Identity in Communities and Networks Social Networks

The Tragic Consequences of Misrepresentation on Social Media.

Social media sites have exploded in popularity over the last decade. These sites have helped to shape the society that we are living in today and act as one of the main avenues that today’s youth take to express themselves to the outside world. We are currently living in a world where the vast majority of people have multiple social media accounts, that they are actively posting content to. A report conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health (year?) found that 91% of 16-24 year olds use the internet for social networking. We use social media as a tool to form our identities and sense of self. We carefully select pictures to curate an image that we want to be judged on. Social media has encouraged the idea of us showing our best self, instead of posting realistic and layered versions of our lives we choose to express and identify with only the best parts. When we are creating this persona, we often disregard the ideas of truth and authenticity in an attempt to replicate the contrived images of perfection that we see on others social media feeds. When we fail to show our bad sides, we create a society that thrives on unhealthy lies and illusions rather than an authentic and inclusive society. Although social media enables the expression of diverse parts of our identity, the pressure to present our best selves results in inauthentic and incomplete communities both on and offline.

Social media often helps to peddle the idea of unrealistic perfection; people are encouraged to try and replicate the unachievable versions of distorted normality that they see online. This can be extremely damaging to both the mental and physical health of social media users, particularly when these users are of a young age and still trying to find their sense of personal identity. Social media platforms have fundamentally changed the way that people present themselves to the outside world. They have placed high importance on the aesthetics of physical appearance and put in place very rigid guidelines representing the type of physical appearance that people should aim for if they are wanting to be accepted into society. People strive to mirror the perceived ideas of perfection that they see on their phone and laptop screens. “High levels of exposure to appearance focused sites were found to be directly linked with weight dissatisfaction and an increased drive for thinness” (Miller, 2010, p. 102). Females wish to mirror the slender models that their social media feeds are saturated with while males want to replicate the muscular physiques that they are constantly seeing on their timelines. Social media sites such as Instagram present the idea that physical appearance is the most important aspect to a person. This has been proved to lead to body dysmorphia in both males and females. With the increase in convergence social media has become a critical part of our everyday life, this has increased the level of insecurities that users have to deal with. Body dissatisfaction is not something that is exclusively experienced by females; males are also commonly seen to develop mild to severe muscle dysmorphia as they try and replicate the action figure like body that they see constantly displayed on social media. Some of the harming effects of muscle dysmorphia can include extreme exercise, extreme attention to diet, anxiety when missing a work out, neglecting friends and family, avoiding social situations where they may appear muscularity small compared to the muscular build of others and the use of anabolic steroid to enhance muscle mass. Muscle dysmorphia can also lead to extremely low self-esteem in males as they feel like they are not measuring up to what has been falsely displayed on social media as societies norm when it comes to physical appearance. In extreme cases this can lead to self-harm as people are left feeling hopeless and like they don’t measure up to their peers.

There are many individuals and organisations who are working to create a society where we do not dictate self-worth based off online perceptions. There are some simple measures that could be implemented to reduce the damage that trying to replicate what we see on social media is doing to individual’s self-esteem. The 2017 report #StatusOfMind published by the Royal Society for Public Health outlined what some of these initiatives could look like, including pop ups on social media sites that will warn users when they are falling into the heavy usage categories, safe social media practices to be taught in the curriculum in schools, and social media platforms should identify users who could be suffering for any sort of mental health issue, which could be done through flagging certain search terms or hashtags. One thing to is that note Instagram has already done this to a certain extent by flagging certain problematic search terms such as #Bulemia and #Depression. If anyone searches these terms they will be asked if they need help and provided with resources. It was also suggested in the report that there should be wider teaching provided to both students and professionals on how to deal with mental health issues.

