The Masks of Social Media

Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley

By Juan-Carlos Duran , March 1, 2014

In their book, Spreadable Media, the authors bring up a construct that made me think deeper about online self-presentation. The authors state that when people spread content it is done because they “have a stake in the circulation of these messages” and because “It has currency within their social networks.” Going further, in 1959 Erving Goffman wrote The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life in which he compares human actions to those of an actor who while on stage uses various techniques and props to show his best performance. Similarly, Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” The common thread here is that we’re continually performing for others.

Internet communications seems to have created a worldwide stage with the spotlight on the individual creating a message. Seemingly, every word written or every image uploaded has to be witty, wise, eloquent, poignant, etc. The pressure is on because the audience is “watching” and they have the “currency” of acceptance through praise, likes, retweets, etc.  Selfies are a clear example of seeking the spotlight and attempting to obtain that currency. But what about a Facebook post that reads “Volunteering at the homeless shelter” with a picture attached? Is this merely a statement of fact? Or does it, at a deeper level, attempt to position the poster as a caring, socially aware and giving person who is seeking his audience’s currency? Are our posts and tweets merely props and techniques to portray our roles as “awesome” individuals or mere documentation?

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