Personal identity and forming personalities are important parts of people’s lives. This is especially relevant among younger people when growing up and participating in the world, and social media and online platforms have become one of the biggest places to start forming and exploring identity. These platforms have become a place for many different groups to connect with others and explore themselves and their interests within a safe boundary such as the LGBTQ community and the online gaming community. This conference paper is part of the communities and social media stream as it will explore how the social and online platforms are providing a safe and individualized place for people who are finding their identity or belong to groups that are not as accessible in the real world.
Social media is used widely by a range of people in today’s technological environment. Different platforms provide different ways to interact and share experiences which can also appeal to target audiences and particular groups. With this growing social change, there have been big changes in identity and online communities which are helping particularly the next generation to discover who they are or who they can be in different environments. Some major groups affected by this include the LGBTQ community, gaming communities and people who use and interact with many different social platforms. These groups have been positively affected on the most part where they are able to explore more freely without judgment into what interests them. In an article written by Richardson, (2016), they described identity as a “complex, ongoing process” (p. 75) made easier by the social media connection that people now have easy access to with new information to constantly process as part of their identity. While there is still great value in real life interactions, the online communities are providing a place where more people are comfortable and likely to explore relationships with others as well as brining a sense of companionship and community to those who may not experience this in their own day to day lives. While identity can mean many different things to different groups of people, The LGBTQ community, the gaming and streaming community or simply just people exploring on different social media sites are all able to express themselves and discover what identity means to them. This paper will be exploring how online communities help to form identity and how this is positively impacting people and groups.
LGBTQ communities have been greatly discriminated against for a long time and even with big movements and rights being passed over the last two decades there is still discriminatory behaviour towards this group. Online and social platforms have provided a mostly safe place for people unsure about their identity to explore and interact with others who might be able to help them form a clearer identity or to talk and befriend people in a similar situation. Mundy, (2018) provided an insight into this with research that found that people may not even identify under LGBTQ but still do not identify with a gender. This is where social media helps these people to connect with others or create and watch content that helps them identify with themselves outside of gender identity. While this is not limited to the LGBTQ community it is found that people who are part of that community are more likely to use social and online platforms as a form of expression or place for finding identity. This was also found in research done by Fox and Warber, (2014), concluding that the online environment had proved to be a place that greatly helped people in the LGBTQ community in their mental health, making them feel more accepted within the community and with themselves as well as helping them explore different parts of their identity. They also found that these social media and online networks are now becoming a very important part of their identity development as well them being able to help others.
Because of this positive influence social media and online platforms are having within this community, it is now becoming easier for them to explore the continuously growing fluidity that is identity. In some of the unit readings by Jackson et al., (2017), a horrific observation was made where the stereotypes and abuse that are made against transgender people as well as many people who identify under the LGBTQ community is a ‘natural and deserved consequence’ (p1870) for being who they are. As shocking and dehumanizing as this is, it also points out why people who are a part of this community choose to explore this part of themselves online. It provides a much safer place for them and others where there is decreased abuse and bullying while still being able to be themselves and open among others in that community. In a separate article by Abidin, (2021), they similarly stated that social media is allowing communities and people to fly under the radar which can be a positive aspect for people in these groups and communities as it shows that these platforms are providing a safe and positive place to discover identity.
A large part of the online and social community consists of gamers and streamers. This community has become increasingly more popular over the last decade and provides platforms different to Facebook or snapchat where you can still interact with people, but these people share common interests such as games or favourite streamers. This large community caters to all types of interests and often the people streaming are able to form their own identity specifically for their online friends and viewers. In an article written by Jenson et al., (2015), they found that gender identity was a common exploration throughout games with both genders using avatars opposite to their own sex as another way to explore parts of their own identity of to keep parts of it to themselves. They also stated that while in the real-world parts of your identity are apparent and know by many, online games and social groups provide a place where many of these identity traits are unknown and thus give the users a chance to form their own based on what they prefer. O’Connor et al., (2015) stated in their article that gamers and people who are a part of the online gaming community have formed parts of their identity around the relationships they have with other online friends. The game/ interest they have in common, the way they feel about how they contribute to the group, and the support they get from other members of the group are all important factors about their sense of self and sense of community.