Many people acknowledge that social media has its flaws but it can also be argued that it’s not the sites fault rather it is how we are using these sites that is to be blamed. There are many people who use these platforms to talk about important issues that need to have more light shed on them. These issues commonly relate to individual’s sense of identity. Some of the commonly talked about issues are body related and mental health issues. In 2017 a report published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement (YHM) title #StatusOfMind examined some of the positives and negatives effects of social media on young people mental health. This report stated “Social networking offers young people who may be suffering from mental health issues an opportunity to read, watch or listen to and understand the health experiences of others – relating them back to their own reality”. Social media can givepeople a platform to discuss subject relating to their identity that they may not feel comfortable or safe discussing in person. Some of these topics could include sex education, identity politics, gender identity and feminism. There are many professionals who run social media accounts and use these platforms to facilitate meaningful conversations. This report also discussed how knowledge is key when it comes to forming health relationships with social media. If users look at Instagram with the mindset that they are looking at a highlight reel and not the norm, young people will be empowered to view this content with a new set of eyes. They will be able to enjoy the content for what is is without the excessive comparisons. I think it is important to make the distinction that it is not the concept of social networking that is to be blamed for the pitfalls of excessive comparison and false representation. Rather it is how we have been conditioned to react to the content that we see online, if we can change people mindset from that of jealousy to more of acceptance we can make social media a much more positive experience for many.

Social media has made it easier than ever to represent an edited or filtered view of our lives to the outside world, we are conditioned to curate a feed that favors perfection over the reality that is often seen as boring or dull in comparison. We are able to filter reality to a point where it may not even be recognisable anymore. The idea of truth is something that is commonly discussed when we are looking at social media. The digital era has seen a rise in the number of social media stars these people are commonly referred to in research studies as online micro celebrities. Micro celebrities can be defined as “a new style of online performance that involves people ‘amping up’ their popularity over the web using technologies like video, blogs and social networking sites” (Senft, 2008). These micro-celebrities are often accused of presenting distorted versions of their realities. A real life example of how the truth can be twisted in social media world was shown by the former social media influencer Essena O’Neill, Essena was an eighteen-year-old Australian social media influencer who gained popularity due to her popular Instagram page, she amassed over six hundred thousand followers on Instagram and commonly worked with brands to promote different products in exchange for payment. O’Neill was one of the first in the industry to speak out about the smoke and mirrors that make up the influencer industry, criticising influencers for cashing in on falsifying candid perfection. To protest against this and lift the curtain O’Neill re- captioned all of her photos with captions that were a more accurate portrayal of her previously published photos. Some examples of these new captions were “NOT REAL LIFE – took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals” (O’Neill, 2015) and “The only thing that made me feel good that day was thisphoto. How deeply depressing. Having a toned body is not all we as human beings are capable of” (O’Neill, 2015). Essena was someone who had carefully created a near perfect identity for her online persona. However, these modified captions show that we cannot always believe what we see online. Through Photoshop, picture editing apps and filters people have the ability to easily misrepresent themselves to others. They show how many people use social media to show their highlight reel. What they are trying to pass off as their everyday life is actually on the highlights of their life. This can be damaging as users can compare their everyday life to someone’s top moments and when doing this they will never be comparable.

In the digital age that we live in people are now able to make a living through creating online persons, this lifestyle is becoming increasingly attractive for teens as they are drawn to the flamboyancy and extravagance they see in their social media feeds. Essena O’Neill was one of many who would trade in more traditional jobs and start making a living through social media sites. These online influencers promote “what many young people dream of having and a lifestyle they dream of living” (Marwick, 2015). Through sharing their lives online with an engaged audience they can make money off sponsorships and brand deals. This once again brings up the idea of ethics when it comes to what you are sharing on social media. When you are sharing your highlights reel on social media sites in order to try and obtain better promotional deal do you have a responsibility to highlight that what you are sharing is not reflective of everyday life?

A study done in 2018 by the UCLA Brain Mapping Centre has looked at weighting up both the positives and negatives of social media. They noted how entrenched in our everyday life social media has become, the chief executive Shirley Cramer said “Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol and is not so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health issues” (Cramer, 2018). Some of the positives that came out of the study include awareness, access, emotional support, self-expression, self-identity, real world relationships and community building. Despite these positives Instagram was still ranked by the study as the most dangerous social media platform for young people mental health. The negatives noted in the study include anxiety, depression, loneliness, loss of sleep, body image issues, bulling and fear of missing out.

The idea of creating an authentic identity on social media is commonly being discussed and dissected in the media. It was recently touched on by TV host and political commentator Bill Maher, he said “We now live two lives. There’s the real us, the person in the kitchen or a bar, who speaks like a human with trusted friends, and then there’s what I call our avatar. Our avatar looks and sounds like us, but it’s not really us. It’s the persona we adopt in any sort of public sphere, which now includes your followers on Twitter and Instagram” (Maher, 2018). This reinforces the idea that we are misrepresenting our-selves on social media platforms and therefore creating a false sense of personal identity.

