Virtually Real

“You have one identity. 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…. Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” – Marc Zuckerberg


Really Mr Zuckerberg? Interesting perspective from someone who created a platform where people can literally recreate themselves and their online image with the click of a button or the tap of a screen.  Maintaining one’s Facebook profile, be it a complete revision or as simple as making a status update or adding an image caption, can be viewed as a continuous performance of self over time (Cover 2015:13)

And isn’t that what social media is about? Performance. The better the performance the more ‘likes’, the more retweets, the more double taps in Instagram. The highlight reel of people’s lives.

I think someone may have forgotten to send me that memo… Unless the highlight of that day was buying wine, which is entirely possible!

A big focus of my current unit at university has been online identity and how it compares to ‘IRL’ (in real life) and changes across social networking platforms. 

Long before Facebook was even a sparkle in Zuckerburg’s eye, Goffman (1959 cited in VanDijck 2013) had his own theory that self presentation of one’s image is always a performance tailored to a particular audience. This has only been enhanced since the introduction and adoption of the digital age. 

It got me thinking. In 2011 I created a Facebook page  to share my blog posts with friends. Over the past seven years it has grown in to a 2.5 thousand plus community. How do they see me and my ‘brand’ Almost Jane? Do I portray myself as authentic? Am I performing? Being in a unique position of having a (somewhat!) captive audience, I put the question out there. 

The most common words? ‘Real’ and ‘honest’.

Screen shot taken by Jane Flynn.

It takes a village. 

I started this blog not long after I had my daughter. Isolated, unable to drive and with a husband that worked night shifts I was lonely and looking to connect. Being a part of an online ‘mothers group’ I had already placed my faith in trusting strangers. This soon extended to the Facebook community I was building around my blog. I would share my struggles with adapting to motherhood and have a chorus of people saying ‘Me too!’ Strangers on the internet became my village and seven years later we are still going strong. 

Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992, cited in Ellison et al 2007:14) define social capital as “the sum of resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition”. Put simply, the Facebook group for my Almost Jane page has increased my ‘social capital’, my network of resources and support.

Public v’s Personal.

When I asked on my Facebook page what words described ‘Almost Jane’ the two words that came up the most were ‘real’ and ‘honest’. Interesting adjectives from strangers who have never met me in real life. Yet comparing my personal and public profiles there is not a lot of difference. I feel a similar comfortableness and familiarity with my online Facebook community as I do within my friendship circle. 

Turkle (1995 cited in Bargh 2002) noted that the relative anonymity of the internet afforded individuals with the opportunity for exploring and experimenting with different versions of their online identity. Is it this level of anonymity that lends itself to the familiarity I feel within the folds on my Facebook page community? Or is it actually the exact opposite? 

As part of my current unit for university I have had to focus my attention and time on Twitter , a previously much neglected social media platform. I have found it really challenging! I’m trying my best, but most of the time I feel like the socially awkward loner hanging out next to the bowl of chips at the work Christmas party… 

So maybe anonymity is not my thing? Maybe to be real and honest in my online interactions, I need to connect on some level with my audience. Maybe Mr Zuckerberg was right after all? I have one identity, I’ll get to know you and let you get to know me. 

Photo taken and edited by Jane Flynn

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02 comments on “Virtually Real

  • Elephants Child , Direct link to comment

    It is lovely to see another post from you. I hope that you and the family are all doing well.
    Blogging is my only venture into social media.
    I am a multi-facetted personality. Aren’t we all? Which of the various ‘me’ is on display depends on circumstance and my comfort level. And I suspect I am not alone. Which doesn’t make them (or me) dishonest. Incomplete perhaps but not dishonest.

    • Jane , Direct link to comment

      Thank you EC, we are well, I hope you and yours are also.
      Definitely not dishonest or even incomplete necessarily. I think it is natural to adjust our personality to the environment to a certain degree. It’s the same in ‘real life’ I have different friendships with people that emphasise particular traits of my personality.

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