Who are we when we go online?

In the past few weeks, former Instagram model Essena O’Neill has been on the warpath against social media. O’Neill took to platforms such as YouTube and Instagram to denounce the image that she was portraying to the world. She edited all of Instagram captions to explain the real stories behind the pictures and even posted a YouTube video explaining the extreme pressure she felt from society and how much of that stemmed from social media. In the wake of O’Neill’s feud with social media, some have begun to wonder if networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are accurate representations of the people who run the accounts.

So, is social media a good representation of people’s realities? Although many people would be quick to answer “yes” to this question, recently it has been subject to much debate. Many people have begun to inquire whether a person’s social media persona differs from the one they exhibit in real life.

Some social media users, such as Hannah Skopicki ’18, maintain that their personalities are consistent on- and offline.

“I would say that I act very similar online and in person,” Skopicki said. “Most people who know me are aware that I have strong opinions and love debate, and this is not something I try to hide for the betterment of people scrolling through my social media feed.”

Even people like Skopicki, however, still try to be respectful online.

“All in all, though, I do my best online to use my platform for discourse instead of separation, and I try to promote respect,” she said. “I hope this is what I reflect in person as well.”

Some students take this idea of promoting respect even further. Theo Prachyathipsakul ’19, for example, claims that he likes social media because it allows people to think about what they say more at length before they post it.

“In my real life, I don’t think about what I say as much as online,” Prachyathipsakul said. “I think this comes from the fact that I can read things before I post them. When you speak, it is harder to think about what you say before you say it. This makes social media kind of fake, but in a nice way.”

Prachyathipsakul added that he changes his online behavior according to the type of social media that he is using.

“On Facebook, I am friends with parents and teachers, so I am politer,” he added. “On Twitter, only my friends follow me, so I am a lot sassier.”

Many college students are avid users of many different kinds of social media. As kind of multitasking often makes it difficult to keep up with all platforms to the same degree, such students find it necessary to prioritize. Such is the case for Seojeong Park ’19, who chooses which social media site to visit based on others’ activity on those sites.

“I used to prefer Instagram over Twitter, because more people used Instagram,” she noted. “After a while, most of my friends started using Twitter more and Instagram less. I like to use the social media site that the most amount of people are on because it makes it easier to keep up with my big group of friends from home.”

Expanding upon this point, Park, who is from California, noted that Facebook is much more prevalent at the University than in her hometown.

“I hated Facebook because it was dead where I grew up,” she said. “When I got to Wesleyan, I noticed that a lot more people were using Facebook, so I started using it more as well.”

Though it seems like most college students are active users of social media in this day and age, there is still a large group of people who are not as crazy about these different platforms. Nancy Billings ’19 is one of those people.

“There’s so much negativity on social media these days,” Billings said. “People are constantly complaining and over-sharing. Honestly, I am afraid that my online persona would not be adequate.”

Billings’s point brings up an interesting tension that exists between negativity and positivity on the web. In trying to create “perfect personas” for themselves online, some people choose, rather ironically, to share their hardships and constantly complain about life. Others, meanwhile, choose to be catty and mean online, demonstrating to people an abrasive side of themselves that would likely not be acceptable in person.

Ultimately, of course, people decide what they want to share, and how they want to seem, online, and they are usually aware of the implications it may have.

But there still remain some moral absolutists.

Like Tay-Shaun Lawrence ’19 says, “If you wouldn’t say it in person, why say it online?”

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