Psychology Sociology

Identity and Social Media

...we need to recognize how our fundamental sense of self-worth affects the type of roles we take on.

Expanding on my previous post, I want to explore the interaction between identity and self-worth, but in the context of social media.

Social role influences identity.

As stated previously, I am using Erickson’s model of identity as derived from one’s social role. When one has a low sense of self-worth, they may take on roles aimed at gaining a sense of self-worth through external validation. ‘The hero’ role is one possible way to achieve this validation, as I described in the context of the family.

Social injustices can influence self-worth. 

Beyond the family, low self-worth can be the result of an infinite number of traumas, social injustices, and other forms of violence. Some may include stigmas or discrimination based on one’s race, class, gender, level of ability, body image, or any other social bias that works to dehumanize, invalidate, and classify a specific ‘type’ of person.

Specific roles may be used to cope with low self-worth from social invalidation. 

Recall the roles often played to gain validation in the family context. Some take on the hero role, seeking praise for their achievements. Some become jokesters, making others laugh while suppressing their inner turmoil. Some become rebels, seeking approval from deviant peer-groups. Lastly, some may retreat into isolation. These same roles can be played in the context of social media.

Hero roles can be sought in social media. 

Previously, I talked about heroes as perfectionists and high achievers, seeking parental validation. Beyond this limited definition, social media heroes come in many forms, seeking external validation through posts. Recent neurological research used functional neuroimaging data finding “gains in reputation” to be the primary reward stimulus for individuals displaying compulsive social media use. In simple terms, seeking self-worth through likes.

Using social media for validation makes us less satisfied. 

A 2016 study surveyed 1787 19-32 year old men and women, finding social media use was “was significantly associated with increased depression.” Another 2016 study found “taking a break from Facebook has positive effects on the two dimensions of well-being: our life satisfaction increases and our emotions become more positive.”

How you use social media makes a difference.  

According to another 2016 study on the correlation between Facebook and well-being found, “specific uses of the site were associated with improvements in well-being.” So what made the difference? Individuals who used Facebook to build relationships with strong ties received the benefits, while those who used it for wide broadcasting did not.

We need to recognize how the roles we play influence our identity.

In addition, we need to recognize how our fundamental sense of self-worth affects the type of roles we take on. Our self-worth can be damaged by toxic family environments, in addition to a host of additional forms of social violence and traumas. Prevention requires combating these negative social influences.

For those struggling with these issues, you are not alone.

This is a very common issue that can be treated through psychological treatments, counseling, support groups, in addition to writing and introspection. Treatment looks different for each individual, based on their unique experiences. Based on my research into evidence for psychotherapeutic treatments, Cogitative-behavioral approaches seem to have the highest level of evidence supporting their effectiveness. Although this is the case, non-therapeutic factors such as therapist-patient relationship and therapist empathy are also correlated with effective treatment.

Internet addiction is becoming increasingly recognized. 

If you are seeking treatment for internet addiction, talk to your health care provider about coverage. In my home province of Ontario, these services are offered free of charge, including residential treatment programs, due to their association with government funded problem gambling treatment services. Although this may greatly very between jurisdictions, it is still worth looking into.

Hopefully this post has been helpful. I am always interested in hearing your thoughts, so feel free to share them below. Comments under my previous post have actually been a major inspiration for this one. I look forward to continuing to provide value, and your feedback is a huge part of that! Thanks for reading!

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  1. Wow! Thank you for this post. I can tell that you took alot of time to work on deep thinking about the new social person. It does seem like sometimes we are just glued to the screen, never seeing the light of day. So, I hope that in the end we do it for ourselves, and to improve our writing, our skill, our craft, or our way of life. You can learn so much from blogs by reading, reading, and reading all day. It is interesting the connections you can build! If you want some tips on social media that may make it faster so that we all have more time for our every-day, please check out my website. I just wrote an article called, Social Media…Make Me Famous Says Almost Everyone… I hope you keep balancing your life and continuing those deep thoughts!

  2. Identity (or lack thereof) influences social media role, more or less but an addiction to social media is just an addiction which may have roots that are more hard-wired in nature and/or psychologically based (addictive personality traits, personality disorder, etc). (& i’m saying this as a professional, not as a random comment or) Nice post to begin a conversation though!

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful comment! You are right that identity construction and addiction are two different processes. Here, I’ve tried to tie them together though the study linking “reputational enhancement” and dopamine responses.

