Are You Really Who You Say You Are?

I’ve always loved black holes. For me they are simply one of the most intriguing things in our known universe. Black holes are mysterious, dark singularities, capable of devouring entire stars and galaxies. Their masses are so large that they warp spacetime, completely distorting time itself. I mean it’s straight out of science fiction, except that it’s not; it exists in our own world. Black holes are vast, complex creatures, whose depth and uncertainty continue to spark intrigue.

Black holes and the rest of the astronomical world have always played a part in my life. In fact, black holes were the first astronomical subject that I encountered when I got my very first astronomy book. Even as a child I was captivated by the very prospect of something so powerful that it was capable of extinguishing light. According to Einstein the speed of light is the fastest anything can travel in our universe, but black holes have the power to capture light, and never let it go from their clutches. They are a truly awesome phenomenon. From the first time I read that astronomy book I was hooked on stars, galaxies, black holes, and everything else that fills our universe, so much so that I decided to undertake the arduous task of majoring in astrophysics as an undergraduate. It’s safe to say that astronomy is a huge part of my identity.

With my love for astronomy playing such a large role in my life it’s funny then that there is little to no evidence of it in my online presence. How can something that is such a huge part of my life simply be omitted from my online identity, something that is supposed to accurately portray who I am as a person? The answer is a simple one, who we are as people and what constitutes our identity is not always embedded in the identity that we create online.

While I may be a singularity myself, an anomalous portrayal of online identity, it is my own experience online that has sparked my interest in the way that people portray themselves online and whether or not this is an accurate portrayal. And it seems that it is not.

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As Oscar Wilde so wisely notes above, it is difficult to maintain one’s authenticity in life.  In the real world, people often struggle with expressing their own passions and ideas without simply being a shadow of someone else.  The same can be said of life online.  More often than not, my online identity is a collection of the things that surround me.

You see, I hardly ever post anything on social media. Apart from the occasional likes and profile picture changes, my online identity hasn’t  been created by my own hand. What people see of me online isn’t of my own making but of my friends’ making. Photos and posts that my friends and family create about our time together have shaped my online footprint.  The person presented in my social media only bears a small resemblance to my actual self.

While this may be unusual or an uncommon way that people create an online identity, this example shows the uncertainty and complexity surrounding the concept. Not unlike black holes, the concept of online identity is a mysterious one. Like myself, people are often defined online by the space or the people around them, rather than by an authentic representation of themselves.

This may seem like a bit of a stretch. I know. Social Media is meant to be a place where people from all around the world connect and share the most important moments of their lives with each other. It is a forum where people can voice their opinions and engage in a dialogue with their community. So how can their online identity be false? Well one example is Essena O’Neill, a young woman with an abundance of followers on social media. Essena’s career on social media came to a crashing halt when she decided to tell her followers the truth; that the identity she had formed on social media was false. As she explains in her video, the majority of her posts on social media were fabricated in response to the endorsements she received from a variety of companies. Two minutes into her video she states, ” I was surrounded by all this wealth and all this fame and all this power and yet […] I had never been more miserable.  I’m the girl that had it all and I want to tell you that having it all on social media means absolutely nothing to your real life”.  Her world, the one that she had led her followers to believe was perfect, was in fact the complete opposite.

 

This is not the only instance of people falsely portraying their identities online. One Buzzfeed article, Chilling Stories of Fake Online Identities and Why People Create Them,  discusses the numerous instances in which people created completely false identities online . In the article, Dr. Chris Fullwood, a cyberpsychologist, states that because social media has allowed us to divide our identity into different realms–meaning different social media sites–we no longer have a “single stable self”. A lack of consistency in how we present ourselves online creates no one full identity on any single social media site. What people present online is not true to their offline identity.

Social media is there for you to use however you please. It is entirely up to you to determine the person that you present to the online world. But more often than not people think that they are presenting their full identity online. Our true identity is not always embedded in our actions online and is not always accurately portrayed in the online world. In the online realm your identity is more complex than whether or not you are yourself online. Online we are defined by the friends and followers that we surround ourselves with. Whether we like it or not our online identity is scarcely the same as our offline identity.

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