How social media shape personal identity
How does social media shape personal identity? In what sense might its role in identity development be considered problematic, and are there senses in which it might be liberating or promote personal growth?
Influence of Social Media on Personal Identity
The increased usage of technology in the current 21st century has enhanced the rates at which users benefit from online platforms, for example, improved communication and enhanced living experience. According to Gündüz (2017), the use of digital networks has resulted to an enhanced experience for users by creating a platform where the users can showcase their livelihood experiences. Social media usage provides a reflection of the various dimensions about the user’s position in the physical and virtual social life. This further suggests that people have a role to play in the social arena. Gündüz (2017) further states that social media enables our identity exploration, expression and experimentation, which is a natural aspect of human experience. Social media is, therefore, a tool that influences behavior, and accordingly aids in the crafting of personal identity. Although social media results in the establishment of therapeutic advantages, the use of the social networks can also result to the negative self-development, which further influences the general mental health and wellbeing of the users. This paper argues that digital media directly shapes personal identity by influencing the users’ behavioral change.
The theory of the Self
The theory of the self, proposed by Skinner suggests that a person’s behavior will always be influenced by the rewards which he/she gets from conforming to several group behaviors guided by their roles and performance. In-person interactions are effective in understanding how people interact online. The use of social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, is a phenomenon that is continually gaining prominence in the world today. The digital platforms make it possible for users to create profiles which they can further utilize to communicate details about their lives and establish networks with friends and other users (Westgate & Wilson, 2018). As a result, the friends or followers can visualize one post and read their comments as they navigate through one’s profile. It is, therefore, likely that users of social media platforms are likely to suffer from physical and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
How Social Media Shapes Personal Identity
In the current digital age, the internet is considered as one of the most essential tools. It connects people by facilitating the process of sharing diverse media content regardless of their geographical locations. However, its usage is also associated with drastic negative impacts. For instance, digital media use is associated with the widespread of violence and pornographic content which can be accessed by young people whose psychology is not prepared to process or consume this kind of information. According to Schneider, Gruman and Coutts (2012), adults are also affected negatively when they are exposed to pornographic content shared on some social media platforms. The social media creates an environment defined by a wide pool of information which users can access.
The content which the social media users are exposed to when using social media changes how they think about others and themselves. Schneider, Gruman and Coutts (2012) argue that young people are highly influenced by the values embraced by the use of social media. Evidently, social media will offer numerous interpretations of what it means to be attractive, beautiful and sexy. The users are known to be vulnerable to the influences especially when they are accurately engaged with the use of social media platforms. Schneider, Gruman and Coutts (2012) provide an emphasis on the fact that adolescents are at a vulnerable stage associated with the formation of identity. Notably, people establish a sense of the self from creating an impression which they wish to provide to others (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012).
Adolescents and young adults, those between the age of 18 and 20 years, will often rely on their social contacts with an aim of figuring who they are. With the social media emergence, the process of establishing a sense of the self has been moved into the virtual sphere. Thus, the individuals may be tempted to construct a false self-presentation to ensure that they fit within their social circle group. In this case, the established self might be based on false constructs that social media offers to the world. For instance, the concepts of good, pretty, appealing and tempting may be wrongly constructed over the social media, which a person may embrace as a self-identity. Arguably, all the aspects which represent the one true self will not conform to the notions, and hence may be rejected by an individual.
Additionally, social media imagery can result to exaggerated body dissatisfaction, which further exposes users to be at a risk for eating disorders such as anorexia. This situation is mainly true for the case of female users. On the other hand, male users can be exposed to violent media content that can increase their chances of engaging in violent behaviors (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012). Therefore, it is a fact that the social media significantly affects how people view the surrounding world as well as the relationship that people have with themselves and the others.
When the Role of Social Media in Identity Development is Considered Problematic
The role of social media in identity development will be considered problematic when it aids the identification of the false self-concept. According to Vannucci, Flannery and Ohannessian (2017), an association exists between the use of social media and depression symptoms. Evidently, passive social media users can establish symptoms of depression mainly expressed through poor self-esteem and reduced mood. Notably, when social media users go through the content written by other users, in the news feeds or other social media posts, they are more likely to go into a depression based on how they interpret the content. According to Westgate and Wilson (2018), social media users have the ability to develop cognitive biases, which further makes it easier for them to misinterpret the behaviors and actions of the others as threatening or self-referent. As a result, when in the virtual environment whereby one cannot avoid viewing the information posted by other social media users, a site visitor may be prompted to be suspicious about his/her identity, and this can again result to the development of depression.