  3. Reading the above was interesting. I’m autistic so I literally view the world differently and one of the things you didn’t cover at least in the above is the fact that social media, online communication or whatever you want to call it can level the playing field for those of us that do not fit societies rather narrow definition of “normal” and we’re actually liberated from being forced to play the role a face-to-face interaction can create.

    Reading this you’re probably thinking – this lady has no problem communicating at all – and that is because my brain can formulate what I want to say better when I write it down. Talk to me in a one-to-one situation and I don’t sound like someone who has 3 university degrees and a genius level IQ, if I can manage to say anything to you at all it would probably not make a lot of sense or come off sounding blunt/rude.

    So for some of us the online world actually breaks down the barriers we face in trying to be part of something and can help ease social isolation issues, create a sense of belonging and give us a way of showing who we really are (even if we’re occasionally not very nice).

    Trust me I don’t wear rose coloured glasses I’m well aware of the pit falls of the online world and the damage that can be inflicted. I know that the ability to be “Invisible” can turn some people into sociopathic cyber bullies and that for some people the online world becomes online hell to the point they become suicidal. That more and more young people (both genders) are feeling the pressure to look perfect 24/7 and have the most clicks, likes, comments or followers and if they don’t get that instant gratification it can send them into a depressive spiral.

    As an Information Management Specialist with a career spanning over 20 years I’ve watch the IT world change more rapidly that anything since the Industrial Revolution of the 1700-1800s. It used to take months of planning, a large amount of coding and a fairly large chunk of money to set off any campaign (good or bad) but once it was off and running woo hoo it was self propelled and could last for months as it was posted-reposted-commented etc. These days it takes 142 characters to set of a world wide campaign but thanks to the instant gratification mind set you’ll be lucky if it lasts an hour let alone a week before the next BIG THING happens.

    1. Thank you for sharing this personal experience! You are right that the internet can also work to bind people together by forming communities where individuals can find like-minded others and share their experiences in a more comfortable way. Although some would argue that social media can never be truly social due to the mediated experience, I would disagree. How it is used makes the difference.

  4. The internet has its benefits and its set backs, but it seems that the world is using the negative aspects of social media while thinking that they are helping themselves or someone else.

    The points you bring up are very insightful, lots of good info here thanks!

