identity plays a role in social media because you have the chance to build yourself and to let others know what you stand for. Now, in my small community most people know me as the valedictorian who gave a great speech. If it wasn’t for social media, my speech would have not been as prolonged in peoples memories as it is now and I would have had a different identity in the view of the public.
Many teens are so reluctant to post or like certain pictures or status updates because they know that everyone will see and that causes insecurity. As Douglas Rushkoff mentions in his documentary, Generation Like, the “Like” button is todays social currency. The more likes you get, the more status you have. But imagine a Facebook where there is no like button so you could post all you want and you would never be afraid of how many people will like it. I know for a fact sometimes even I fall into this trap. And its not just this but there are many more underlying problems that teens face when on social media.
Social media can lead to a wide array of negative consequences:
- False Sense of Connection: Social media sites can make it more difficult for us to distinguish between the meaningful relationships we foster in the real world, and the numerous casual relationships formed through social media. By focusing so much of our time and energy on these less meaningful relationships, our most important connections will weaken.
- Cyber-bullying: Kids especially are vulnerable to the practice of cyber-bullying in which the perpetrators, anonymously or even posing as people their victims trust, terrorize individuals in front of their peers. The devastation of these online attacks can leave deep mental scars. In several well-publicized cases, victims have even been driven to suicide.
- Privacy: Social networking sites encourage people to be more public about their personal lives. Because intimate details of our lives can be posted so easily, users are prone to bypass the filters they might normally use when talking about their private lives. What’s more, the things they post remain available indefinitely. While at one moment a photo of friend playing beerpong at a party may seem harmless, the image may appear less attractive in the context of an employer doing a background check. While most sites allow their users to control who sees the things they’ve posted, such limitations are often forgotten.
Finally I end on the note that social media is leading to a new era of identity. While we are busy creating new communities around ourselves online, sharing different aspects of our lives and building a visible record of ourselves for anyone to see, we don’t often stop to think about the implications of this for the concept of identity.
Me Then, Me Now
There is an issue of identity that is discussed by philosophers, known as the synchronic problem of identity.
That is to say, what exactly is it that makes the person we were five years ago the same person we are today. It can’t really be explained by space or time; you will only occupy one place at one time once in your life.
So can it be explained through biology? That a person is the same because they contain the same collection of cells; or can it be explained by the mind? That the person before you today has the exact same memories, and thoughts as the person 5 years ago? Some may brush this off as too simple of a problem, but when you try to find an answer for yourself, it’s not so easy. What exactly is it that makes us who we are? It’s a problem we are exploring and possibly solving through social media.
Social media has afforded us a unique opportunity to build a very visible, permanent record of ourselves. It is, in a way, re-inventing the notion of identity, with far-reaching consequences. Not only is it providing the very tools to (re)create our identities, but it is also speaking to an innate human fear. That we’ll be forgotten by others and that our own memories will begin to fade, changing the person that we are. This is a big reason of why people make videos or take pictures, as a way to capture precious moments.
What is worth considering is how the tools of social media have established techniques for re-inventing our identity, masking it or even allowing for no identity at all. Consider the rather odd rise of the use of pseudonyms online. Why would you want to say something if people have no idea it came from you, or why would you feel the need to create an online persona for yourself that is different to your ‘offline’ or other self. The fact is that people do, to a startling degree.
Pseudonyms aren’t always used to preserve anonymity of course, but the decision to use a type of name other than that printed on your birth certificate is a very conscious one. It is saying that this person commenting or sending a tweet isn’t exactly identical to that other you. In something as significant as the very collection of symbols that is used to differentiate you from one person to the next. A very famous group of unknown individuals is the group of ‘hactivists’ known as, anonymous.
So what does this mean for the perception of identity? One thing to consider is that social media gives us the opportunity to create a more permanent version of ourselves that allows us to solidify our identity. At the same time it has made identity fragile, to the point where it can be completely unreal. Is social media strengthening identity or weakening it? The answer, evidently, is neither. What it is doing is changing the idea of identity to something that we still quite cannot quite fully understand.
But we are getting closer. Whether we realize it or not, the adeptness we are developing with the use of social media tools, how we know the ways in which we can construct an identity that is either completely true to ourselves, or is in fact a different identity that we want to project to the outside world is evidence of this changing sense of identity. Both are acceptable forms of identity. What we need to do is to begin to understand that these opportunities in social media are not a bad thing. Why shouldn’t someone have the chance to use a different name than the one they were given, to project an alternate version of themselves or a completely fake one? It is all coming from you, and is being perceived by others. That is the most exciting sense of self we have had yet.
Let’s Defy “1984”
It is not an easy concept to understand or accept. In the book, 1984, George Orwell warned that the electrification of identity essentially made identity vulnerable, so that it could be erased at any point by whoever had the power; and in our case by the government. And while this may have its merits, it is not the way in which we should view identity. Is there a fallacy in an identity that depends entirely on digital technology, that can no longer exist simply at the flick of a switch? Maybe. But to ignore and refuse the opportunities and advantages this gives us is a mistake. Identity will always be vulnerable because it doesn’t in fact, exist. So why not have a go at establishing your identity right here and now, in the media that exists for us at an increasing rate? It is the most real identity you can have, right now. Take off that mask.