The idea of a digital footprint is something that is directly linked with our identities in the digital age. A digital footprint is not something that existed 50 years ago but it is a very real and serious concern for those growing up in the current digital era. The ideas of creating a personal identity through your digital footprint surround the philosophy of “you are what you share” (Leadbeater, 2009). The reality that once something is posted on the internet it is there forever is something that many do not take into account in their teenage years. In today digital society your identity is not just based on the content you are currently posting instead your social media sites often work as a time machine showing your progression over the years. People can see who you currently are as well as who you have been in the past. This can be used against you later in life in situations such as job interviews. Social media sites have changed what it means to have an online identity. People need to keep this in mind when they are sharing their lives on social media, people who are sharing a falsified version of themselves need to be aware that this version could be linked back to them for many years to come.


Hunt, E. (2015, Nov 3). Essena O’Neill quits Instagram claiming social media ‘is not real life’. The Guardian. 2d-life-to-reveal-true-story-behind-images

Branley, D. & Covey, J. (2017) Pro-ana versus Pro-recovery: A content analytic comparison of social media users communication about eating disorders of Twitter and Tumblr. Front. Psychol., 1356(8). https//

Cramer, S., Inkster, B. (2017) #StatusOfMind – Social Media and Young Peoples Mental Health and Well Being. Royal Society for Public Health Vision Voice and Practice. 5 (12).

Boepple, L., Thimpson, J. (2016) A Content Analytic Comparison of Fitspiration and Thinspiration Websites. International Journal of Eating Disorder. 49 (1).

doi: 10.1002/eat.22403

Branley, D., Covey, J. (2017) Pro-ana versus Pro-recovery: A Content Analytic Comparison of Social Media Users Communication about Eating Disorders of Twitter and Tumblr. Front Psychol, 1356 (8). doi: 10.3389/fpsya.2017.01356

Jauregui-Garrido, B., Jauregui-Lobera, I. (2012) Sudden death in eating disorders. Vascular Health and Risk Management Annual. 91 (8). doi: 10.2147/VHRM.s28652

22 replies on “The Tragic Consequences of Misrepresentation on Social Media.”

Hello Victoria!

First of all, you delivered a great paper which I think makes a fantastic contribution to this stream of the conference. Your paragraphs explore ideas that I have not even considered, even though I have researched a similar topic. Your overall topic is insightful and I agree with your main idea that social networking sites “create a society that thrives on unhealthy lies and illusions”. When you were saying that people feel a pressure to present their best selves I feel like I can relate to that as a fellow social networking user. Social networking is always encouraging people to be their real selves but then people still feel pressure to only show the best version of themselves, cause that is what everyone else does.

I also enjoyed your comments on where you explained how there is “placed importance on the aesthetics of the physical appearance. Social networking sites are so very visual, specifically Instagram and so appearance is so easy to compare with oneself. In my paper, I actually explain the social comparison theory and how being on social networks can affect a female young adults identity by way of comparison. feel free to give it a read!

Kind regards,

Hi Isabella,

Thank your for your comment!

I really appreciate you sharing that you feel pressure to present the best version of yourself on social media. As discussed in my paper I also feel this pressure and I think most people who use social media do as well. I think that this is something that needs to keep being discussed if there is going to be progress made in dissolving the pressures the exist within the social media world.

I will definitely go and read your paper. It will be interesting to see the different concepts that we both chose to discuss even through we have similar main topics.

Hi Victoria,

I really enjoyed your paper. I liked your emphasis on digital footprint and how this generation now has to deal with having a digital footprint. This was interesting to me as it is something which has always been in the back of my mind but I have never really given much thought to.

Hi Jordan,

Thank you for your comment!

Yes agree that the idea of a digital footprint is something that I think we are all aware of but don’t seriously consider until later in life. Its like we don’t really consider it until it is almost too late and the damage has already been done. I think that people are becoming more educated on the effects your digital footprint can have on your everyday life so hopefully the younger generations will learn to consider what they are posting online more carefully.

Hi Victoria,
I really enjoyed you paper and your point on the digital footprint was very interesting. I have found many people within online friends has recently started deleting their accounts and creating news ones as they enter adulthood and enter their future life careers.
But even if this is done they still have their digital footprint is still available in some way.

