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Managing Social Media Identities and Post Anxiety

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NCSU chapter.

Partaking in any form of social media use is likely to lead to different facets of identity. 

In addition to having identities coexisting online and in real life, each form of social media can produce a different identity, as well. For example, people who use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter may post different content on each of these platforms in order to cater to their following audience on each site in a number of ways. 

There are several factors that determine which type of content is appropriate for which social media platform. The most limiting of these is the actual form of expression each site allows. If I was wanting to create a post in which I was announcing an engagement, I would simply change my status on Facebook, but I might post a picture with a caption on Instagram, or simply post the news on Twitter as a “just got engaged” tweet to fit the format of the social media platform itself. Each of these expressions could potentially be perceived differently, giving the effect that multiple identities exist. For example, changing my status on Facebook may be seen as more of a grand gesture than posting on my Snapchat story because of the permanence of the status, therefore giving viewers on Facebook the impression that I am more excited about the engagement than my Snapchat story viewers may perceive. In addition to the format of the platform determining content posted, number of followers and privacy of the account could alter content, as well. If I was aiming to post something more personal that I did not want everyone to see, I would choose a private account with less followers, such as a “finsta” or a private Snapchat story to better control who is viewing the content. This allows for the existence of public social media identities and private social media identities, in addition to real-life existence, that each present different aspects of my personality. Because I know that more people are viewing my public Instagram profile, I am more conscious of the content I post and therefore less likely to post content that I deem as personal. I also have to take into account the demographic of the audiences each social media platform of mine has. For example, I know that a Facebook post is likely to be seen by my parents and other adults whom I want to appear more professionally to. In this case, I would prefer to post something more incriminating, such as attending a party, on my Snapchat story because I know that the audience viewing it is closer to my demographic in age and lifestyle and will be more accepting of my behavior than the users who view my Facebook profile. 

Juggling these different identities as they are all existing at once leads to a phenomenon in which the Internet has become a stage and the performing necessary requires maintenance and care (Senft, 2013). In order to present the version of myself that I most desire the public to see, it is necessary to consider the implications the content I am posting is making and how the platform it is posted on contributes to this. Though the public content I am posting may be showing less details of my personality than what I am posting to a private audience, it is still valid and exists as a glimpse of my full identity. Those who view my public Instagram profile may perceive a different version of me than those who view my private Snapchat story, because they are viewing more personal content in which I am more likely to express myself without fear of judgment from a wider audience, though this does not discredit the less intimate content I am posting for the public to see. In this way, my public and private social media identities exist in tandem and work together to make up the full scope of my identity (Marwick, 2013). 

Deliberately curating an identity on social media requires the creator to consider the audience’s perception of the profile and how this leads to perception of identity. Posting on a platform like my public Instagram account exposes my content to hundreds of people, some of whom I have never met or interacted with. This raises the stakes of making a post, as there are many followers who are making sense of my identity solely through my Instagram profile. Because potentially hundreds of people that I have never met are viewing, interacting with, and drawing conclusions from my Instagram posts, I am constantly conscious of what I am posting and the reflection the content has on my identity. Acknowledging that a single post could potentially form someone’s perception of who I am instills a sense of urgency to keep up with my social media and constantly brand myself online in a way that is desirable. Being aware of the immense pressure that comes with maintaining my identity online makes expressing myself on social media seem as if it is something to be carefully constructed and thought through. This pressure can lead to apprehensiveness towards posting at all. In a study titled Do selfie-expectancies and social appearance anxiety predict adolescents’ problematic social media use? the author explores the pressure of social media appearance and how it affects the comfortability of using social media at all. Through the study, adolescents were found to feel anxious regarding posting on social media because of the extreme of the positive or negative effects that posts can have on perception of identity. I have felt this same hesitation to post throughout my own social media use and even the regret of posting after it is done. Perfectly curated or not, releasing an expression as such a pointed reflection of my identity makes me want to avoid making any statement at all, whether it is right or wrong. Taking into account all of the factors to be considered when making a post and how detrimental its effects can be on perception of identity, social media can function as an Ideological State Apparatus in which users are conditioned to perform in specific ways based on consequences that society has created, such as a negative perception, versus actual legal consequences (Althusser, 1971). According to Althusser, the fear of violating a social norm or an ISA can be even more influential in determining behavior than legal consequences can be. Personally, I am quite conscious of violating the social norm of accepted social media use constantly because of the possibility of the negative perception of identity that my followers may internalize and am therefore inclined to limit posting on social media to avoid this entirely. 

Junior at NCSU majoring in Communication Media Lover of strawberry ice cream and classic rock VP of Her Campus NCSU