Gamers and streamers use their online platforms to discover identity in a slightly different way to those from groups and communities such as the LGBTQ community, but it is none the less an important exploration of character that is interesting to the development of identity. These gaming and streaming platforms are providing a great place without too much disruption for people to connect and explore all aspects of the platforms and their own likes and interests. In one particular article by Whitson, (2013) the gaming world is described as a social place where boundaries fluctuate depending on circumstances and that the people playing or interacting on the platform are open to exploring identity in many forms of gameplay. It also brings up that people are judged according to their actions online rather than who they are so people are able to create different personas of who they would like to be and act as and thus can explore multiple different identities across these platforms.
There are many different social media platforms that all cater specifically to certain areas of socialising such as Instagram being picture and video based and twitter providing more of an opinion/ blog. Many people who use social media and online platforms often use more than one type which can ultimately alter their identity. Someone who uses Facebook may have more relatives and friends added and therefore might have a more innocent and family friendly use for their Facebook page while using an account like Instagram to post pictures of their wild party life or beach pictures that may not be suited to their Facebook family audience. Because of this, people who use many platforms can often have different identities across each platform to become someone who best fits in with each crowd. This also gives them a chance to better explore their own identity and which parts are most relevant to them. As stated in an article by Yau et al., (2019), social media helps form and manage their identities by interacting with online groups and posts, chatting with other users, and creating posts relevant to each user’s individual personality. Surrounding themselves with content that interests and reflects them can help form a stronger sense of identity. When talking about digital identity, Adjei et al., (2020) explained that it can all be centered around what information is available about the individual of which an identity profile can be determined. This is when social media users begin to control their identity over each platform and can use this to create a visible profile of how they want to be perceived.
By understanding how social media is positively attributing to individuals, groups and community’s identity, it is apparent that this new tool is crucial in helping people especially adolescents in connecting with the world around them. Different social media platforms offer different styles of interests which allow the users to explore their interests as well as feel more comfortable and included within their everyday life. Self-expression is now formattable for each individual, and online platforms are helping to support these individuals fit in, connect with a wider range of people, connect with people better suited to their interests as well as seek out content that they are able to more closely relate to. This is very important when discovering and exploring identity as it is these groups, interests, and content that people base their identity off; digitally and in the day to day lives. Elsayed, (2021) wrote an article discussing how social media can be both a positive and negative tool in forming identity. They stated that when forming social identity, surrounding yourself with likeminded people and those who share these interests whether it be games or influencers and idols on these social media platforms, has been found to increase happiness even without the physical interaction. Social media and online platforms offer a place with fewer boundaries of which users are then able to expand their social parameters. With today’s youth now heavily relying on this social environment as a form of expression and community, their sense of identity is becoming more individualised and their peers online and offline are more likely to share these interests and personality traits.
Social media has had its share of negative views, but as the world continues into the technological revolution, people are having to learn to accept and utilize it. The younger generations have grown up with this technology and thus are relying on it much more, and with this reliance they have learned to adapt and use this technology to benefit them and bring them happiness and a sense of community. Most of this younger generation uses social media to help them mentally and emotionally by connecting with friends, playing or watching content that interests them and providing a safe and individualised place for them to really discover themselves. Social media and online platforms are now becoming a positive and normal part of self-identification and socialising and it is important to be able to understand how this part of self-discovery of identity is benefitting people and facilitating this process.