My question for you is do you think creating a new account and deleting old ones from younger teenager years is helpful? Or would you agree their digital footprint is still just as strong?


Hi Jade,

Thank you for your comment!

I have been thinking about your question and it is a tricky one. I also know of people who have repeatedly made new accounts as they have grown older. I think that in doing this it is in some way reinforcing the false belief that you can wipe the slate clean and just start again with your online presence. I think that it can be counter productive as even if you make new account everything you have previously posted will still be available somewhere online. I think that we should try and move away from the disillusionment that once you delete something it is gone and try and strengthen education around how we all form and maintain our digital footprints.

Thank you again for taking the time to read my paper and ask such an interesting question.


Hi Victoria,

First of all great piece! I do also understand and feel the pressure to conform to society online. I think it is hard to not get caught up in it all? We all want to make our lives look perfect online and with the rise of the influencer taking over our feeds it is hard to get away from it. Us “normal” people who are not celebs feel like we aren’t good enough sometimes when we see all these other people living their best and glamorous lives. I think this can be detrimental, and we need to remember that what we see isn’t always the truth.

In my paper I have touched on depicting and enhancing oneself online, feel free to have a read and let me know what you think!

I look forward to chatting soon 🙂
Regards, Georgina

Hi Georgina,

Thanks for your comment!

I absolutely agree the the rise of online influencers has made it increasingly difficult to remove your self for the online perceptions of reality. I think comparison can have detrimental effects that need to be discussed more. I think that schools should make a point of taking more about the impact and role of social media with their students. We are living in an increasingly digital world and I think that what we teach our children needs to evolve and expand alongside this. As you said in your comment it is really hard not to get caught up in everything that happens online and I think we could all benefit with some more discussion around the realities of what we see on social media.

I will definitely go and have a look at your paper.

Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment on mine.


Hi Victoria,
I really enjoyed your paper and I think your analysis of the effects that social media has on users is very insightful. As someone who regularly uses social media sites such as Instagram I found this topic particularly interesting as it is something I can relate to, as many people often do. I like that you brought up the topic of body dysmorphia as it has been severely propagated by visual social media sites. It has become common for people, particularly young teens, to view themselves in a critical light when comparing themselves to online personas. I think these mental health issues should be discussed more in society and I like that your paper has opened up this discourse.

Kind regards,

Hi Ash-Le,

Thank you for taking the time to read my paper!

I agree that the mental health implications of social media need to be talked about more. There has been a sharp increase on the number of people struggling with eating disorders and body image issues in the last five years and I think we need to seriously discuss how social media could be linked to this. I agree with your point that we need to have more open and honest conversations about this issue. Without having these discussions I don’t think we will see any significant changes made.


Hi Marie,

Thank you for taking the time to read my paper!

I am really glad that you resonated with the section on digital footprint, I think this is a component of social media that we all need to reflect on when we are making posts online.

I will definitely go and have a look at your article.


Hi Victoria!

I really enjoyed your paper and agreed with your argument about how social media has allowed for people to become inauthentic even when offline. I feel as though the internet has really blurred the line for a lot of people, where they can’t live without their online presence as a form of some sort of validation for what they are doing and how they are presenting themselves. I wondered if you thought there would be a way to ease the pressures of conforming to online communities? Or if it has simply gone too far where it can’t be helped anymore?

I also based my paper on social media creating inauthentic identities online and would love to read your opinion:

Have a great day!

Hi Leah,

Thank you for taking the time to read my paper!

I fully agree that the line between online and offline personas has become increasingly more blurred as we have transitioned to a more online world.

When looking at the question of how to ease the pressure I would like to think that there are ways in which we can do this. I think that we need to have more education around the effects of social media in schools I also think there needs to be a level of personal accountability with what we post. I think this needs to come from the the biggest accounts on the platform down to everyone else. We need to think about the content that will make us happy but also take into consideration about how what we post may impact others. I think being more mindful about both the content that we post and the content that we consume is key in trying to break down the pressure of conformity.

I will go read your article now!


Hi Victoria,
I enjoyed reading your paper. I found it interesting when you wrote “carefully select pictures to curate an image that we want to be judged on”. Do you think they/we are looking to be judged, or could this simply be the people they want the world to see, but they aren’t quite ready to showcase this version of themselves in the offline world? Or perhaps this is their ‘work life’ and like to be a completely different version of themselves offline.

