Debates have emerged on whether social media facilitates forms of expression of identity online. Ganda (2014, p. 9-10) noted that identity refers to how individuals view themselves as well as how other groups in the society view others. Social media allows individuals to produce and share media via social networks, also known as peer to peer sharing, reflects the identity of another person (Russell, 2013, p. 7). In essence, messages shared within different social networks and communities reflect their identity in terms of their values and beliefs. The #TimesUP movement on social media was developed by women in industries such as film, TV, and theatre in the United States based on the need to tackle sexual misconduct at the workplace (TimesUpnow, 2020). In particular, TimesUP focuses on ensuring that the workplace is safe for all persons while also ensuring that women are respected at work. These women focus on the need for a world where all women in the world have equal chances of achieving success and security while avoiding any incidence of fear and sexual harassment. The purpose of this paper is to examine how social networks influence personal and group identity, as reflected within peer to peer connections within social media. The argument is that the online communities have been turned into avenues of hope while advocating for women’s rights and tackling major challenges that affect women such as sexual harassment, inequality, and respect at the workplace. Thus, impression management, self-representation, and friendship performance are the core aspect of how people construct their identities and gather around within online platforms.
Social Network Enhances Relationships
Social network theory examines how people, organisations or groups interact with members within their networks (Krause, Croft & James, 2007, p. 15-17). In essence, networks can be viewed in terms of neighbourhoods based on the fact that networks comprise of actors and the relationships that hold among actors (Walker & Lynn, 2013, p. 151). Within the social network, there are nodes, also known as actors. These nodes refer to individuals, organisations or companies. People negotiate their identity as part of the sociological process whereby people assign roles during the formation of a relationship (Krause, Croft & James, 2007, p. 15-17). In these social networks, people look for others who see them equally as they see themselves. Therefore, their interactions would focus on upholding their self-esteem as well as self-view (Kaskazi, 2014, p. 2) instead of tearing themselves down. Although social networks have always been viewed in terms of the physical world, they have been extended to the online world nowadays where there is also development of online communities with similar fundamentals. Same as usual, the interactions within online communities focus on people assigning roles to one and others within these online social networks as well.
Social networks enhance relationships among members within similar aspirations. Boase (2008, p. 491) argues that the Internet and social media have not weakened relationships since they act as substitutes for a physical interpersonal contact. One of the key examples is that #BringBackOurGirls was an online group initiated by women on social media, demanding Boko Haram terror organization in Nigeria to release over 250 Chibok girls that were kidnapped by them. This has shown how people with common goals or values around the world would be brought together through digital platforms and form powerful relationships that allow them to fight for one another (Holpuch, 2018). Thus, this incident has proven the power of social networks not only in bringing people with similar social needs and lifestyles together, it also has the ability to secure one’s identity and cohere them into a kind of strong public voice. Moreover, TimesUP movement was developed in 2018 through a group of Hollywood celebrities who needed to respond to sexual harassment. By December 2018, TimesUP had already raised over $22 million in legal defense fund while also recruiting over 800 volunteers (TimesUpnow, 2020). Within the group of TimesUP, there are women with different identity backgrounds such as women from India, Africa, and Europe, but they all have common experiences of sexual harassment in workplace (Melas, 2019). Online networks have allowed them to gather together and form a force that is fierce enough to fight against injustices that they had experienced surrounding to their gender. By sharing their experiences in dealing with sexual harassments online, they were able advocate for the rights of women continuously since people across the world could all have easy accessibilities towards the Internet. This once again has made the argument of online communities being an avenue of hope for inequality reasonable.