Abidin, C. (2021). From “Networked Publics” to “Refracted Publics”: A Companion Framework for Researching “Below the Radar” Studies. Social Media + Society, 7(1), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305120984458
Adjei, J., Adams, S., Mensah, I., Tobbin, P., & Odei-Appiah, S. (2020). Digital Identity Management on Social Media: Exploring the Factors That Influence Personal Information Disclosure on Social Media. Sustainability, 12(23), 1-17. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12239994
Bucknell Bossen, C., & Kottasz, R. (2020). Uses and gratifications sought by pre-adolescent and adolescent TikTok consumers. Young Consumers, 21(4), 463-478. https://doi.org/10.1108/yc-07-2020-1186
Elsayed, W. (2021). The negative effects of social media on the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work. Heliyon, 7(2), 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2021.e06327
Fox, J., & Warber, K. (2014). Queer Identity Management and Political Self-Expression on Social Networking Sites: A Co-Cultural Approach to the Spiral of Silence. Journal Of Communication, 65(1), 79-100. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12137
Jackson, S., Bailey, M., & Foucault Welles, B. (2017). #GirlsLikeUs: Trans advocacy and community building online. New Media & Society, 20(5), 1868-1888. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444817709276
Jenson, J., Taylor, N., de Castell, S., & Dilouya, B. (2015). Playing With Our Selves. Feminist Media Studies, 15(5), 860-879. https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2015.1006652
Mundy, D. (2018). Identity, Visibility & Measurement: How University LGBTQ Centers Engage and Advocate for Today’s LGBTQ Student. The Journal Of Public Interest Communications, 2(2), 239. https://doi.org/10.32473/jpic.v2.i2.p239
O’Connor, E., Longman, H., White, K., & Obst, P. (2015). Sense of Community, Social Identity and Social Support Among Players of Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs): A Qualitative Analysis. Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 25(6), 459-473. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.2224
Richardson, J. (2016). The promposal: youth expressions of identity and ‘love’ in the digital age. Learning, Media And Technology, 42(1), 74-86. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2016.1130055
Whitson, J. (2013). Gaming the Quantified Self. Surveillance & Society, 11(1/2), 163-176. https://doi.org/10.24908/ss.v11i1/2.4454
Yau, A., Marder, B., & O’Donohoe, S. (2019). The role of social media in negotiating identity during the process of acculturation. Information Technology & People, 33(2), 554-575. https://doi.org/10.1108/itp-09-2017-0305
27 thoughts on “Social media is positively influencing and changing how people discover and modify their identity by providing platforms to freely express themselves and bring a sense of community.”
I really enjoyed your paper and I am glad to see that social media is providing a positive purpose in regards to self identification through discovering differing personas. I also completely agree that social media has played a huge role in bringing communities together and paving the path for communities such as LGBTQ+. This was a great read and extremely relevant to today’s society! I have linked my paper below as it also relates to communities on social media, specifically women empowerment!
Such a well written paper! I agree with your comments that social media is a positive tool in regards to self identification and development. It is amazing how even though we are reminded that social media is often harmful and scary place to express yourself, it has also bought groups such as the LGBTQ+ community together and helped people that may feel very alone to discover a safe place.
Do you think because social media is becoming increasing more important in young peoples lives, that it would actually determine their self- identification and influence them to become a certain person? either in a negative or positive way.
Indeed, glad to see how social media platforms have helped communities sharing similar identity and interests such as the LGBTQ and online gaming community to stay connected with each other. These are safe and healthy platforms for them to share their views, thoughts and experiences with one another and enhanced their mental health and well being.
Thanks to social media. Good job!
hi Jasmine! I enjoyed reading your paper about how social media can the people to discover their identity. I do witness that social media as a place where people connect to their group of same interest or same belief such as LGBTQ or people creating community to fight bully .
What do you think this will impacted to the real world? Will this social media platform which considered to be a platform for people to discover identity, connect and build community of same interest within safer boundary can later become a movement to fight any equality (for example LGBTQ right, Black Lives Matter movement) ?
I really enjoyed reading your paper.
Do you think there are any online communities regarding this topic that can form an offline community? Will this then be different with the way people portray themselves when they are online and offline?