I am intrigued that Instagram has been labelled the most dangerous social media channel for young peoples mental health. Whilst I know from research and my own personal youth, this platform (and most others) can have a detrimental affect on things we view/say/do, however I think in the future the positives of social media might start to outweigh the negatives. What are your thoughts on this?

My paper touches on the identity built online, on how this can be built by more than just uploading pictures to their feeds. If you’d like to read my paper, you can find it here:

Hi Victoria,

I found your paper extremely interesting and want to leave you with a few questions to consider.
Similarly to what Bobbie mentioned previously, another student by the name of Isabella wrote a paper on multifaceted identities online, ( here’s the link if you want to check it out, it’s a great read. )
I personally believe that after reading and comparing both your and Isabella’s articles that multifaceted identities are extremely important within our own personal lives, not just on social media. Like for myself, i act and show a completely different side of myself with work colleagues than with my friends. And this is not to say that I’m fake, but I believe that showing and opening up certain elements of our lives to different people is essential in communication.

My question for you is, as you mentioned the presentation of ourselves online is often associated with extreme pressure. But do you feel that different social media platforms deserve different presentation of ourselves to accomodate that platforms beliefs? And what impact do you think trying to maintain these different personalities online could have on the user?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you wanted to check out my paper, I discuss the impact of social media and social media influencers on adolescent males mental health.


Hi Sam,

Thank you for your comment!

Yes I have read Isabellas piece and really enjoyed it especially seeing as we have such similar topics.

I found your question really interesting and it made me think. I think that it is natural and even necessary to present different versions of ourselves on different online platforms. For example we would definitely show a different side on a platform such as Linkedin than we would on Instagram. I think this ties in with what you said regarding how we all act differently with our work colleagues to how we would with our friends. I agree with you that this doesn’t mean that anyone is fake as such they are just tailoring their behaviour to suit a particular situation.

I think that the problem with unauthentic representations of ourselves only comes up people are pressures into representing a false narrative of their life or do it out of insecurity. This is when I believe it can have negative physical and mental effects.

Thank you again for taking the time to read my paper and leave such interesting questions!


Hi Bobbie,

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my paper.

I do agree with you that positives may outweigh the negatives of social media in the future. Through reading different papers on the topic throughout this conference I have come to see that while there are many negatives of social media there are also many positives that can counter these negatives. I think that in order to make social media a more positive place we should take to time to build up the positive accounts instead of focusing on the negatives. This is something that I will be making a conscience effort to do going forward.

Thanks again for ready my paper!


Hello Victoria,
What a great topic to discuss! I agree to your point that we filter reality to the point where its not recognizable anymore. We indeed live two lives in this case. I also like your strong thoughts on digital footprint and how it affects our present life. We don’t consider it as a threat at all. When its too late, people tend to delete their accounts and have a fresh start. I feel this topic needs to be discussed more in our society.

I would like to invite you to read my paper which talks about Social Commerce being revolutionized by Instagram Marketing.

Hi Jashwanth,

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my paper!

I agree that not enough time is put into thinking about and considering the implications of our digital footprint. I find this really worrying especially with the younger generation. We have seen major backlash with old tweets of celebrities recently and I wonder if this is going to become commonplace in the future where there will be full internet background checks. I think it is definitely something we need to consider.

I will go have a read of your paper now.


Hi Victoria,

I agree with you that people feel pressure to present themselves on social media which I could relate myself to this point. I remember when I first posted my first picture on Instagram, I did ask myself questions like : Do I look good or silly in this picture? And for the whole day I’ve been looking at the number of likes (I know it’s hilarious). I also like the idea that you mentioned that we now live two lives, which one is our true self and the other one is our avatar.


Hi Victoria, I think your paper is really interesting and how you present every case and example is crystal clear. Reading it made me realize how real is this thing and I probably have been in this situation too where I feel like I need to present the best version of myself online. Though I have passed that phase where I feel that I don’t need to look perfect online nor offline, being true to myself is enough. I think it depends on how we perceived everything we see on social media, we definitely need to filter what we see and try to change our negative or toxic perception and remember that everyone is unique. This monolithic beauty standard sucks and it’s always going to be there, let it be, because body positivity and self love is what’s more important. Thanks for the engaging paper!

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