Social Connection Empowerment
In addition, people tend to create self-descriptive profiles on social media showing identities that they would like the world to see of them. It is common to see people posting and tagging other users on their page, which leads to a visible network of connections. Donath and Boyd (2004, p. 71) argue that social networks refer to our connections with other people thereby acting as a source of emotional and financial support, as well as a source of information about jobs, other people or the rest of the world. For example, the #HeForShe movement initiated by UN Women Goodwill ambassador, Emma Watson focused on the need to connect emotionally with men so that they can identify the need to commit to the elimination of gender discrimination (Condi, 2019). In essence, the focus was on establishing emotional connection with men and how the problem of gender discrimination affects men and their girls, mothers, and sisters. In this case, the generation of online social networks within different communities influence the way people behave as well as the structure of their daily life. In the context of social media and online communities, Papacharissi (2009, p. 200) argues that there is an emergence of social networks showing how people meet while keeping in touch with an unprecedented number of other people through the Internet. For instance, TimesUP focused on raising money for legal defense against powerful men who had sexually harassed other women at the workplace (Grady, 2019). This action of money raising has reflected the need for social networks in being a source of emotional and financial support while also providing information to other women on how they can achieve help in case they experience sexual harassment cases at the workplace. Not to mention the TimesUP movement has also acted as an alarm for our modern society, showing people the fact that our society is indeed being affected by increased levels of sexual harassment cases whereby women are the disadvantaged ones (TimesUpnow, 2020). TimesUP made use of the Internet to connect with other women across the USA and the rest of the world while informing them on the need to speak up against sexual harassment as well as inequalities at the workplace. Thus, such online social networking has allowed TimesUP members to reveal their ideal self-identities to the whole wide world without the hardship of travelling across the globe. The connections between online communities that hold similar beliefs has reinforced the argument that self-identity of a person or the ideas that they propagate can be influential enough to determine other listeners’ personal or group identities through online communication. According to Delanty (2002), strong ties refer to deep family ties such as family, friends or colleagues while weak ties refer to acquaintances, strangers or common cultural background. Thus, the connections within online communities can be said to be week ties based on common cultural background and the need to share experiences such as #TimesUp community.
Communication in interpersonal relationships is mediated by communication technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet. Baym, Zhang, Kunkel, Ledbetter and Lin (2007, p. 736) argue that communication technologies such as email and the Internet have been shown to support and maintain meaningful relationships, specifically in long-distance relationships, when people lack face-to-face contact. A key example relates to #NiUnaMenos whereby journalists were angered by the daily reports on women being murdered in in Latin America (The Guardian, 2019). This feminist movement had become nationally recognised due to its constant protests against gender inequality issues. Therefore, the use of social media has guaranteed successful communication among women which allowed them to create a strong and sturdy alliance on stopping the cases of women murders. As we can see, modern social networks within platforms like Facebook and Twitter are based on the need to maintain interpersonal relationships with peers, friends, family members or even people that you have yet to meet. Schwartz and Halegoua (2015, p. 1643) argue that a person’s self-identity is reflected by the people they relate at the interpersonal and intrapersonal level. The identity of a person, as well as their group, is reflected by the messages they create and share within online social networks (Pan, Lu, Wang & Chau, 2019, p. 71). Identify is reflected by the case of Incel community whereby boys and men with negative dating and sexual experiences meet to share experiences while propagating ideas of attacking women through any form of violence (Chokshi, 2018). However, there are cases of self-representation whereby women express their identity online. In the case of the TimesUP movement, the sharing of sexual harassment experiences is based on the need to develop interpersonal communication among members. Women who have experienced any form of sexual harassment at workplace could turn to the Internet and seek for moral support from one another; they could even raise necessary legal fees for women in courts. Engaging in the TimesUP involves an appreciation of modern challenges that the current society experiences as well as the need to speak up against these injustices. In particular, the self-identity of each woman in the TimesUP movement is reflected by their understanding of the challenges of sexual harassment and their anger towards this issue while encouraging other women to share their experiences as well. Thus, the TimesUP movement has reaffirmed the belief that collective approach and support from different women members could achieve the necessary voice to compel corporations and develop appropriate security measures in order to protect women at the workplace (TimesUpnow, 2020).
