Featured image: Photo collage made by Eleni Thanos
Constructing my online identity with profile pictures.
In my opinion, a picture truly does speak 1,000 words (and much more quickly than being subject to this 1,000 word post). Mark Zuckerberg made the now infamous quote in relation to online identity:
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.
Researchers have already come forward and challenged this opinion on how representation of the self is fluid, dynamic and cannot be confined to one persona (Higgins, 1987). In sociology there is the concept of role changing between different social structures, and each structure has a set of roles in which individuals occupy. However the individual cannot possibly the same role across all social structures, it is unnatural. Why I discuss this, is that I believe that the process of selecting a profile image is akin to filling a role within my social structure (social media). Therefore I cannot occupy the same image across all networks.
Recently I filmed a Periscope video based on a prompt an #ALC203 student asked, which was: Does your online identity change between platforms?
“The more comfortable I am on a social network, the more likely I am to share photos which I suppose I feel are me”
“On LinkedIn that’s something I can’t do yet (sic: profile photo that I feel truly represents me) and it’s a struggle.”
In this periscope video I discuss my overall differences on how I assess my online identity, and I only just touched on how I view the relationship between my choice of profile picture, my personality and the impact of that choice depending on the social network I upload it to.
The Many Faces of Me
Don’t worry, I am not performing acts of “mercy” to The Many Faced God, but the Hall of Faces could probably be filled with the number of selfies I’ve taken over the years.
This is my Hall of Faces
Apart from the sense of narcissism I was feeling (although I’m not a narcissist) when I was finding all my past and current profile pictures, I discovered that there may indeed be order to chaos. Self-Discrepancy theory is widely accepted in sociology and psychology (Higgins, 1987) which identifies 3 fundamental domains of self that we possess and how they may affect our identity portrayal. These 3 aspects are:
- Actual Self
- Ideal Self
- Ought Self
The actual self is defined as how you view yourself matches with how others view you.
My actual self profile photos generally share these characteristics:
- Alternative/goth/metal subculture references
- Most time spent making sure the photo is how I feel I actually look in the moment
I use Actual self framed profile photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and general forums.
An example: My self in public. Whilst there is no dark makeup that is my norm, I still display an element of the subculture I feel I belong to (band shirt). I feel comfortable sharing this image as my actual self.
The idealised self is the portrayal of ideals that you or others would like you to be.
This self portrayal is rare for me to use in profile pictures, and the only time I can think of is with the above example. I didn’t want to take a photo of my university graduation, but for my parents it was a very proud day and they wanted to share this photo.
The Ought self is the portrayal of values and a representation others (not yourself) want of you.
This is the most restrictive, and what I refer to in my slideshow as “semi-authentic”. Whilst it is obviously me, it’s not who I personally identify as. However, I am flexible in my appearance and understand that sometimes there are circumstances where it may be appropriate to blend in and go with the norm.
Characteristics of my ought self profile pictures:
- Subtle / Natural
- Usually photos I have taken of myself at the workplace or going to and from work.
Self-Descrepancy theory helps me to understand the distinctions I make between profile pictures choices for different social networks. This was a process I had considered almost intangible. As an internet and social media native, these were just common sense thoughts I had on how to protect, maintain and monitor my appearance online. Just the other day I shared an article on Twitter in which I was beginning to attempt to dissect the “digital dysmorphia” I feel about my selected photo when uploading my profile picture.
I had in the past felt slightly like an imposter, but I wanted to truly encapsulate myself in photographic form. This junction between my authentic self and wanting to portray a deliberate and obvious aspect of my personality was truly confusing.
Facebook vs LinkedIn Authenticity crisis!!
A study that analysed Facebook profile photos of college aged students (I am a university student in my late 20s, I’m roughly this demographic) found that profile pictures strongly correlated with the individual’s sense of identity (Wu, et al. 2015). Facebook and Instagram are social media platforms in which I can use profile photos that best represent my actual self. LinkedIn is a challenge for me. I want to portray myself, but it’s a platform that doesn’t appear at first glance to encourage creativity when it comes to profile pictures. This is why I identify as semi-authentic in my profile picture analysis. This phenomena isn’t exclusive to me, infact people refer to LinkedIn as “Facebook in a suit” (van Dijck, 2014). Van Dijck (van Dijck, 2014) comments on the heterogeneity of LinkedIn profile pictures, and how there is perceived professionalism:
“the ideal image of a LinkedIn professional immediately stands out when looking at sample profiles.”
There is no way that I would ever use my Facebook profile picture on LinkedIn as it would not match the tone of my profile. LinkedIn is my digital resume. People aren’t looking to hire me for my personality (though they ought to! Because I’m great 😀 ) but rather my accomplishments in science and communications. I wouldn’t use my LinkedIn profile picture on Facebook as that isn’t how I portray myself to my friends, and that isn’t how they see me. My friends from work have seen my “out of hours” appearance so it is not as if I am hiding who I really am.
Mike Zuckerberg was and is wrong
I certainly do not lack integrity. I cannot help it if I have a Hybrid self.
Whilst it can be a challenge when it comes to LinkedIn, presenting myself through profile pictures on social media is a flexible exercise in confidence and creativity. I have a plethora of “selves” to present depending on social and group structures online. It allows me to freely express myself, or make it easier for me to fit in to a pre-defined culture.
Sorry to hear that you only have 1 “self” to share Mark….
Word Count: 1,083
MY BROADER #ALC708 ONLINE ACTIVITY
Periscopes made for #ALC708 – 3
Periscopes made for fun – 0
Tweets made for #ALC708 – 150
Tweets made not for #ALC708 – 19
Zooms participated in for #ALC708 – 1
Zooms participated in for fun – 1
#ALC708 has demonstrated how effective Twitter is at communicating within a network. I have generated many genuine discussions. Through Twitter I ‘met’ a classmate with shared interests and we participated in a Zoom conversation last Friday. I’m in NSW and she in Victoria.
Through Periscope and Zoom I have discovered a platform that I can use to live stream with friends, colleagues and people I would like to interview for my Masters thesis. I now feel more comfortable participating in video conferencing and vlogging.
Christensen, A. (2017). Most selfie takers aren’t narcissists, study says. [online] Phys.org. Available at: https://phys.org/news/2017-01-kind-selfie-taker.html
Elisabeth, P. (2016). Our Evolving Sense of Identity Recent discoveries about the self: What are they?. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/whats-in-name/201610/our-evolving-sense-identity [
Higgins, E. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94(3), pp.319-340.
Open.lib.umn.edu. (n.d.). 5.1 Social Structure: The Building Blocks of Social Life | Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World. [online] Available at: http://open.lib.umn.edu/sociology/chapter/5-1-social-structure-the-building-blocks-of-social-life/
van Dijck, J. (2013). ‘You have one identity’: performing the self on Facebook and LinkedIn. Media, Culture & Society, 35(2), pp.199-215.
Wu, Y., Chang, W. and Yuan, C. (2015). Do Facebook profile pictures reflect user’s personality?. Computers in Human Behavior, 51, pp.880-889.
Zimmer, M. (2010). Facebook’s Zuckerberg: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” | MichaelZimmer.org. [online] Michaelzimmer.org. Available at: http://www.michaelzimmer.org/2010/05/14/facebooks-zuckerberg-having-two-identities-for-yourself-is-an-example-of-a-lack-of-integrity/