A Reintroduction and Digital Replicas: the Problem with Social Media Identity

Hi, my name is Jesse Max Muir. I am 20 years old, a media studies student of the University of Wollongong, and a very digitally integrated individual. As of this moment I connect to 41 Tumblr followers, 465 Facebook friends, 60 Twitter followers, 87 Instagram followers, 46 Snapchat friends, 0 Spotify followers, 1 YouTube subscriber (cheers mum) and 45 WordPress followers. For these various social media sites and applications you will find the same profile picture, the same biography, and similar forms of content posted by myself. My digital footprint has been explicitly designed as an extension of myself, a practice which theorists such as Stacey Koosel to support, claiming that

“The extension of a social self and interpersonal interactions are accentuated and accelerated by the industry of gathering and selling personal information on the Internet” (Koosel, 2011)

Be that as it may, if someone were to ask me how active I was on social media, or how much I cared about my Facebook or Twitter followers, my reaction would go something like this:

idgas

Yes, unlike many I have posted ONE selfie in my life, rarely share content, and post on my own social media accounts even less (with the exception of my written blogging). The main reason for this being I value personal interaction, coupled by the fact that I just can’t nail that perfect camera angle.

Despite my pessimistic view towards social media there are many that view their various profiles and social followings as having profound impacts upon their social status. As argued by Alice Marwick (2013), social media has given rise to a hierarchy based on attention and visibility, an environment where quantified elements such as Klout scores and follower numbers imply a level of influence, visibility and attention. Now that’s all well and good, but the downfalls of this digital attention economy can become seriously damaging. When someone has access to hundreds upon thousands of people within their social networks it provides a level of power, to reach a boundless amount of people with the click of a button. But what happens if your latest selfie gets no likes, or that hilarious joke you posted on Facebook flops? Each new post can present its own digital anxieties, so now just as you perceived yourself as popular from your media followings; audience feedback has the potential to reflect the exact opposite. The result could be timing your posts to reach the maximum amount of likes, the continuous reposting of content to achieve more likes, and even the deletion of content that receives no attention. In here lies the issue, and is where concerns can start to emerge.

A study conducted in 2012 by Facebook identified that of its 1 billion accounts, 83 Million were fake (Facebook in Mosbergen, 2012). To put this into perspective, the population of Australia is only around 23 Million, so this is an astounding amount. Our attention economy and social media addiction has influenced the creation of millions of fake media accounts, a phenomenon that has been coined as Catfishing. The visibility of Catfishing as an activity exploded in 2010 through the documentary of the same name, in which an American man Nev Schulman presents his experience of falling in love with a fake ‘Catfish profile’. Amanda Kaskazi (2014) argues that Catfishing is more likely to occur on Twitter as people are more likely to make new connections and less likely to be cautious of an unfamiliar profile.

(Catfish trailer)

The reasoning behind these fake profiles can range from revenge, extortion, desperation and even boredom. Certain profiles even utilize their online personas for monetary gain such as the infamous Cassidy Boone who famously claimed that vegemite is racist (Yes, you heard me correctly).

As another side effect, the amount of fake celebrity profiles existing on social media is rapidly increasing as well. Perrie Edwards, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and actor Derek Luke have all fallen victim to these fake profiles, some created merely for comedic purposes, others legitimately pretending to be the celebrity in question, all however look for attention (Gizauskas, 2015).  This illustrates perfectly the negative side effects our social media addictions, psychology Lecturer Ellen Boag specifically argues the creation of these fake accounts may come down to loneliness and the ideal they will attract people and followers if they pretend to be something they’re not through fake celebrity status. This is an extremely unnerving and potentially psychologically damaging. Here’s a perfect example through a Perrie Edwards Impersonator.

“I relate to Perrie very much,” she says. “We have a lot of similarities. Being happy and sad at the same time—I see that in Perrie, and that’s me too. So it is definitely a homage to her and it is part of why she is my idol. When she and Zayn Malik broke up I took it pretty badly because I feel I ‘am’ her—but I got over it slowly and have come to terms with it now” (@FakePerrieLM in, Gizauskas, 2015).

And if this ideology doesn’t concern you of social media’s dangers I don’t know what will.

Okay kids, time to go play outside for a while. If you need me, contact me through carrier pigeon.

References:

Gizauskas, R 2015, ‘Meet the People Pretending to Be Celebrities on Social Media’, Broadly, weblog, December 18th, accessed 10th March 2016, https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/meet-the-people-pretending-to-be-celebrities-on-social-media

Marwick, A 2013, ‘Leaders and followers: Status in the tech scene, in Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, pg. 73-111

Mosbergen, D 2012, ‘Facebook Has 83 Million ‘Fake’ Or Duplicate Users, About 8.7 Percent Of All Active Accounts’, Huffington Post, 3rd August 2012, accessed 10th March 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/facebook-83-million-fake-users-active-accoutns_n_1733111.html?section=australia

Kaskazi, A 2014, ‘Social Network Identity: Facebook, Twitter and Identity Negotiation Theory’, In iConference 2014 Proceedings (p. 858 – 859). doi:10.9776/14276, https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/47365

Koosel, S 2011, ‘Surfing the Digital Wave: Digital Identity as Extension’, academia, accessed 10th March 2016, http://www.academia.edu/2048738/Surfing_the_Digital_Wave_Digital_Identity_as_Extension

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