Identity and Online Advocacy

Social media use has an impact on teenagers’ online and offline identities


The purpose of this paper is to understand why teenagers’ identity changes when navigating social media. I will argue that teenagers’ identity production is fundamentally changed when learning to navigate social media and the broader online societal issues surrounding self-presentation, identity formation, and social media implication use. This paper takes the position that social media heavily influences teenagers’ online identities, altering their authentic self-identities and allowing them to portray desired identities that are subjective to both peer pressure and today’s idealistic society. The paper also analyses how teenagers desired identities are impacted by their gender and sexual identity.  Thus leading to posting provocative photos leaving a digital footprint behind that could potentially affect their future. This paper relates to the identity and online advocacy stream as social media enables individuals, particularly teenagers, to perceive themselves in a different light to who they actually are in real life, creating a desired identity. All aspects of social media appeal to teenagers as their online identities are formed around the number of likes, comments, and followers they receive on each photo, post, or snaps. As social media allows them to shape their online identity, this can often bleed into their true identity, which can leave considerable implications of how they present themselves to others in real life.

#identity formation #teenagers #social media #desired identity

Social media use has an impact on teenagers’ online and offline identities

Social Media enables an individual to create an online identity that differs from their real-world identity, allowing for experimentation, individual expression and exploration into the World Wide Web. Teenagers shift in social media use (increasing daily) has dramatically changed since the internet was first used for social interaction. In 2019, 90% of teenagers (Coppes, 2019) globally used and interacted with at least one social media platform.  Teenagers online self-presentation includes visual, textual and social media profiles where an individual’s identity is compared, presented, and adjusted to conform with society and their peers. A teenager’s online identity is easily influenced through implications of social media. Social Media is imperative to teenager’s everyday life constructing how their identity is formed, primarily online. Teenagers’ identity production is fundamentally changed when learning to navigate social media and the broader online societal issues surrounding self-presentation, identity formation, and social media implication use.

Self-presentation is the process of an ever-changing cycle where individual identity is compared, presented, and adjusted to conform with society’s social, cultural and sexual realities (Papacharissi, 2011). Online self-presentation can be viewed in the form of visual, textual and social media profiles. Social media platforms give users the power to create an online identity perhaps different from their authentic self-identity (Davis. S, 2018). For teenagers, visual self-presentation is conveyed in profile pictures, selfies, posts, and videos, with the main criteria ensuring they look good (Herring et al., 2015). Kapidzic et al. (2015) conducted a study of how teenagers present themselves in online images and found that “girls show themselves at a closer distance, more seductively posed, and more revealingly dressed – in short, as more sexually available – than boys”. Herrington et al. (2015) agreed to state that most girls are posed in seductive behaviour and only post it if they look attractive. Teenage girls are more concerned with visual self-presentation than teenage boys, which tend to be varied from “dominant, idealised and affiliated behaviour” (Herring et al., 2015) that were taken at a farther distance and looking away from the camera (Herring et al., 2015). Teenagers’ social media identity relies heavily on visual self-presentation to convey themselves to others on the various social media platforms they use.

Textual self-presentation is also essential to teenagers online self-presentation through textual cues (Herring et al., 2015, cf. Goffman, 1959). The textual cues occur in profile descriptions, online chats via instant messaging, comments on posts and text images. Textual self-presentation forms another part of a teenager’s identity online through the language used, stylist approaches such as slang and teenage slang and abbreviations. Teenagers, both female and male, use slang, abbreviations and acronyms, which indicate to the online web they are part of the younger generation. Herring and Kapidzic (2015) found “male teenagers tend to use authoritative language and respond negatively” whilst females were likely to respond by agreeing, supporting others and are personable and emotional in their online textual presentation. In saying this, teenagers’ textual cues are different in chat forums. Females are more flirtatious and friendly in their responses, where males responded in manipulated speech and are more aggressive, whilst both use emoticons. Teenagers are likely to change their identity when sending a message through chats as it allows “them conducive to a playful experimentation with identity” (Kapidzic et al., 2011). Social media profiles are a crucial piece to teenagers changing their identity on social media.

Social media profiles are an intricate part of a user’s online identity. These social media profiles play a significant role in how teenagers can create their portrayed online identity. They contain pictures, personal information, links, friends and followers within each of their particular social media platforms. Teenagers can use these profiles to “represent a change in the way internet users self-present” (Herring et al., 2015, pg. 4). On social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, teenagers generally “present their “real identity” through usernames, photographs” (Herring et al., 2015, pg. 3) and other relevant information. Social Media profiles are intended to limit user’s ability to experiment with online identity (Herring et al., 2015).

