I spent the second weekend of August volunteering at Summer in the City, the UK’s biggest YouTube event. But this article isn’t about my experience there (you can read about that over at CUB Magazine), instead I thought I’d draw on some things I thought about the online world whilst at the event.
We’re all consumed in this social media world, so much so that it has become a “place” we feel obliged to attend. However, despite our names and our contact details present on sites like Facebook, our selfies adorning our accounts, and sometimes even being asked to verify ourselves to prove it is actually us, we are far from being ourselves on social media. We are more like characters portraying the version of ourselves we think is acceptable to be on that particular site. Social Media has just become another realm of performance.
First of all, each social media platform has its own subliminal aim attached to it, and we try to mold ourselves into what we think fits each site.
We use Facebook perhaps in the most authentic way, as we want to keep up appearances to our family members, who seem to have got all-to-clever in this social media game. Twitter is used to try and turn ourselves into comedians, or weigh in on big debates – with a 140-character limit of course, we can’t have THAT much of an opinion. Instagram we may only be aesthetically pleasing, showcasing the best parts of our lives which can be reduced to a few popular hashtags. Oh, and Snapchat? Well, with all the filters used you definitely can become somebody else.
We try to mold ourselves into these characters because we are constantly being advised to “build an online brand” for ourselves, so employers and potential connections can view us in a positive light. But building a brand can turn into being inauthentic, as we care more about doing things which will gain use followers, fans, and exposure, rather than using social media for fun, or being honest with and about ourselves.
We become characters adhering to the script of social media.
Every character choice is an extra layer of disguisse for ourselves, and there’s no bigger disguise than being anonymous, which seems to be the most common choice nowadays. Many people have multiple accounts for one platform with an aim to use them for different things: business, personal, and…fangirling? Strangely, many opt to disguise themselves via someone they admire -a favourite actor, musician, or YouTuber. They choose usernames and avatars related to that person/group of people, and it’s quite scary that we know nothing about them except who they are a fan of. They are depersonalised, and there’s something quite cult-like about it all.
The online world lends itself as a platform for performing as it is feels like an alternative and unreal world. Particularly when it comes to vlogging, which has become much more mainstream in recent years, which although real can be edited to something fantastic and unreal. Back in 2006, when vlogging was just starting to become more popular, a user named “Lonelygirl15” began uploading videos to YouTube in which she, an ordinary teenage girl, would talk about her life, act silly, and then begin to talk about more outlandish topics, including the cult she was a part of. Viewers became invested in these vlogs, and when it was revealed it was an actress and the videos were scripted, they fekt duped and cheated.
This is where YouTube splits itself away from traditional media forms like TV and films. People gravitate towards it because of its authenticity and slice of reality which isn’t scripted, unlike reality TV shows such as TOWIE and KOWTK. Daily vlogs, people giving their opinions on everything under the sun, monthly favourites, tutorials…it’s real life reflecting itself back at us.
Are the people we see and look up to (and many are treated as Gods) really all they seem? Are they the “real people” we think they are? Well, sure, they’re real people and they do try to convey themselves honestly and as realistically as they can online. But, like the most of us, want to keep up their “brand” online, as that how they get work, or, because that’s the way they want to be seen. At their absolute best. There’s something really interesting at the end of THIS video where Dodie Clark says, “watch me transform into doddleoddle”. Though she is herself, she presents the best version of her persona – the “doddleoddle” side, online. That doesn’t make her – or any other creators – fake, but it confirms that we all want to be seen in the best light online. Just yesterday, in fact, Louise Pentalnd (aka ‘SprinkleOfGlitter’) put the whole issue very clearly in her new video and the changes she wants to make to her channel.
As much as the online world is authentic and honest, it doesn’t show everything. If it did, we wouldn’t want to immerse ourselves in it as it would no longer be the escapism we require from the real world. We’d just be watching the boring, unedited, unfiltered real world through a screen (though many would argue that is what we are doing anyway).
So, basically social media lends itself to us being real, and also performative (some would say fake). The question is, which side do we all tend to lead towards? Let me know in the comments below!