How Social Media Shapes Identity | Ulrike Schultze | TEDxSMU



all right well I am assuming that lots of you are using social media and so I'd like you to imagine two scenarios the first one you are on Facebook and you have posted a message and you get no responses back no likes no comments no nothing so you conclude that essentially you shouldn't be posting on that topic that you have just posted on especially if you want to maintain your standing amongst your friends only come to find out later on that none of your friends actually saw the message and that is because there's an algorithm running in facebook an algorithm that picks messages to put into news feeds that ranks messages and so your message never got ranked high enough to pop up in anybody's newsfeed take another scenario so you have registered for a online community using a fake identity you do not want to be identified so in this anonymous state you are finding yourself much more gregarious than you usually are or much more strident in your tone then you typically like to perceive yourself as being or in fact you're much more familiar and you're engaged in possibly even reckless self disclosures in this kind of community both of these scenarios speak to the question that I'm particularly interested in studying and that is what is social media and what is technology in particular doing to who we are to who we believe we can be be to how we present ourselves to others too and and also how others perceive ourselves so if we think about this it's basically a question of the relationship between technology and users and if we look historically we have relied on tools and technologies to become who we are so from being cavemen right we relied on all sorts of technologies to be where we are today using our social media using our cell phones and so this is a what we call a Co constitutive kind of relationship which means that we construct the but the technology also construct s– us we become what the technology allows us to become and so let's take an example so last you know recently Apple made available ethnic emojis so now you don't only have to you don't only just have available to you yellow faced smiley faces or yellow smiley faces you basically can color the face of your emojis right so anything from pale to a tutu to a very dark dark shade of brown right is basically what you can now select in terms of your emoji set so essentially we have materialized certain actions namely being able to express you know certain racial qualities in our technology in our communication we've materialized this in technology the technology then makes these actions of identifying ourselves as you know as a racial identity or as a person of color into you know in terms of how we communicate but what this is also doing is its setting up an expectation and its racializing essentially our communication setting up an expectation that you think about what color emoji you're going to be using and how much you're going to express your race in terms of tweets that you post what would be the appropriate emoji to use so this is basically the co constitute of entanglement of Technology and human agents so the research that I've been doing has been has relied on data from Second Life which is a virtual world and you might ask well gee you know is a virtual world really a social media and Second Life even still around yeah well Second Life is certainly not as popular as it was when I did the initial data collection but it is a social media in the sense that you have a profile you connect with other people and those connections with other people then make certain information available to you or not available to you as far as research is concerned from a research point of view is actually quite useful to rely on a technology that it's sort of at the extreme end of a class of technologies and that's where I see Second Life it really provides a tremendous amount of a diversity of community of communicative expressions so one of the key things that you have in this virtual world is a virtual body and avatar and a body is really a key way in which we do identity the way we dress the way we move who we associate with you know the kinds of houses we have so so bodies are really a key part of doing identity and so having studying a technology that has a broader range of expressive media as a virtual world like Second Life does essentially provides insight that then becomes relevant to technologies that maybe only have a subset of those expressive media and so you know we have voice and text and so on and so forth and video but we also have this body that we can work with so one of the key findings from the research is that there are sort of three dominant discourses that are embedded or materialized in this technology so you might say well what on earth is a discourse well a discourse is a system of thought so I kind of think of it as shorthand for it would be logic the way we think about the world and thereby construct the world so let's take an example there's a flood right we can see the waters rising and this phenomenon basically only it gets brought into being gets made meaningful through the way we talk about it and that's discourse so we might have a discourse that is the religious discourse so what happens when you start talking about the flood in religious terms you might say you know this is God's punishment being meted out on a community what that then does by invoking that kind of discourse is it creates identities it creates identities of believers and non-believers and of course it's the non-believers who are really at fault for the flood we all know that and it also creates certain possibilities for action then right so what should you be doing you should pray you should repent you should convert right so discourse is essentially create certain kind of reality with certain identities and possibilities for action and it's essentially these discourses again are embedded in our technology they are logics that are deeply rooted in the kinds of activities we can do with our technology so let's look at these three discourses in second life so you know one of the key things with social media is that these are platforms these are platforms that they're then co-produced the value of the platform is co-produced by its participants so in second life there's a very clear distinction between sort of the producers right people who create content that's one identity and then another identity is you're a consumer you should be buying these