In many cases, teenagers create various online identities to portray themselves to family, friends and online platforms. The appeal for social media profiles “derives from providing a stage for self-presentation and social connection” (Papacharissi, 2011, pg. 305). When teenagers morph their identity across various platforms leading to online identity negotiation. Papacharissi (2011) argues “online social networks constitute such sites of self-presentation and identity negotiation”.  A teenager’s online identity is easily influenced through implications that social media use.  

Social media majorly impacts constructing one’s identity, gender, and sexual identity, leading to teenagers’ identity implications (Davis. S, 2018). Teenagers do not see the impact of how their current social media interactions can implicate their future online and in the real world. Blower, 2016 states, “social media use greatly impacts self-identification and self-construction of gender, especially among female users” (Davis. S, 2018). The identities teenagers create are not often their “real” identities but more of a facade to conform with societies expectations. Teenagers see society’s expectations of portraying themselves online with an identity that may not be their authentic selves leading to unrealistic views of their own and other people’s lives.

The increase in social media usage amongst teenagers has turned cyberbullying into a significant issue (Alim, 2016). Bullying in the playground in school has now escalated to online bullying, which is often far worse. Social media has become a further tool for schoolyard bullies to torment their victims and pick on their identity if it does not conform to their or societies expectations (Alim, 2016). Social media use has further implications for those bullied. It leads to torment that cannot be escaped from, leading to increased damaged self-esteem, peer pressure, mental health, suicide, depression (Betton et al., 2018). This may in turn, impact on how other teenagers present themselves online in fear of being bullied.

Teenagers are vastly unaware and lack understanding; all activity on social media websites leaves a digital footprint, following them for the rest of their lives. “They are also unaware of the future implications of creating a digital footprint in today’s online legal environment” (Gray et al., 2010, p. 17). A digital footprint is the data left behind of a user’s online activity which cannot be removed and a permanent trace creating a user’s online identity (Ophir et al., 2019). Teenagers’ social media activity from comments, posts, likes, and images is part of their digital footprint, including provocative images posted and any bullying comments (Gray et al., 2010). The online identity a teenager portrays in their teens may not be how they want to be perceived as in their late twenties or up to their fifties, and this can have significant implications for their careers later down the track. If they have posted provocative images in their teens and want to become a teacher or a CEO of a company, it can come back to bite them later.  Teenagers need to become aware that what you post on social media and the web is not just for the moment; it will stay with them for the rest of their lives. As teenagers navigate social media, they often cave to peer pressure, leading to the formation of an online desired identity of posting provocative sexualised images to conform to society’s or their peers expectations.

Social Media is imperative to teenager’s everyday life constructing how their identity is formed, primarily online. Eleuteri et al., 2017 states, “adolescents live in a fugue state facilitated by overuse of technology, and their identity is fragmented”. Social media controlled by various mobile technologies such as iPhone’s, tablets, smartwatches, and laptops allows teenagers online identity to appear how they like. Elueteri et al., 2017 also states, technologies affect the way teenagers perceive themselves raising conflicting identities of a teenager’s unidentified identity and their desired identity. Teenagers live off posting photos, and their every move from eating breakfast to late-night parties and everything in between. Teenagers’ online identity is perceived by popularity, and teenagers are vastly consumed with the number of likes, comments and followers they receive on each photo, post or snap (Eleuteri et al., 2017). Duffy, 2018 also states, “Teens collate, curate and construct their online identities through sharing video clips, photographs and memes, alongside their own thoughts, comments, likes and dislikes”. This perception of teenagers’ identity can lead to peer pressure to conform to societies, online platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, and famous people’s perception of posting sexual images. All social media platforms survive on teenagers and alike to post and generate content to stay in business. Davis. S, 2018 states online businesses and platforms “survive solely on user-generated content mostly from female users” (Davis. S, 2018, pg. 2).  Davis. S, 2018 states, “This self-objectification and self-surveillance can lead to a misunderstood or misrepresented idea of peer norms regarding sex”.  Cybersex is often one of the first opportunities teenagers engage in, when exploring their sexuality online (Eleuteri et al., 2017). As teenagers explore cybersex, it allows them to portray a different part of their identity and sometimes increases “inclination for a risk-taking attitude” (Eleuteri et al., 2017).