According to Aalbers et al. (2019), passive social media usage also proves to be problematic as it exposes users to an environment where they can develop negative feelings after developing false identities. Arguably, social media sites have the capacity to elicit a downward comparison whereby a user considers him/herself to be less favorable in comparison to other social media users (Aalbers et al. 2019). With the development of social comparisons, users further establish social ranks whereby they relate themselves to others based on relative power or social attractiveness (Aalbers et al. 2019). This development of perceived social ranks development can be detrimental to the users’ health in that it results to poor mood and a low self-esteem (Westgate & Wilson, 2018). Moreover, the negative social comparison which users engage in while using social media increases their chances of developing depression due to repeated experiences of low self-esteem.
Despite the negative impacts of the influence of social media on personal identity, social media use can facilitate personal growth of the users. Evidently, social media networks have increasingly gained popularity and in turn influenced millions of users, especially college and university students and teenagers. The social networks can promote personal circle development due to the platforms’ ability to facilitate interaction and socialization. According to Ukpong (2014), social media is associated with a form of immediacy in contrast to the traditional means of communication. The immediacy and the associated features of the media has influenced theories and further affected the study of business as well as enhanced the means of interaction. Notably, users who lacked self-confidence while interacting with others on a face-to-face platform can now overcome their fears and develop self-confidence when interacting with others virtually. Moreover, Ukpong (2014) establishes that social media has improved users’ self-confident, which has consequently played a significant role in promoting personal growth by enhancing their communication skills. Furthermore, social media use has provided the youths and other users with unique opportunities to interact people from different religions, cultural backgrounds and geographical locations, thereby improving their intercultural competence and social awareness (Ukpong, 2014).
Lastly, social media is also known to have a strong capability of positively influencing mental health. Schneider, Gruman and Coutts (2012) are of the view that emotions expressed over the online platform influences an individual’s mood. This means that social media does not only aid in relieving social isolation, but it also opens new communication pathways and provides the required support. With social media, for example, users can share their experiences and thoughts that are fundamental towards establishing their identity. Additionally, social media usage benefits mental health by allowing the users to develop an enhanced self-expression talent without fear.
Recommendations for Development
The rate at which people use social media indicates that more users will continue using the digital platforms in the future despite its drastic impacts (Trifiro & Gerson, 2019). It is, therefore, recommended that effective measures should be undertaken to prevent the detrimental health effects associated with accessing social media sites (Trifiro & Gerson, 2019). This can include coming up with a universal measure for development. A universal measure for passive and active social media use would be established to meet several requirements. For instance, similar behaviors should first be identified over several social media platforms such as text-based and image-based sites, including Twitter and Instagram. Moreover, since the social media landscape is constantly changing, it is important that the measures to be developed should meet the needs and requirements of day-to-day changes experienced over the platforms (Trifiro & Gerson, 2019). The language used in developing the social media platforms should be also generalized and understandable by all users. Subsequently, the scale would need to be validated through the use of multiple social media sites to ensure that it is reliable and applicable across several platforms (Trifiro & Gerson, 2019).
Although social media use results in the establishment of therapeutic advantages, the use of the sites can result in the development of negative self-image, which can influence the general mental health and wellbeing of the users. The use of social media platforms directly impacts the creation of personal identity. Evidently, the use of digital platforms exposes the users to an environment where they can reflect on both the virtual and physical aspects of life. Additionally, social media platforms allow the users to express their emotions and explore their self-identity. Furthermore, being a constant social media user allows one to create an identity based on the content available in the media.
One can develop a negative self-identity based on negative beliefs crafted by the information accessed passively over the platforms. The outcome is devastating as the potential for developing drastic mental effects is intensified alongside the loss of self-esteem. While social media sites can result to the development of negative impacts on self-identity development, it can also aid in positive development, especially from the communication perspective. Notably, social media sites have enhanced the way people communicate across different boundaries. Since people do not have to communication on a face-to-face basis over the platforms, confidence in communication is enhanced among non-confident users.
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