things and obviously once you have a body you need to dress that body right you need a whole bunch of stuff you know once you have a body and so what we've got going on then is that people are constructing identities along these consumer and producer lines and so if you're a producer if you're you know then your objective is to be good producer you want to make money you think of yourself as a product as a brand you need to differentiate yourself right so your identity becomes one striving for this coveted position of being the top of the heap right making the most money being recognized in search engines and so on if you're a consumer you also think of yourself as a product so essentially this is very much a commodification kind of discourse and so what what ultimately then happens is that you know as a consumer you want to put your best foot forward you want to show that you're socially astute that you're culturally knowledgeable right about how you supposed to dress what a good clothes what a low-quality clothes what a high-quality clothes things of that nature the play discourse is the one that is typically associated with second life because you have this virtual body and the idea even the name second life applies implies that this should be a life that is different from your real life it should be separate from your real life and what you should be doing is trying to explore what you would be like who you would be if you could get rid of this body if only you could get rid of the social relationships that you have in real life right and so exploring this exploring who you could be who you are right your inner self the search for the inner self that's the kind of identity work associated with these and by the way this cat face over there in the middle this is sort of an identity known as Niko where people enact feline kind of qualities you know being Moody and and unpredictable in many ways then lastly we have the sociality discourse the idea that you identity is defined by the people you associate with the roles that you play in a certain social grouping so you know here your mother or father those are the kinds of those are kinds of social roles and a key part of this identity of a key part of this discourse is that you essentially live up to the expectation so the obligations you have towards others so in social settings really I mean what it means to be social is to be responsive to others pay attention to what they're saying and thereby construct a social reality as well as a social self so this is in a key part of this discourse is essentially to be real to make a connection with your real life right that essentially the emotions that you're expressing towards other people in this virtual world that they are based on something real that they are based on the user as opposed to you know just a play discourse like that cat the neko that I showed you to start ok so what happens and what you can already sort of maybe sense through the examples that I've given you is that they are interconnections sort of their places of overlap between these discourses but they're also inconsistencies and contradictions between them so if we take the market discourse yes you know if I have lots of friends that becomes a marketing Network for me right and as a as an entrepreneur that makes it easy for me to possibly sell my goods on the other hand my friends are going to make some demands on me aren't they because they now expect that I treat them you know with special favors for example not only that I spend time with them that I deal with their problems you know related to my goods or just our relationship but also that might give them discounts and things like that so we can see that they're both continuities between these discourses as well as discontinuities or contradictions so what does that then mean so it means you know whatever when we ask this question about what to say should social media due to identity how do they play a role essentially they limit the kinds of identities we can have through the discourses and this is this is done essentially through the action possibilities that they that are embedded in these technologies so this course does make actions possible those actions get embedded in the technology and then you can invoke those certain actions and there's a limited set of identities that you can ultimately perform the limited number of things you know people sort of identities you can be but what's what essentially creates a lot of movement here and essentially makes this entire model be not proud of you sort of not entirely encoded and not entirely prescriptive is the fact that there are inconsistencies between these discourses so what we found is that people I create a main identity and second life that you know relates to one of the discourses so for example they are entrepreneurs they're there to make money and so there's an identity of I am a designer and I'm a certain kind of designer namely one that's accessible socially accessible to my friends right so I'm a friendly design as opposed to a snooty designer well being a friendly design and Second Life creates some you're really amazing tensions because every time you're online your friends see you and guess what they want to chat with you in the meantime you're supposed to be productive and producing goods right and so you you're stuck with a real tension so how do you resolve this well you'd grab on to the play discourse and from the play discourse you pull down the Neko okay so now I'm going to add to my accessible designer an identity of an eco that essentially says I am a cat and therefore I could be friendly to you today and tomorrow I can turn my back and ignore you and essentially I'm still okay right I'm not at risk of ruining this relationship because that's what play is about right so so this is what we're seeing this is this tremendous play pulling on different discourses and creating identities that are multiple that are complex that are interrelated and essentially again not prescribed by the technology not deterministic so there's a certain amount of determinism but there's also a lot of freedom and so basically what I hope you take away from this talk talk especially those of you who are very active in social media is to think about these discourses and to think about you know what kinds of identities you are performing and the technology is enabling and restricting you from performing right in your use of social media be it Facebook Twitter snapchat or anything else thank




