Identity and Online Advocacy

Social Media and The Negative Impact It Has Had on The Authentic Self.


Authenticity is a term used to describe how real or genuine something may appear to be (Buendgens-Kosten, 2014). The general concept of being authentic based on this definition would purely suggest that for one to be authentic they must be genuine and honest. Whilst it could be argued that in day-to-day life, we cannot truly be authentic at all times, this paper will focus on the affect social media and the groups formed within it have had on the concept of being authentic. The main themes explored will be online presentation, the Online Disinhibition Effect, and the construction of identity online and how all of these concepts have affected the way users are able to be authentic online.

Online Presentation

Online, people tend to portray themselves in the way that they wish to be seen rather than the way they actually are as a from of impression management (DeAndrea & Walther, 2011). People will alter these different portrayals of themselves based on the audience receiving the content to make themselves more digestible for the viewer. This is not to say that this is always intentionally deceptive but often rather a result of the individual being unable to see themselves in the same way as those around them (DeAndrea & Walther, 2011). It is interesting to consider that it is near impossible to achieve an authentic presentation online due the inconsistencies between a user’s self-image and the way others perceive them.

It can be inferred that for the majority of people their online presence is rather different from how they appear in their day-to-day life, whether that be subtle changes in opinion or language used or changes to the appearance with the use of angles, lighting and filters. These are not necessarily all intentional changes per se to the way they wish to be viewed but sometimes more so to hide aspects of oneself that they do not wish to be immortalised on the internet. For example, using a filter or an angle to hide a blemish or a messy room. This behaviour is breeding the drive to be inauthentic online. To present oneself in a better light, regardless of the intention behind it is not authentic and without the addition of social media in one’s life this deceptive presentation would not exist in such a public forum.

The use of filters, lighting and angles is also producing a range of social media users to be perceived as carbon copies of one another. Selfie culture has presented itself largely in millennials but has also spread down to generation Z and has caused a disassociation from the real world in terms of the importance of looks and attention from others (Brooks, 2017).  This form of content sharing creates a distorted view of what people look like, not only on a personal level but also on a larger scale. Celebrities like the Kardashian-Jenner’s and Arian Grande are often spotted online sporting not only obvious filters in their selfies such as the commonly known “Dog Filter” popularised by snapchat but also distorting their bodies and face shapes using apps such as autotune. When users construct their identities online often images such as those created by these celebrities are used as the blueprint for what users should look like online and what is acceptable to share. Not only does this provide a presentation of these users that is not authentic on their online profiles, but it can also affect the way they feel about their looks and the way they present themselves in day-to-day life and thus causing a constant stream of inauthentic behaviours and presentations.

When looking at online presentation it is interesting to consider the microcelebrities, commonly referred to as influencers, and their usage of social media for their work. In a study conducted by Djafarova and Trofimenko (2018), it was found that 30% of participants were inspired by the photos presented online by social media microcelebrities and when asked what characteristics a microcelebrity should have authenticity and originality were mentioned. It is also worth noting that participants prefer if the microcelebrities they follow and engage with appear to be honest when sharing advertisements for products as this makes them appear to be more trustworthy.

Chiang & Suen (2015) explored the relationship between presentation on LinkedIn profiles and hiring recommendations and how much a potential employer can be influenced by the way one presents themselves on their profile. It can be assumed that many microcelebrities would create their profiles and content with this in mind for example if they promote fitness products on their pages you would be unlikely to see them share content that does not align with the values of the brands that they work with or wish to work with. Whilst understanding that yes, a person is allowed to create their own boundaries online and share what they wish to about their personal life, the monetisation of their content could result in their content to be less authentic or honest. This would then also dissolve their connection with their followers as the followers claim to want microcelebrities to present in an authentic manner. The issue here, much like anyone in any job, is that generally there are different ways that you approach people that you are working with and people that you are not (Brusseau, 2019). Microcelebrities are participating in work via their social media profiles. Every piece of content that they share is a part of their job whether or not the post contains advertisements and sponsored content, and it must all align with the main themes of their digital persona.

If a microcelebrity wishes to attempt to be truly authentic online, it poses the risk that they may lose their brand connections. If their version of authentic does not match up with the idea that their followers have built up surrounding this person, they may even lose followers and thus jeopardise their work.   Without social media this career would not even exist and therefore this authenticity crisis within this job role would not even exist    

Schwämmlein & Wodzicki (2012) discuss Self-Presentation in Common-Identity Communities in their paper What to Tell About Me? Self-Presentation in Online Communities. In this paper they suggest that anonymity can create a sense of salience which helps people to feel a part of many groups. It is also suggested that members of groups with anonymity tend to be more willing to share information and opinions than those who present personal information, such as pictures. This however leads us to consider the impact of these decisions on our view of our “self” and the way we interact with each other online. This could lead to individuals presenting themselves to a group in an arguably inauthentic way to make themselves more accessible to other members of the group and to find a greater sense of belonging.