Feel free to read my paper regarding how social media can help individuals with mental illness and build communities online: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/05/07/social-media-in-the-fight-against-racism/#comment-3198
I found your paper informative as it clearly outlined the many aspects of how identity can be explored online. Personally after reading through the paper I can recognise that many of the benefits you outlined I personally have utilised when exploring my own identtiy. I also recognised that many of these explorations such as video game avatars and boundaries had come up when I have discussed the transition of a close friend from male to female. I appreciate that your paper was able to provide me with a deeper understanding of how social media influences how people can construct and modify their identity.
After reading your paper I was also left with the question: What are the negative aspects of identity construction and modification of social media?
Hey Jasmine, gob jobs on such a well written paper, I really enjoyed reading about the different ways that people express themselves online! 🙂
Do you think that people express the same identities offline as they portray online?
Hi Jasmine, I really enjoyed reading your paper. I agree with your argument that social media provides a platform for users to control their identity and choose how they wish to be perceived. I have a particular reason for using various social medias and definitely modify aspects of my persona in order to portray the personality that fits with that profile. For example, my LinkedIn is very different to my Instagram because I am aware that the audience is different for each one.
I find it interesting that you note the younger generation use social media to assist with their mental and emotional health, whereas people in my generation (GenX) didn’t grow up using this technology in our formative years. I suspect many people from my generation are still wary of the technology as it was still quite new when we were young. I can’t imagine what it must be like for the younger generation growing up with social media so ingrained in their lives. Many of the older generation would consider social media as a fun distraction and nothing more, whereas it appears that the younger generation are using it as a tool to explore and develop their personalities, and in turn create virtual communities.
Thanks for the insight! Lots to think about here.
neration uses social media to help them mentally and emotionally by connecting with friends, playing or watching content that interests them and providing a safe and individualised place for them to really discover themselves. Social media and online platforms are now becoming a positive and normal part of self-identification and socialising and it is important to be able to understand how this part of self-discovery of identity is benefitting people and facilitating this process
This was a great paper and you made some excellent points.
I was particularly interested in the part where you say that different platforms can allow for users to explore different personas. I was wondering what your thoughts were on perhaps using the same platforms for different personas? Some people have multiple Facebook accounts, maybe one is personal and one is a meme page. Or for example, I have two Instagram accounts, one is public and one is private. The public account is for my streaming “persona” and the private one is just my personal account. I suppose neither of these accounts are quite “me” as I use both to get out particular messages. Even on my private account I sometimes manufacture certain stories and posts to elicit a certain response, so my account isn’t 100% “me” its another version of me. Do you think anyone can truly be “authentic” on social media?
Thankyou for your insightful comment you have some great points. I definitely think that the same platform can be used for many different identities and uses, and that some people would prefer to have platforms or profiles more dedicated to their true self than on others. Being authentic online seems to be a difficult concept as I do think that people only allow their audience to see what they want to, but while it is not as common now, I do think there are people using there media for authentic self loving purposes. I think that authenticity can be hard for even the people who own the accounts as it is hard to display who you truly are on media alone.
Hi Lauren and Jasmine,
I agree with both of your opinions. I too have two instagram accounts that portray slightly different parts of my identity, with one being more carefree.
Jasmine, you mention that it’s hard to be 100% authentic online. However, I’m curious to know your opinions on my following question:
Do you think that having multiple social media accounts on different platforms can be detrimental to an individual’s mental health as their identity is now fragmented, and they have to now ‘perform’ a certain way on each account?
Great Paper!! :))
This was an interesting paper that raises some good points. Whilst I do agree with you that social media and the internet can be used to positively explore identity and establish helpful communities, I would also argue that the opposite is taking place. In the same way that members of the LGBTQ community are able to express themselves freely online and make connections with like-minded people, so too are people with toxic ideologies such as the incel (involuntary celibate) community. The incel community is a group of mostly young men who have formed a misogynistic ideology that blames women for their failure in relationships. I’d be interested to hear if you’ve considered any of the toxic communities that exist online and the negative impacts they are having on those who become entrenched in them?
