Reading “Kids, The Internet, and the End of Privacy” was, for me, an evocative reminder of struggles between my mother and myself around 2003-4. Though I was able to keep a MySpace profile without much parental intervention, Facebook was rapidly growing in popularity, and my mother was not having it. The concept of putting so much – in Goffman’s words – backstage information out to the public was horrifying to her, as I am sure it was to many of my peers’ parents. However, I (and my peers) had a tacit understanding that we were not really revealing backstage information. On the contrary, we were still performing. Though Marwick and Boyd focused on Twitter, the idea that “individuals work together to uphold preferred self-images of themselves and their conversational partners, through strategies like maintaining face, collectively encouraging social norms, or negotiating power differentials and disagreements” applies quite readily to my and others’ early actions on Facebook.
However, this is not to say that the described parental apprehension was without merit. As Kent Gasaway ominously reminds readers in Nussbaum’s article, “‘There are a lot of weirdos out there…. There are a lot of strangers out there.” Gasaway is not wrong – but if I consider the costs and benefits of social media use in my own life, the choice to use such media is a clear one. Nussbaum’s article delineates three positive effects of such activity: “romantic, professional, and creative”. Indeed, I have both launched dialogues and conducted relational maintenance with romantic partners over Facebook. Furthermore, Facebook (and MySpace before it) were instrumental in connecting me to other individuals with similar musical tastes, finding shows to both attend and play, and starting creative projects (technically “creative”…though I would now qualify some of my high school bands as anything but.).
Both Facebook and Twitter sport a variety of features which dramatically alter self-presentation: meticulously-selected profile pictures, well-manicured Walls, and the existence of both a front stage (Wall / tweets) as opposed to a backstage (Facebook Messages / Twitter DMs), for example. A concept from Marwick and Boyd helps to explain where some difficulty can arise while grooming these online personas: “Twitter creates a ‘context collapse’ in which multiple audiences, usually thought of as separate, co-exist in a single social context.” Though Marwick and Boyd are applying the idea of “context collapse” to fandom and celebrity, it applies no less to non-celebrities. For example, an individual may strategically alter their self-presentation when interacting with various different groups of friends in-person – i.e., casual school acquaintances, best friends, musician friends, and coworkers. However, (discounting the relatively recent functionality of grouping friends and hiding posts for various groups) on Facebook and Twitter, there is just one profile, one stream of tweets, much like the classical view of the “one true self”. In the face of this confusion, do individuals compromise on and generalize their profiles in such a way to please multiple audiences? Or, do they choose specific aspects of their identity to present as “more true”?
Please, only photograph the good side of my fragmented, postmodern self.
In the face of this question, I propose that social media and profiles as described above can actually help individuals develop their sense of self. If presenting certain features or sharing certain kinds of information makes a user happy, why should it not define them? In such a privacy-devoid era, it makes sense to simply put one’s best foot forward in online self-presentation. Share what makes you unique…or what garners the most Likes, it’s up to you.