Moreover, communal support and mobilisation in online spaces also helped influence how other individuals are viewed and constructed in modern society. The effectiveness of the TimesUP movement is increased due to the growth of online communication. For instance, women could effortlessly share their thoughts without concerns to the world in seconds thanks to the invention of smart phones, tablets and also freedom of speech. This has encouraged an increased number of volunteers willing to participate and fund the group to achieve justice for the women affected by sexual harassment at workplace. Since the Internet is based on social networks with people that have similar aspirations, it is evident that the views of TimesUP influenced and gave confidence other women to voice up as well. Members of the movement believed that failure to speak up or share experiences will be catastrophic and could lead to increased cases of violence against women and harassment. For instance, Boyd and Ellison (2007, p. 219) support that individuals within online communities and networks are consciously able to construct an online representation of self, as reflected in online dating profiles. For example, the selfie culture on social media includes the images and emotional icons people use to express themselves. Representations also take the form of personal article on blogs as well as experiences shared on networking platforms such as #Timesup in sharing sexual violence experiences (Walker & Lynn, 2013, p.151). Dijkmans, Kerkhof and Beukeboom (2015, p. 58) also added that social networks enable users to negotiate presentations of self and connect with others. Not to mention Guta and Karolak (2015, p. 115) argued that public display of connection is also an important aspect of identity that assist people in navigating within the social and networked world. For instance, TimesUP act as a network of global feminists, the extended network of these women and the increased involvement in funding of court cases have validated the identity of each woman in being committed to win against sexual harassment (Grady, 2019). The views and opinions of these women are some of the most crucial and influential reflections of what was taking place in the modern society and how they are really treated. As we can see, online social networks have acted as a central hub for people to express themselves and their values in order to attract others to join and engage with one and other. The rise of mobilisation and digitalisation has made the formation of an influential force across the world a lot easier and effective than before. Thus, giving hope to various feminist movements.
Apart from TimesUP, the #MeToo movement also focused on fighting inequality and sexual violence at workplace, reflecting the same strong and independent identities of members in the group. According to Pulver (2020), the MeToo movement was motivated by the need to share sexual harassment experiences of women affected so that other women across the world can have the courage to speak up against injustices as well. As a result, the MeToo movement had an influence as far as India concerning women fighting against sexual injustices and inequalities propagated by powerful men at the workplace. Even though each woman in the MeToo movement has different beliefs and styles, they came together to showcase norms in the modern society that have been encouraged by women failing to share their experiences while informing other women to avoid similar experiences. Just like the case of the TimesUP movement, the MeToo movement reflects the continued need to use the internet and its capabilities of developing online social networks. In this case, social networks within Twitter are used to propagate support for sexual violence victims reflecting the personal identities and views of each member. According to Huberman, Romero and Wu (2008), online social networks are representations of social interactions that can be used to examine the nature of propagation of ideals, social bond dynamics, and viral marketing. The implication is that groups such as TimesUP and MeToo movements are motivated by the need to interact with people that reciprocate their attention by sharing experiences. The set of friends and followers on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube motivate the development of social networks with similar identities and interests. Therefore, each person has their self-identity that motivates their involvement in groups that advocate for the emancipation of women as well as justice for women who experience sexual harassment at the workplace. In essence, TimesUP and MeToo movements are extensions of modern society’s challenges and views into online social networks that reflect the aspirations and identities of members.
To conclude, social networks influence other people to appreciate the need to take action. The implication is that through interactions on online communities, the personal identities of women are reflected through increased involvement in movements advocating for their emancipation from sexual harassment and inequality and the workplace. TimesUP and MeToo movement are social networks that hold members with similar experiences, aspirations, and values based on the need to share sexual harassment experiences at the workplace while also influencing young girls and women to avoid fear and tackle common problems such as sexual violence, sexual harassment, inequalities, and access to justice. The assumption is that new social technologies such as Twitter and Facebook can be used to initiate communication among members of social networks. Just like offline social networks, social networks are based on social ties the need to share common experiences as well as having common ideals and values. The capability to connect with friends on social media and share experiences is what makes online social networks effective in propagating the ideals of these movements.
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