In your discussion you have a generally hopeful and positive outlook on social media use but do you think that perhaps we are over-relying on our digital interaction and that this may be negatively impacting our real-world interactions?
Here’s a link to my paper if you’d like to have a look: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/27/misogynistic-radicalization-of-users-in-the-online-incel-community/#comment-1286
Thankyou for your comment and your point of view on this subject. I do believe that social media does indeed help facilitate identity but I also have briefly looked into how it is negatively impacting people. I think when it comes to online communities there will always be positive and negative impacts regardless, but I chose to focus on the positive as I believe our generation is the most positively affected by this social media change. I was interested in your point of over reliance, and yes I would agree that people who use social media are very reliant on this technology. I have even seen it for myself that this is interrupting connections face to face, but I also think that this is unlikely to change as we continue to evolve our digital world. There is not enough awareness about this issue and I think if people were more educated about this part of society there would be less negativity in general on these platforms.
I agree with you about there always being positive and negatives when it comes to online communities and I suppose I’m of the opinion that different steps need to be taken to stop the growth of different toxic online communities as they emerge. But, as you say in your essay, there are many positives coming from social media use. It’s important to be aware of the positives and negatives so that the future of our social media use can be more positive.
You said that you have seen for yourself how social media is interrupting interactions face-to-face, I’d be interested to hear where you’ve mostly seen this?
I think social media interrupting normal conversation is a hard to avoid problem. I have experienced this myself where I have been with friends or family who are choosing to spend their time on their social media rather than interacting with the people around them and while this does have a negative side I also have been able to connect with family and friends that I would not have seen able to see otherwise. I think it really just depends on how you view it.
Thank you for sharing your paper.
I wanted to know your thoughts on if online platforms are a replacement for in person contact?
For example, when a young LGBTQ person, who is feeling isolated in their personally life reaches out online instead, will they get the same psychological support as one who can be face to face.
I just looked up an article on psych minds website (https://psychminds.com/communication-online-vs-face-to-face-interactions/) which outlines how online interactions are inferior, but that doesn’t take into account when your only positive interaction can be found online. I guess it would be the most beneficial if online platforms are used to create offline interactions.
I would not consider it a replacement as much as an alternative option for people who are not able to get the face to face interaction they need. It would appear that we are heading into a future where this only becomes more common but I think in todays world, this is needed while there is still divide in certain communities. As far as psychological support, I don’t think it will or ever should replace face to face as there are definitely benefits that online spaces cannot offer but it is still a great place to be part of a community that people can relate to to help them.
The article does have some good points but as you said, it doesn’t take into account the positive side of socialization and as I covered when talking about online gaming and streaming, people are able to form friendships and connections with people who are similar to them which can help with social skills when it does come to face to face interactions.
Great paper! You bring up some really good points in regards to online communities and how people find it comforting and a safe environment to express their insecurities and a place where they feel comfortable knowing that a lot of other people are going through the same things as them. I find Twitter to be an excellent platform for people to do this.
Especially today where social media and the internet have become something we depend on 100% to feel good, confident, or to connect with each other, it is important to form virtual communities with those who may not be in the same circumference as you.
I also found the fact that you brought up the online gaming community and how it also influencers people as games can be used to express an individual’s identity or to explore their identity really interesting and I’ve never really thought about games having that influence or effect on people in that way.
I do think as technology plays a prominent role and is very much prevalent in our society today, online communities are becoming increasingly prevalent and we may find that this could become the biggest community there is. What are your thoughts on this?
Overall, Great essay!
Thankyou for your comment Saranya! I absolutely agree that over time it is likely we will only see this grow and the next generations will probably have the same dependence if not more so. This community is full of little communities within and it will be intersting to see how this develops in the coming years.