Broader societal issues such as; sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and age, also influence teenagers’ identities on social media.  Eleuteri et al., 2017 states, “Social networks are becoming more and more like the real world – in that connecting with people online is almost an approximation of connecting with people offline.” Individual teenagers’ online identity is radically influenced by peer pressure and societies issues and views. Societies are forming in the online world, and teenagers’ choices to post a provocative image or bully an individual may not immediately result in consequences. It is becoming more apparent that social media and the online world is merging with the real world, and as a consequence, the choices one makes online are bleeding into the real world (Davis. S, 2018).  The increase of changing identities and conformity of self-preparation is prompting psychological and physical effects on teenagers. “Social media is an interesting medium to explore because it combines user production and user consumption, thus perpetuating intersectional problems” (Davis. S, 2018).

To conclude, a teenager’s real-world identity is vastly altered when online due to social media pressures. Teenagers portray themselves online through the desired identity which is usually a facade to conform with societies expectations. This is due to teenagers ensuring their identity aligns with society’s expectations and being consumed with the number of likes, comments, and followers they receive on each photo, post, or snaps. Social media use implications and all activity online leaves a digital footprint that follows them for the rest of their life. Teenagers are oblivious to the impact this can have on their future life, notably, their future careers.  I was unable to explore in detail how teenagers struggle to differentiate their real-world identity from their online identity and the implications that can occur when their online identity becomes their true self. Another area relatable to this conference paper is digital role models and how teenagers mimic their online identity, based on these online role models. Navigating social media, broader online societal issues surrounding self-presentation, identity formation, and social media implication use, fundamentally change a teenager’s identity.


Alim, S. (2016). Cyberbullying in the World of Teenagers and Social Media: A Literature Review. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning (IJCBPL), 6(2), 68-95.

Betton, V., & Woollard, J. (2018). Teen Mental Health in an Online World: Supporting Young People Around Their Use of Social Media, Apps, Gaming, Texting and the Rest. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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Eleuteri, S., Saladino, V., & Verrastro, V. (2017). Identity, relationships, sexuality, and risky behaviors of adolescents in the context of social media. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 32(3-4), 354-365.

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10 thoughts on “Social media use has an impact on teenagers’ online and offline identities

  1. Hi Mikayla,

    I read your paper and found that you raised some very interesting points that I hadn’t particularly considered before. Your point about further educating younger people about social media use and their digital footprints raises questions about at what point younger people are mature enough to not only benefit from social media use, but also thrive and accentuate their own identities.

    I can remember growing up and watching my older brother play online games, where he would construct his character to be this muscular, tall man, even though he was only a child. Do you think that a situation such as this paints unrealistic ideals within youth, or perhaps that it gives them motivation to express their real selves as their online personas which they previously weren’t confident enough to display.

    Thanks again for the great read!

    1. Hi Kelsey,

      Thank you for reading my paper.

      In regard to educating younger people about social media use it should be done at a young age as it would allow younger people to be receptive to adult’s views on social media and have two-way open discussions and allow them to make better informative decisions when they are creating their online identity.

      You raised a really good point about identity formation. I believe it does paint unrealistic ideals in youth as it is a starting point that young teenagers should create their identity based on societies views and expectations, rather than create their own identity that is true to themselves and based on their actual identity.

      Thank you again!

  2. Loved this paper Mikayla! You definitely raised some important issues and this is a topic that even outside of this conference interests me greatly. I grew up in the perfect in between time of technology where I remember being in primary school where technology was a privilege and technology use even in terms of gaming was still a very social and in person thing, I would go to my friends house to play games with them in person. To then going into high school where social media was becoming a bigger part of life to now being an adult where social media is indistinguishable to real life interaction. This unique perspective I and many people my age hold can make understanding the affect on people (not that much younger than me) can have as I am an avid social media user and understand the ways in which social media is designed and can disconnect myself more accurately from the negative aspects of it which are usually overlooked. Whereas teenagers, like my sister, who is only 3 years younger than me has much greater lasting affects.

    I would confidently say many people my age have experienced the negative physical and mental affects social media has caused, however I can remember a time where social media had far less power over daily life and that context allows me to reaffirm myself and I can take a step back. This context has quickly been removed for teenagers now and the effects are already being felt. Social media is no longer an accessory, only used sparingly as a pass time, now social media association with ones self is perceived as just as important as any other aspect of a persons identity and personality. With that I believe that the education around social media should be treated accordingly.