Coming back again to the concept that you provide different presentations of who you are when acting around different people (Brusseau, 2019), it would be near impossible to suggest that anyone participating in the use of a social media group could be considered authentic. The way that they would be willing to share their thoughts and ideas with people of similar interests rather than just sharing them with anyone could suggest that at all times they are not being authentic to themselves. The breakdown of this is that social media groups, whilst helping people to share their authentic feelings, still has a negative impact on the authentic self as a whole.

Online Disinhibition Effect

Anonymity can be understood to be the inability to identify the source of a message (Anonymous, 1998). When presenting anonymously online, or even restricting the personal information shared, it can remove the consequences of our actions online. This is referred to as The Online Disinhibition Effect (Suler, 2005). When working anonymously online people can find it easy to create an entirely new compartmentalised identity in which they can say act and do whatever they like with seemingly no consequences or at least none that feel real or are experienced by the user. Whilst this can affect people in different ways based on many different variables, and can be positive or negative (Suler, 2005), it is clear that most users of social media have experienced this before.

The online disinhibition effect can often be seen in those on social media that identify as trolls, often infiltrating social media groups and pages to create disconnect and conflict between members for little to no reason with their only purpose being to annoy users and disrupt these groups and pages (Binns, 2012). These people post, comment and message other users, either entirely anonymously or under a fake persona, with little to no consequence coming their way. More often than not people such as this state that they are just expressing their opinions and being their version of authentic. It can be inferred though that if a majority of these users felt the consequences of what they have shared they would not share this content online. This could suggest that either the online persona of the user is not authentic or that the offline persona of the user is not authentic. This would indicate that for the user influenced by the Online Disinhibition Effect, it is near impossible to achieve an authentic version of the self as the use of social media has created two separate different identities.

Identity Online

Brusseau (2019) discusses that the initial concept of the Facebook profile was to construct an authentic online identity. The idea was that you would no longer be one person to your friends and another to your co-workers. It would all be the same content, and everyone would be able to see all sides of the user. He also notes however that he portrays many roles in his own life that are not interchangeable and some just purely are not appropriate to be interchanged or shared. Would it then make him inauthentic to not greet his co-worker in the manner that he greets his wife? Or would it be inauthentic to change the content shared on his online profiles so that they fit more easily with more groups?

In social media groups, users can find a community of other users with similar interests or ideas. In these groups they can find such a sense of oneness (Swann, William, Jetten, Jolanda, Gomez, Angel, Whitehouse, Harvey & Bastian, Brock. 2012) and belonging that these communities can feel like home to them as if they are being their true authentic selves. The bonds formed within these social media groups would not have otherwise been formed without the introduction of social media in the user’s life (Hampton, 2015). These groups and the user’s membership in these groups will affect the user’s online identity, whether it be aligned with the users authentic self, or not. If the user for example is part of an online group discussing films and all the users in the particular group have the opinion that one particular movie is the best film of all time, the user may feel pressured to agree so as not to sever the connection formed between themselves and the group.

Coming back to the idea presented by Schwämmlein & Wodzicki (2012), suggesting that participants in groups adjust the personal information shared to create a more salient public image, when participating in a group it is far from likely that the user is experiencing their most authentic self.  When the user in the group is confronted with some potentially slightly differing opinions if they choose to hide that they disagree with these opinions in order to maintain their sense of belonging within the group then they are not being authentic. This group relationship dynamic is posing a negative influence on the user’s sense of authenticity, and whilst this could occur in a non-digital setting, the effect of participating in inauthentic behaviour on the internet is more permanent.

There are a vast number of consequences for construction of an online identity. Not only is any information you choose to share online accessible by most anyone (Uğur Gündüz, 2017), but it also remains out on the internet even once deleted. The natural progression of growth for a human life is affected by the information the user would not otherwise receive and the information the user has shared that cannot be removed. The Facebook Memories Feature has the ability to remind the user of the person they were at previous intervals in life (Swann, William et al. 2012) which can help to remind the user that what is on the internet remains forever. If the user sees that three years ago, they shared an offensive post to their Facebook page, in the interest of being authentic, this content can be brought up at any moment in future by anyone that has the ability to view their profile. If this user however elected to not share this post online knowing that it would not be appropriate to do so, then they could arguably be sacrificing their authenticity for the protection of their image.

