Who am I?
Really? Do you know?
Some of my newsletter readers know me outside of this space, in person. But some of you don’t—you know the persona I put on to write my cheerful newsletters, full of ideas, some humor, and a little advice. But do you know me?
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this idea of an “online persona”—the public face we intentionally put on to represent some facet of ourselves to our readers, our Facebook “friends,” our Twitter “followers.”
So, what is this online persona thing? According to Urban Dictionary, it’s: The mask you wear on social media sites, that reveals nothing, and hides everything real.
Oh. My. Gosh. Think about that for just a moment. By definition, the face you put out there on social media is a mask. It’s hiding who you/we really are. And your friends out there? Any celebrities you follow? Not real. Not really real. Given how much time, attention, and emotional weight we often give to following each other, being followed and generally hanging out in these created worlds, this idea should give us real pause. What are we going to do with the fact that we care so much about something that isn’t real?
Come with me as we explore this idea of an online persona, and the Fabulous Facebook Life we create for ourselves and experience in others, will you?
1. It’s real. Trust me, friends, this idea of an online persona, the person we show up as on social media, is a real thing. There are websites devoted to helping people create the online presence they wish to have. Uhuru Network, for example, recommends that you “fake it til you make it” while creating the persona you wish to share with the world. Um . . . ok, I guess.
2. It Requires Grooming. Don’t just think you can post stuff out there an leave it be, friends. The respected journal Forbes has an online article on how to keep your online persona in top form. Now, some of their ideas are good advice for all of us, to include making sure that if prospective employees type your name into Google they don’t come up with unfortunate pics. But the idea that you should schedule time on a regular basis (maybe every 6 months?) to see if your online persona needs some grooming is . . . disturbing. At least it is to me!
3. It’s being researched. It’s not really that surprising that such a pervasive social phenomena is being studied by researchers and academicians. Dickinson College has an easily-accessible webpage on what it means to have an online persona and what you should be doing to make sure yours is positive and “accurate.” They suggest that your persona be detached, but at the same time reflective of your true identity. At this point, I’m not sure I even know what a true identity is anymore!
So, I’m getting the idea that I should be at least circumspect (if not suspect) about my online persona, and yours. But really, it may be more ominous than any of us realize. Here’s what some of the psychologists are saying.
1. Take a break. Even at its most benign, your online persona is something that you should periodically step away from. Particularly if you tend towards highly charged or potentially controversial posts and blogs, it can be a healthy idea to step back and make sure you can still see where your real-world self begins and that online version of you ends.
2. There can be consequences. It’s important to remember that, even though you may feel anonymous and distinct from that persona who posts the occasional online rant, the rest of the world might not see it that way. There’s a danger in feeling like that persona can’t be traced back to you, perhaps giving you a sense of freedom you might regret later. So keep in mind that, while @snarkyself might feel like a hidden alter ego to you, someone else might figure out who it is and tie those rants, pictures, or true confessions right back to you.
3. Some consequences can be serious. A 2018 study has now shown a causal relationship between time spent on social media and feelings of depression and loneliness. People—spending time on social media like Facebook and Instagram can make you more depressed and lonely, rather than less. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why, but suspect that some combination of “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO) and “upward social comparisons” are leaving us feeling like our lives are inferior to those of our peers. And that’s just not healthy.
So, what’s the answer? Well, I think caution is the word of the day. I’m certainly not suggesting that you cancel all of your social media accounts, but it does seem wise (and healthy) to limit the time you spend on them. Could you check in with the world for . . . less than 10 minutes a day? Maybe only once a day? See what you can do to limit your exposure to everyone else’s Fabulous Facebook Life, and then see how you feel.
Caveat: Friends, the potential negative effects of social media on your mental health are REAL If you’re feeling especially lonely, particularly if you fear you might harm yourself, please reach out. The NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) website has lots of information, and this Suicide Prevention Lifeline is answered 24 hours a day.
Becky Eason, PhD, is an Associate Certified Coach and Certified Leadership Coach. She would love to come with you on your journey for wellness and a happy heart. Learn more on her website: wequestforwellness.com