Comments
  1. I post on youtube under my real name nowadays exactly because I don't want to be someone else online than I am in real life. When I want to be someone else for a while I have books and video games. I think this mixing reality and fiction with online pseudonyms you can hide behind is generally not a good thing because, well, it leads to the level of discourse we have today. But that's only my oppinion based on my very limited perceptions of social media.

    From a scientific perspective her research is very flawed. She has not taken a representative sample of the group she wants to study (social media users) but a, and she admits this herself, specialized group using an extreme form of the medium she is trying to study. I think this makes her results not transferable to social media in general. You can not take a special subgroup and then do some mental gymnastics to pretend it's really representative when it's really not. Also, I'm curious how you study what identity someone forms by just looking at their behavior from the outside. Or did they ask the players in Second Life if they themselves really formed the identities they allegedly formed? I think how social media shapes identity is one of those things which can not be studied scientifically in any meaningful way because a) the group you want to study is too large and b) the medium you're studying is too diverse and c) the medium evolves very fast, which makes the long-term validity of any result questionable.Maybe you could study it for one particular medium, like Twitter or Facebook, but even then you run into problems a) and c).

    I think this is a flaw of our scientific systems, that we rather say "well let's study it in the ways we can study it even though it's not really valid methodology" instead of admitting that some things are too complex to be studied scientifically if you want scientifically valid results. Which doesn't mean anecdotal evidence is worthless, but then call it what it is. Don't call it science.

  2. I've stepped away from Social Media mostly excepting Youtube, and that is one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life. Failbook was such a huge emotional energy drain that I never realized how much I felt like half a person 'til I stepped away, for example. I remember that in the 90's and 2000's, sites that had bulletin boards, chat programs like MIRC to a lesser extent or particularly forums, had intense, developing, continuous extended conversations that could last years, or perhaps a decade! These would develop on the nuance of a certain topic or topics, and generally involve a very high level of intellectual development and intense discourse or debate, regardless of the topic. Yes, there were awful trolls or those times of being too emotionally charged that a conversation would turn "toxic" and start a flame war, but really, it wasn't all that commonplace as compared to today, where nearly any site for Social Media specifically, like Failbook for example, or containing such a function like the aforementioned forums, would inevitably be entirely taken over in it's leadership by Social Justice Warriors and a neonazi leftist ideology, where even freedom of thought or expression is no longer tolerated whatsoever! We can see the most prime examples of this in the new attempt to push a 3 year jail sentence for "Offensive Content" being posted on Social Media by both Australia and New Zealand, or in the SJW's taking ownership over even Linux and many other things to ruin and defile them despite never having any real hand in being a creator or supporter of the platform in any way, on the false premise of assumed victimhood. Just look at how the SJW's killed the Boy Scouts!! This is beyond shameful, and until people wake up from becoming the shambling, zombie hordes they are now, we are effectively doomed…

  3. I think I don't know people who plays or played second life and if they're use it nowadays, but the game itself it's a giant metaphor for what thing have turned into today in the way of how we communicate trough social media

  4. It would be wise for her to work on her presentation skills. It is hard to focus on her message because of all of the "um"s. I understand she is likely nervous, but unfortunately that doesn't make it easier to listen to her.

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