Constructing any form of identity online whether that be anonymous or as authentic as the user feels like they could possibly make it is ultimately producing an inauthentic self in some capacity. The production of a self-made social media profile is always going to be inauthentic to some degree regardless of intention. Users are always seeking out privacy in the vast digital public and when you are hiding things you are not being authentic. Users are presenting themselves the way they wish to be seen and it is purely not authentic. In this world being authentic in every aspect is already difficult but the addition of participating in social media and social media groups has taking the lack of authenticity of self to another level by providing more ways and situations in which one can be inauthentic.


Overall, it is clear to see that, whilst authenticity can be difficult to achieve in the offline world, it is near impossible to maintain an authentic sense of self when participating in social media an social media groups. The ways in which we construct our self-presentation online provide almost no room for authenticity. The Online Disinhibition affect can cause those affected by it to lose any sense of authenticity. The ways we form our online identities are so heavily influenced by the online world and our perception within that world that we are unable to be authentic. Whether this is truly a positive or negative for the human condition as a whole is uncertain but what is clear is that social media and the groups formed within it have severely impacted the concept of the authentic self.


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‌Chiang, J. K.-H., & Suen, H.-Y. (2015). Self-presentation and hiring recommendations in online communities: Lessons from LinkedIn. Computers in Human Behavior48, 516–524.

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‌Suler, J. (2005). The online disinhibition effect. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies2(2), 184–188.

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DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2011.648988

Brooks, D. N. (2017). The Kardashian Effect: The Impact of Selfie Culture on Millennial

Women (Doctoral dissertation, Robert Morris University).

9 thoughts on “Social Media and The Negative Impact It Has Had on The Authentic Self.

  1. Hi Kaily,

    I enjoyed reading your paper and your take on the representation of authentic self on social media platforms. As you’ve mentioned, the way an individual portray themselves in an online environment is situational and heavily influenced by those around the person (this also can be applied to the offline self). The construction of one’s self is indeed influenced by the community they wish to be apart of, as well as how the individual view the group (Latrofa et al., 2010). Taking note of characteristic members within that particular group display and adapting it to their creation of self, pushing them further from their authentic self to fit in.

    Whether it’s in an online space or in the real world the ability of differentiating and identifying the ‘true self’ is becoming difficult. Thus raising the question that as multiple self, be it showcasing one aspect of the authentic self or creating a new self – Is what we believe to be the authentic self the original? Or is our authentic self based on all the different self we’ve come to create?

    Latrofa, M., Vaes, J., Cadinu, M., & Carnaghi, A. (2010). The Cognitive Representation of Self-Stereotyping. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(7), 911-922.

  2. Hi Kaily,

    You have certainly touched on an intriguing subject for your conference paper and I agree with you that users of social media platforms attempt to portray a positive version of themselves that may not be truly authentic but I believe that most users do not deliberately set out to deceive others but as you point out may not reveal their complete selves in case they are judged negatively or disliked. Pretty much everyone wants to be liked and accepted in some way and I agree with your point that it is almost impossible to represent your true authentic self online as it is hard enough in everyday life. I believe that it is simply human nature that we present one self to our family, another self to our friends and even another version to our workmates. We present any number of selves depending on the situation we find ourselves in and possibly it is a combination of all these selves that makes up our authentic self.
    I think a strong determination in how a person portrays themselves in a given situation is defined by what is deemed to be socially acceptable behaviour and a person will act accordingly, especially online. It would take an extremely strong willed and confident (within themselves) person to portray their true authentic self and not be concerned about how others will judge them.
    Thank you Kaily for a very thought provoking and insightful paper.


  3. Hi Kaily,
    Your paper was quite a fascinating read as it has prompted me to challenge my own thoughts on the concept of the authentic self. I agree that “a self-made social media profile is always going to be inauthentic to some degree”, however, I find it hard to agree with you that authentic presentation is impossible to achieve online. In your paper, you bring up the notion of an ‘authentic version of the self’ which I think is an important aspect, since I believe that authenticity is subjective as any performance of identity stems from an original self. I don’t feel as though just because someone wants to present themselves in the ‘best light’, that it suggests a deceptive presentation of self, in contrast, I acknowledge that a photo with a filter for example, is a creative expression of authentic self.
    Similarly to Declan and Saranya, I’ve also not heard about the ‘online disinhibition effect’ before this moment and I wonder how much has changed since Suler’s publication in 2005 – noting that Facebook launched in 2004 and become public to everyone in 2006. Facebook and the real-name web ( have vastly overshadowed online anonymity in favour for identity verification. I’m curious if you think the use of real names can promote a positive impact on the authentic self?

