Online Identities and the Growth of Social Media

Profile shown on Thefacebook in 2005

Profile shown on Thefacebook in 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Michael McDonnell

For many of us, the Internet has become an inescapable part of our everyday lives. For many it has always been an inescapable part of their lives, but what effect has this had on how we view and present ourselves? In the article “Face Value,” Mary Gray (2007) gives us a look at the early days of social media. She names three social media sites. Facebook, MySpace and Friendster, all three of which offered the same basic service, a space online to connect with people in your current real life networks, get to know them more easily and, through posting your own updates or pictures, let people get to know you.

In the intervening seven years, social media has grown. According to a study by the Pew Internet Project, 74% of online adults use social media. Facebook is still the largest single social media site with 71% of online adults using the site. The market has fragmented, however. More social media sites have sprung up to fill perceived gaps in the market. For example, Instagram is a platform for people to post photographs that usually the user has taken themselves. Tumblr allows users to share pictures, videos and articles that they find interesting or to share content that has been posted by people they are connected with. Twitter allows users to post comments or status updates with a maximum of 140 characters.

This proliferation of social media sites has led to the fragmentation of personalities. Gray points out that we have always had multiple facets to our personality that we would portray and allow people to develop an impression of us. The difference is that now, with social media sites, we can better tailor the image we want to portray and emphasize aspects of ourselves to different outlets.

The average person has two social media accounts. Statistically these are most likely to be Facebook and Twitter. Due to their formats, the same message is unlikely to be posted to each platform but must be edited. Facebook allows long form posts, multiple photographs in a post, links etc. Twitter on the other hand limits users to 140 characters per post. This forces users to edit their thoughts, to either cut excess material or reword their thoughts. This cannot be done without extra consideration as to what you want to say. On top of this, each social network has a different user base and communities within it. These different audiences can have an effect on how users portrays themselves.

This division of our personalities across multiple social networks has had the side effect of allowing businesses to integrate themselves more easily into our daily lives. The acceptance of multiple identities has facilitated the creation of multiple accounts being set up to appeal to different parts of the market. A newspaper, rather than just one account, can instead have one for each section, allowing them to deliver information to customers without flooding them with content that does not interest them. The specificity of each social network also makes it easier for businesses to study how they work and integrate their content into the network without negatively disrupting it.

One negative aspect of this change in how we present ourselves is that the increasing disconnect between our online and physical selves makes falsifying our identity or at least aspects of it. It becomes impossible to trust that a person is who they say they are. Also, if our online self becomes more malleable and adjustable, there is more likelihood that it will not mesh with our offline self.

There are definitely good and bad points to the use of social media in this way but whether it will lead to long term problems still remains to be seen. Ellison (2013) describes our online persona as being like an actor on a stage. As more people join multiple social networks, it’s as if we are trying to perform different plays to different audiences at the same time.


Beckland, J. 2011. Why Mainstream Social Networks Complicate Our Identities. Mashable. Available at:

Casserly, M. 2011. Multiple Personalities And Social Media: The Many Faces of Me. Forbes. Available at:

Changizi, M. 2014. Multiple Personality Social Media. Science 2.0. Available at:

Ellison, N. 2013. Future Identities: Changing identities in the UK – the next 10 years. Available at:

Gray, M. 2007. Face Value. Contexts 6(2):73-75.

Lytle, R. (2013). When One Social Network Is Enough. Mashable. Available at:

Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, (2013). Social Networking Fact Sheet. Available at: sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/

Radacati, S. and Yamasaki, T. (2014). Social Media Market, 2012-2016. Available at:, (2014). Social Networking Statistics | Statistic Brain. Available at:

Are the Social Networking Sites Taking Over?

Over the last couple of years, social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and so on have gained a tremendous amount of popularity, and it’s become more unusual for people not to know or have heard of these sites than otherwise. Why have these pages become so popular? One of the reasons Facebook has been able to become as successful as it is, is probably because of how it satiates our natural curiosity. Through simple pages of information and pictures you feel like you can get to know people and their interests better, creating the illusion that you know them better than you actually do. The social network sites can also give off the illusion of having more friends than one actually has.  Because how many of the people listed as a friend on a social network site is someone you can count on in a dire situation?

Social network sites might make it easier to stay in touch with people, although they aren’t the only methods of doing so. There are several programs one can use for chatting with people individually. Why then, should there be a need for adding people on a social network page? One possible reason is how the social network sites make it easier to share information with several people at the same time, instead of contacting them one by one.

Before Facebook and Twitter, a lot of my friends would use Livejournal – a page for writing journal-like entries and finding people with shared interests. While this page has not grown to the size of Facebook, it still has a pretty large community of users. It functioned as a diary of sorts, and you could choose who had access to the entries you posted. Soon everyone had Facebook and Twitter though, and if you didn’t have one you were missing out. And that’s how the situation has become nowadays. If you don’t use any of the social network sites, you’re not “following the times”. When did it become like this? I’ve experienced people around me who initially had no desire to get Facebook or similar pages end up getting it in the end anyway, because if one does not have at least one way of communicating through these social network sites nowadays, one is essentially left with the short end of the stick.

The social network sites seem to have become almost essential in a way to keep in touch and up to date with recent happenings. Whether this is a good or bad thing, however, remains to be seen.

by Sindre M. Berg