  5. I feel that people who take on the types of roles you’re writing about are drawn to the specific role they choose because it fits with their world view and their innate personality. I don’t think that roles are interchangeable. The hero could never be be the needy one, or vice versa. We are all drawn to things that speak of us personally. Kind of like Harry Potter. The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.” Well, the role reaches out to the person and they recognize each other. Trying to use the wrong wand, or role, simply will not yield the desired or necessary result. Everything is about who we truly are. Even broken, that thing that is us still reaches for what it knows to be part of itself. I’ve known kids who have had truly terrible lives and they are extremely defensive and protective of themselves. Once they know that you don’t want anything from them, that they can trust you, that you believe they are truly fantastic, they put their role away and become warm and caring people who are anxious to discuss things and excited about learning things they want to learn about. When I was teaching I didn’t follow the curriculum, I asked them what they wanted to know and we studied those things. I let them sit on the floor and even on the window ledge, until they decided their chairs were more comfortable and they just started sitting in them everyday. I gave them the teacher’s book and let them take attendance. I was just subbing for a semester. I listened to them and didn’t demand anything. We ate in class. I sat on my desk. We did Tarot Cards. The wrote fantastic papers and were all talking at the same time because they had something to say that no one wanted to listen to. I brought in my own books and taught herstory. I told them that they had been lied to from the beginning. I told them that society was afraid of them and not to let that stop them from becoming the fantasitic adults I knew they could become. I loved them. They were beautiful. Their labels didn’t mean anything and they were truly brilliant. I’m not good at math, so I let the kids who were advanced, teach the kids who needed help. I had to learn enough to teach the kids who were at the top of the class. Every night my husband taught me to do the problems for the next day. I told the kids I had no idea how to do math and one kids said, “Well, if you can’t do math and you can teach, I guess I can do anything.” I told him he was right. I taught Political Science at the University as well. I was teaching the kids in a locked classroom. These were supposed to be “dangerous” kids. They weren’t. Other teachers had gone home crying. They just didn’t see the kids for who they were. They tried to make them like everyone else and they weren’t. Some of them were taking care of siblings and working full-time. Treated like adults outside of school and treated like children in school. Insane. A lot of them were responsible for everything in their families, their parents didn’t speak English. I can’t tell you how truly wonderful those kids were. I ate lunch with them. Played Volley Ball with them and they knew where I lived. I saw some of their children, because they kept in touch over the years. They called me from prison. Our education system kills the spirit of children. It crushes creativity and labels them. It’s a dangerous and terrible thing. It’s brainwashing at it’s finest and it should not be allowed to continue as it is. The roles, of which you speak, can often be shields to protect people from what has been done to them not only at home but in school, church, sports and every place they are forced to attend. We need to protect kids from that kind of brainwashing, the lies they are fed. We need to be there for them and make the world the kind of place where they can be themselves, whoever that may be. But we are going in the opposite direction. The pressure is increasing. Social media is literally destroying some people/kids. The world is a mess and we can’t begin to talk about dysfunctional families until we look at ALL families because most of the suggestions for getting help don’t trickle down to poverty stricken folks. They don’t have therapists…again, it’s not a white world and too many solutions work only for them, as well as for those who can afford to get help. In some cases getting help is a horrific stigma. Before we can write those stories we need to go back farther and find a common ground for all of us. Unless we do that, we are preaching to the choir and the words will only truly make partial sense for a small number of people. Like the test for kids where a question was a bout a cup and a saucer. The poor kids didn’t know what a saucer WAS. They had never seen a saucer. The test was written for privileged white kids, not for kids in general. When you’re hungry, terrified to go outside, roles and why they are being played don’t actually mean anything. If there are dead kids in the street (I live in Chicago), no one is going to worry about who is playing the hero. These are questions and games for a certain class of people. Poor kids need a different kind of help. They aren’t stupid, or trouble makers. They are kids who have never had what the elite white kids have had. No exposure to the same things. We need to change that, but we won’t. Politics and the people in power will never let that happen. See, those are the real problems we need to work on. Overcoming the enforced cruelty of life. The purposeful destruction of targeted groups. We need to kill patriarchy and start again. I taught a class, to adults, at the University. I started talking about the senior citizens were were eating cat food. I was talking about the homeless living under Wacker Drive, freezing to death in the winter. They didn’t believe me. That’s how out of touch some people can be. I had proof but they still did not believe that was happening right in their own city. Granted, I was teaching the class in the suburbs but still. People don’t look. They don’t want to know. My friend lives outside of St. Louis. Fourteen kids were shot to death a couple of weekends ago. Self-identity is what we ALLOW them to have. It’s what we GIVE them. They are just locked into the story we write for them. So, I see things differently than you do. Who would help those kids? No one. There isn’t supposed to be help for them…the status quo will not allow it. No therapy, no anything. I don’t care what roles they play, if it will keep them alive a few more days.

    1. Thank you for sharing this insightful comment! I agree with the issues you raise. They are outside the scope of what I specifically looked at here, but I will likely do another focused on identity and class issues.

  6. I have to ask… is there any correlation between this study and selfies?

    Many–like an extended family member of mine–don’t just casually post photos of family time or vacation spots… and cat videos… but in a week’s time, can post DOZENS of photos of themselves.

    What’s behind this grab for attention?

  7. Steve, as a somewhat analytical person, and a former intelligence officer (way, way back), I have never even considered laying my life out there for anyone to connect-the-dots. For instance: when dealing with people yo know: Why not do so, directly, or face-to-face? Isn’t that more social? But, the second option can be where the danger lies. Who are you kidding, suggesting anything behind a mask can be social?

    How many people get their “News” from such unnatural, and unproven sources. It’s like a dating site, where everyone seems like a wonderful movie star. Sure, like the ones who can’t get anymore successful and commit suicide. Just wail till they come out from behind that curtain!

    Like Will Rogers, “All that I know, I read in the newspapers.” And then, it’s totally up to me, either to process–and accept or ignore whatever I read.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I agree that it can be used like a mask. I also think there are ways of using social media to reduce social isolation and contribute to social integration.

    2. Great comment. I had a recent disaster regarding Facebook messenger and a now “previous” boyfriend who was “friending” complete strangers and flirting; I’ll spare you the details, but he got sucked into the vortex, thinking it would be innocuous. Landed him in some trouble. Anyway, social media has benefits if it is used with caution, integrity and intelligence. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

  8. Very interesting stuff. Excellent food for thought. This information will prove very valuable come September and a new school year in an inner city school. We see a lot of kids coming from horrible circumstances. Thank you for exploring this topic. A great read!

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