    1. Hi Karla,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts (I also apologize for a delayed reply as I have been quite unwell over the past few weeks).
      I love your point on authenticity being subjective, this is not something I have previously considered and I really appreciate this idea being brought to my attention.
      regarding your thoughts on the online disinhibition effect, I feel that it extends further than the use of real names however I appreciate your point. I do feel that the use of real name can promote a positive impact on the authentic self however again, based on my reading I feel that it extends further than simply your name and also involves the information we share about ourselves online.
      Thank you for your comment, this has encouraged me to rethink some of my points,

  4. Hi Kaily!
    I really enjoyed reading your paper and you’ve brought up some really strong arguments! I completely agree that it is near impossible to maintain an authentic sense of self when participating in social media and social media groups. Nowadays, a lot of influencers and micro-bloggers are now trying to maintain an authentic sense of self whilst posting photos of themselves through before and after shots when posing for a photo which allows us to see the reality vs Instagram. This is especially the case with fitness influencers as they influence a majority of their followings and I think this is a great way to showcase authenticity. However, I think it is not 100% possible to show their authentic self online as we have the tendency to portray ourselves the way we want others to see us and that might not be our true authentic self due to the fear of judgement and criticism.
    I was also interested in the ‘online disinhibition effect’ and this is a term I’ve never come across until now and it has really got me thinking about how different we all are online vs offline. We tend to portray ourselves according to who we’re with or the situation we’re in so when are we really showing our authentic self?
    This is a very interesting and thought-provoking paper! well done 🙂

  5. Hi Kaily,

    Really enjoyed your paper and your points about identity building on SNS.

    I was interested reading about ‘the online disinhibition effect’ as it was something I hadn’t read about. I talked about this in my own paper regarding identity formation on dating apps but hadn’t come across the term before. It’s amazing how many people seem to be hiding behind a fake identity online. Do you think SNS’ will one day start requiring identity checks for verification on people’s online profiles?

    I know Tinder and Bumble have a system which verifies people’s photos to let other users know they are authentic. However, not everyone utilises them who are indeed ‘authentic’ and users who don’t verify can mix with those who do. Would be interested to see if there was a new or current SNS that’s main focus became authenticity and verification of identity for participation. Obviously they couldn’t mediate people’s presentation of themselves, but could make people accountable for their behaviour online if they had to use their real name and face.

    Thanks for the read.

    1. Hi Declan,

      Thank you for your comment (and I apologise for a delayed reply, I have been quite unwell over the past weeks). I imagine SNS should implement further identity verification methods such as the ones used by dating apps like you mentioned, however I do wonder if this will be enough. I cannot imagine a world in which we need to use our driver’s license or passport details to create a social media profile and short of this there are still so many ways someone could create a fake profile with unreliable details an images.
      Thank you for your comment, it has definitely brought up some more thoughts for me about this topic.

  6. Hi Kaily,

    Your paper was outlined very well and was a pleasure to read. It really got me thinking about how I portray myself online as well. We all portray ourselves according to whoever we plan to interact with, whether that be work, friends or family.

    One can’t help but question micro-celebrities on social media and their genuine authenticity. What makes them more authentic; is it the fact that they constantly have their captions as “all natural” or use certain hashtags such as #nofilter, #realme, etc? The idea of collaborated authenticity shows when people be someone they’re not online to get closer to another (Chiyoko, R., et al, 2020). This raises the question of are we being someone we’re not to protect our image?

    There are so many ways you can view online authenticity and you outlined it so well with selfie culture. The way we wish to be viewed might not always be seen by others and we can’t control that so why not just be liked for who we are. Where does creating a fake identity are using anonymity get us? Your paper raised so many strong points that can’t but cause me to reflect and I really think that others should think about these points as well.


    1. Hi Lauren,

      Thank you for your comment (and I apologise for a delayed reply I have been quite unwell over the past weeks). I love the point you highlighted about image protection. This is definitely something I could have considered further in my paper. I also like the thought you brought up about where using anonymity gets us. This is something that has inspired me to think further about anonymity online which is a topic I am addressing in another paper for another unit.
      Thank you for your thought provoking points!

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