    While at the moment the future of social media and its affects appears pessimistic, I believe that as people who grew up around the same time as I did become more mature our voices and opinions of social media will hold more weight for coming generations. As currently any adult trying to educate teenagers on the affects of social media would be quickly dismissed, rightly so, why would a teenager believe someone who’s identity is less intertwined with their online identity. I think we will begin to see more people openly discuss social media with teenagers and the discussion of its affects will be more positively received.

    1. Hi James,

      Thank you for reading my paper and sharing some insights into how social media and online technology interaction has evolved for you. I chose to write my paper on this topic as I am in my mid 20’s and has only become apparent how social media and creating your online can affect your real-life identity by watching my teenage cousin navigate social media. She is vastly unaware that her real-life identity has majorly changed due to her social media use and its influences and peer pressure to fit in has affected her. It has also been heavily influenced to conform to societies expectations on gender, sexuality, and provocative images.

      I also believe their needs to be more education on social media, digital footprints and how it can affect one’s identity in the real world. By having that education earlier, it would allow teenagers to be receptive to adult’s views on social media and have two-way open discussions and allow them to make better informative decisions when they are creating their online identity.

  3. Hi Mikayla,

    Your paper brought to mind the pertinent issue of teenagers posting provocative content of themselves for adults, who, if caught in the possession of such content can be charged with possessing child pornography. Since teenagers experiment with their identities online this is bound to lead to complications in enforcing justice.

    Social media bringing about a “misrepresented idea of peer norms” is an interesting point. It seems you separate between online and offline communities, and hold that some cultural norms (in this case among teenagers) are only able to form due to the affordances of online social platforms and would not become realised otherwise. Am I correct in this? You do assert later on that the real world and online world are merging, but on the issue of teenage sexuality you seem to argue that social media allows teenagers to act in unrealistic ways for their age. I think that teenagers have always desired to conform to society’s notions of success and peer pressure, and social media has not changed that. What do you think?

    Thank you for the good, well structured read!

    1. Hi Lalia,

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

      You have a point around the complications in enforcing justice. Teenagers experiment with their identity online and offline but doesn’t mean they should feel the need to post provocative images and adults should not be asking teenagers for these type of images in the first instance.

      You are correct in that social media plays a major role in teenagers’ identity and their online identity is often a misrepresentation of their real-life identity. These online identities are only formed due to the affordance that comes with online social media platforms. Without online social media platforms teenager’s identity would not be as influenced by peer pressure and acting in unrealistic ways. Yes, peer pressure and curiosity of sexuality has always been apart of society, but social media and online platforms have only increased how a teenager forms their own identity. Social media being world-wide and the online platforms being at a touch of your fingertips has allowed teenagers to be greatly influenced by societies issues than ever before.

  4. Hi Mikayla!
    I really like looking into these issues you have spoken on.
    So many people are using self-preservation online, do you think this also carries over into the real life? That perhaps young people’s online identity starts to bleed into that of their real life one?
    With your mention of young people not knowing their digital footprint do you think that this would be something worth learning in school? Perhaps even primary school as it seems that more and more younger people are using social media?

    1. Hi Alicia,

      Thank you for reading my paper.

      Being in my mid 20’s currently as a teenager I was greatly influenced in the interaction of social media and my online presences definitely bled into my real-life identity. I believe this is the case for most teenagers today that their real-life identity has been majorly influenced by their online identity and conforming to societies expectations.

      I would agree that kids as young as primary school age need to be taught at school the effects of social media on their identity and how everything they put up on the web leaves a digital footprint behind that follows them forever.

  5. Hi Mikayla,

    This was interesting to read and to try and think back on how social media was an influence on my own time as a teenager. I was wondering, with a lot of your paper having a focus on how teenagers explore parts of their identity online and how their real world identities comes through, do you think that social media can also do the opposite and being online influences the way teenagers think of themselves? From the examples you listed I would imagine gender and sexuality being the most fluid and could just being online and interacting affect the way in which they percieve those identities for themselves?

    1. Hi Thomas,

      Thank you for reading my paper. I also think social media has a major influence on the way teenagers think and perceive themselves. The online world such as social media over the years has become the main way teenagers interact with one another. Interaction on social media between teenagers has increased the way they perceive their identity. 100% agree with your comments.

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