Theories on the creation of online identity are linked to a myriad of fields that encompass ‘communications and new media studies, cultural studies, education, game studies, psychology, and sociology’ (Poletti & Rak 2014, p.3). As a result, there are differing theories about the construction of online identity. However, there is generally agreement that Goffman’s (1959) view about the presentation of the self and its performative qualities is a conscious act by ‘the individual and requires careful staging to maintain the self – a composed and norm-driven construction of character and performance’ (Marshall 2010, p.39).
In the construction of my online identity I am clear that I am not trying to capture a western European notion of my ‘real’, ‘true’ or unique self (Poletti & Rak, 2014). Instead, I am conscious of the need to create a more ‘networked self’ (Papacharissi 2011, p. 307) that engages in ‘a subjective performance across multiple and simultaneous streams of social awareness that expands autonomy, potentially reduces agency, and which requires constant self-surveillance and monitoring’ (Moore, Barbour & Lee 2017, p.1).
Twitter Profile Image
Key to the construction of my online identity is image choice. For my Twitter profile I chose an image of myself riding an elephant in water. My intention was to engage my readers with my choice of an uncommon and slightly mysterious image – that was not offensive but not straight forward or easy to decode. The performance involved appearing unique and standing out from the crowd (most people don’t have a image of themselves riding an elephant). Further it is quirky to use this image as a defining statement about who I am. To extend the performance I wanted to appear gentle, yet strong enough to command a mighty elephant.
Pooley’s (2011) theory of ‘calculated authenticity’ or stage management is relevant to this use of image (quoted in Smith & Watson 2014, p. 75) . The performativity of my identity is embellished by combining the image of riding the elephant with a colourful background header of a gigantic kite against a blue sky. In combination this alludes to adventure, playfulness, happiness, travel, purpose and generally the ‘joie de vivre‘ (joy of living) and associates these qualities with my online profile and identity.
In addition, to providing further information and reinforcing the positive messages above, I described myself underneath my Twitter profile image as a teacher, innovator and artist who cares about others and the environment as below:
‘Authenticity is Manufactured’
The strategic use of these images and text demonstrates the use of ‘authenticity as an effect not an essence’ (Smith & Watson 2014, p. 75). The profile also highlights Pooley’s (2011) observation that ‘The best way to sell yourself is to not appear to be selling yourself’ (quoted in Smith & Watson 2014, p. 75). It is likely that Graxian (2003) (quoted in Smith & Watson 2014, p. 75) would agree that this example shows that authenticity is ‘manufactured’.
Marshall notes that celebrities have trained and educated populations articulating ‘a way of thinking about individuality and producing the individual self through the public world’ (Marshall 2010, p. 46). With the advent of President Trump’s consideration of allowing game hunters to bring elephant tusks back into America, celebrities have been increasingly photographed with and vocal about the need to continue to protect elephants. (Simon 2017, p.1). This celebrity activity with it’s moral direction transfers its general qualities and further reinforces the elephant image used as being positive.
The Use of Gravitas and Reputation
The image used in my Linked In profile was taken by my employer the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C). In the photograph I look friendly, yet the PM&C logo in the background brings gravitas and reputation to the image – which is transferred to my identity. Additional information about my role as an Adviser, the summary of my professional skills, length of employment, tasks performed and experience gained appears serious and important and reinforces the accuracy of the information provided.
‘Complexity, credibility and sincerity’
My Twitter identity includes an artistic, friendly, feminine image of me and the profile text makes it clear that as well as working towards making the world a better place at PM&C that I am ‘not all work and no play’ and that I have many other non-work-related interests. My identity appears genuine and sincere as it is consistent when work related (as per tweet below), yet complex and multi-dimensional and therefore more likely to be realistic. In this way my identity is likely to meet Graxian’s (2003) identified attributes of authenticity that involve ‘an idealised representation of reality’ and the ‘credibility or sincerity of a performance and its ability to come off as natural and effortless’ (quoted in Smith & Watson 2014, p. 75).
Quantitative Data Measuring The Impact of Identity
My views on my online identity can also be quantified through the data analytics produced by Twitter on responses to twelve tweets sent over three months. As below the following link summarises Twitter analytics that shows the impact of my tweet activity on my online identity.
Who am I?
The data clearly shows that the tweet that received the greatest attention from viewers was the tweet that included links to my online profiles at About Me and at Linked In. I think part of the reason for the increased engagement with the tweet was that it included a question ‘Who am I?’ and a quirky light hearted gif of the actor Sarah Jessica Parker dancing by a rack of clothes. The combination was intriguing, the links to my online identity at the social media platforms immediate and the overall effect playful and fun. I think this experience translated to my online identity.
‘Good Faith and Authenticity’
In summary, the online self today can be seen as an entrepreneurial, commodity packaged for brokering in a variety of media and product related sites to be sold (Deresiewicz, 2011). In the construction of my online identity through narrative and performance my online social media identity can be described as adventuresome, strong, quirky, kind and artistic and working towards achieving outcomes for the social good. Hearteningly, Pooley observes that ‘In good faith we can attempt to act in an authentic way, even though we think that we may profit somehow’ (2014, p.1).
Deresiewicz, W 2011, ‘Generation Sell’, New York Times Magazine, November 12,
retrieved 10 December 2017, <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/opinion/sunday/the-entrepreneurial-generation.html>.
Marshall, P D 2010, ‘The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media’, Celebrity Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 35-48.
Moore, C, Barbour, K & Lee, K 2017. ‘Five dimensions of online persona’, Persona Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 1-11.
Papacharissi, Z 2010, A networked self: identity, community and culture on social network sites, Routledge, New York.
Poletti, A and Rak, J 2014, ‘Introduction: digital dialogues’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 3-11.
Rosenburg, S 2014, ‘The calculations of authenticity: a conversation with Jeff Pooley’ Word yard blog, August 6, retrieved 10 December 2017, <http://www.wordyard.com/2014/08/06/the-calculations-of-authenticity-a-conversation-with-jeff-pooley>.
Simon, S 2017, ‘Orlando Bloom and Demi Lovato cuddling elephants will melt your heart’ Instyle magazine, August 29, retrieved 10 December 2017, <http://www.instyle.com/celebrity/11-photos-celebrities-becoming-bff-elephants>.
Smith, S and Watson, J 2014, ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 70-95.