I enjoyed reading your paper. I can certainly relate to wanting to explore different facets, or new feelings of identity, under the cover of relatively anonymity that the internet provides. Regardless of what it is, I think we can all relate to feeling unsure sometimes about who we are, and having a safe place to explore this can be very freeing, particularly away from the gaze of those we know in the real world. The opportunity that the internet offers to do this is unique, and not one previously enjoyed by other generations.
Your assertion that different platforms also offer users an opportunity to portray different facets of their identity, depending on the content type and the audience, is also an interesting one. Certainly the nature of a platform informs the kind of content shared and therefore may draw a different audience. A micro blog such as Twitter will attract a different crowd to that of Snapchat or similar, and tailoring the content to its audience is definitely one way of zoning in on a particular facet of someone’s online identity.
Your paper is well-written and of interest to me. My paper (which I linked below) is about how LGBT teens utilize online platforms to find connections with each other, especially if they are in situations where they may not be accepted in their “real life” or isolated from support.
I found it interesting how online gaming also influences people and they can use the games to explore their identities with personas.
I did have two questions: Do you think being online will become the most common way for people to explore their identities? And, during your research did you find any information about the increased need for online platforms during Covid? My paper found that more LGBT teens turned online for support and connect to the community, but it would be interesting to know if this happened for online gaming.
Thankyou for reading my paper and I will be sure to check yours out as it would have some great points around a similar area to mine. To answer your questions, Yes I strongly believe that as the years go on, this change to an online society will online grow more and become the most used and common way of identity exploration. This will of course have its positive and negative sides but it will be important for us to understand so we can utilize these platforms in safer ways. Unfortunately I did not go into how Covid would have affected this, but it is a great point and I think would have added a great aspect to my paper so thankyou for bringing that to my attention. I can only imagine this would have been the case as the home lockdowns would have seen a big increase in users. I will be sure to read your paper as to get an understanding of its affects.
Thank you for the reply. I agree that it is important for people to be aware of how they utilize online platforms so it can become safer. More and more people are turning online for all aspects of their lives (shopping, work, socialising) so I also think the trend of finding identity online will continue to grow.
i found with my paper that online use did increase and helped LGBTQIA+ teens, and I think it would be the same for many other groups.
Again, great paper. i enjoyed reading it.
I agree, the internet in general, and most prominently through social media do minority communities find each other. Its especially important for individuals who do not live in major metropolitan areas – they are able to find community remotely, and in some instances, will find comfort through these virtual connections.
Gaming is an interesting connection you highlight also. Similarly, gamers are united through online communities – finding their social lives on a platform hosted by the same technology their games exist through.
I think as time moves on, and technology becomes even more intertwined into our worlds, virtual communities will become the norm. I think we are seeing this in its infancy now, but its obviously here to stay.
PS: If you are interested, please check out my paper 🙂
Thankyou for reading my paper! I love your point about this being especially prominent for people who do not live in metropolitan areas and I wish I had thought about this so I could go into more detail about it. I completely agree that technology will only advance and become the norm and today’s society and ways of utilizing this technology is certainly paving the way for a more involved technological society.
This is a very well written paper! It is good to see the more positive side of social media where people can be accepted and can be helped by others who may be part of the same community. Personally, gaming (although I don’t have much time to play anymore) was an escape for me and I will admit that playing with other players, whether they were local or from around the world, brought about new friendships while also discovering my true character. However as you mentioned, the online world can also be quite toxic especially on social media platforms where hate speech and discrimination have increased drastically in the recent years. My paper in contrast to yours explores the more toxic side of social media while debating whether free speech on social media is actually a myth.
Thanks for this good read 🙂
Feel free to come check out my paper here: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/28/social-media-free-speech-policies-are-a-myth/
Thankyou for taking the time to read my paper. I am glad you were able to relate to some of my argument about gaming but yes I would also agree that there is a toxic side to all online platforms. I believe when it comes to to technology and social media there will always be drastic positive and negative sides to each but I would love to read your paper so I can form a much less biased opinion on the matter.