I don’t know one person who hasn’t untagged a photo or deleted a comment to try to craft a certain image of themselves. They pick away at image-opposing content in order to skew the perception of their persona. This could all be in an attempt to look wholesome (for their parents), beautiful (for those times when you meet a cutie at a party and you know they’re going to stalk your Facebook), or “hip” among others.
However, in a recent article entitled “How Users Handle Their Facebook Profile Linked to Self-Esteem” published in Firstpost, the undisclosed author reports on a new study saying people with low self-esteem craft their online social media personas differently than individuals with a high self-esteem. Apparently, a group of “international researchers” have determined that people who view themselves in a low regard are more worried about what’s being posted about them (through friend’s tags and comments) than individuals who have a high self-esteem, as they’re more interested in crafting their personas by “adding information about their family, education, and work experience to their profiles.”
This article is very interesting because, without even trying, it elaborates on a concept touched upon by Nancy Baym in her book Personal Connections in the Digital Age. She claims, “the self-representations we create are far from the only source of information available about us online, and most people who become interested in learning about an individual will turn to search engines where… it is likely to be a mix of what the person has put online and information placed there by others” (112). Using this as a basis of knowledge for the article, we can see that people may skew the information available about themselves on search engines. Given the affordances of sites such as Facebook (like untagging and deleting comments), users are allowed to more heavily control information posted about them from their friends online. By allowing this type of power, in addition to the innate power to control what you yourself post on Facebook, an individual can craft their online persona into something that is different than their offline persona.
However, I feel this article (and in turn the study) oversimplifies the terms “low self-esteem” and “high self-esteem,” grouping small subcategories into these umbrella definitions. For example, what about people with low self-esteem when they’re in front of strangers but not when they’re in front of their friends (offline or on)? I feel like this leads into Hugo Liu’s study Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances. In this article, Liu mentions that there are four types of taste statements; how people present themselves online through their interests and likes. The first is “prestige,” where an individual’s interests all coherently align with what’s deemed important in their personal subculture. The second, “differentiation,” talks about how people will post interests that are different than their friends just to stand out in the crowd. While the third taste, “authenticity,” says individuals, subconsciously and consciously, craft their profiles to convey the image that they haven’t over thought or tried too hard. “Theatrical,” the fourth taste, is when people put on an obvious performance to hide authenticity. These taste performances become useful in understanding how self-esteem affects profile use because it helps us to deconstruct the oversimplifications. For example, we can see that people with high-self-esteem that are trying to add information about their family and work experience can probably be broken into a subcategory of high self-esteem people who are trying to be portrayed as authentic by merging their offline self with an online one. I feel as if the study should have broken the feeling of self-worth into further categories to get a more accurate reading of usage on sites like Facebook.
But as an avid user of social media, I feel as if the study also preemptively (and wrongly) decided that crafting persona and self-esteem are causations, when in fact I think they’re correlations. In Fouchault’s Theory of Surveillance he claims that people would behave a certain way if they believe they’re being watched (regardless of whether they actually are or not), such as in the Panopticon Prison.
The self-esteem study overlooks this type of image crafting, where someone will untag a picture, or like something, or post a comment if they think that people are forcing them to do this with a watchful gaze. This makes more sense when you think of the example of deleting drunk pictures of yourself off Facebook when you’re applying for a job because you’re afraid a potential employer might see them. This has nothing to do with self-esteem, yet everything to do with creating an online persona.
However, I don’t feel like this study is completely wrong since it holds a grain of truth on how society utilizes online social media. I feel the author can more accurately depict online use, if we continue to expand our definitions to convey the depth of the conversation being discussed.