BLOG POST (Module 10): HILLARY TANG, The False Self on Social Media–How Social Media Overthrows our Understanding of Reality

Social media has become such a prevalent aspect in our lives. In fact, so much of our time is now devoted to routinely staring at a screen, with scrolling, posting, commenting, and liking becoming incredibly routine tasks. Sure, social media is one of the greatest platforms to share ideas, stories, and personal aspects about ourselves for other users to see; nevertheless, it has also become one of the most damaging aspects to our personal identities.

In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman insists that we each cultivate “impressions” and perform our “parts” in everyday life. This in turn can be linked to our performance on social media platforms. For one, we cultivate an identity that may be similar or completely different from our identity in real life. Online, we attempt to control the impression that we make on others by habitually posting new content and crafting such uploads in a manner that would appeal to the audience. Nevertheless, what is seen online may be completely at variance from what is actually occurring behind the screen.

Here is a video that illustrates the truth behind the cultivation of social media content:

This video evidently illustrates Goffman’s concept of “front stage” and “back stage” as seen in social media. For instance, the “back stage” behavior consists of us acting in a manner that is truly ourselves when we think no one else is looking, and it is often the time when we rehearse certain behaviors or interactions to be performed in public. This was seen in the video by the individuals attempting to craft the perfect picture or video in spite of actually have a reality different from what they attempted to exhibit. “Front stage”, on the other hand, is the behavior we perform when we are aware that we are being watched, and is usually highly intentional and purposeful. In the case of social media, the uploaded product/carefully crafted post, depicts the “front stage” behavior that users perform.

Take the scene of the men drinking the alcohol for example: the “front stage” of this scene depicts the two men embodying those of exciting party animals surrounded by numerous friends and women in a party-like setting; however, after the end of their recording of the mini video, they are then transferred back into “back stage” behavior, where it is revealed that they are in a quiet household during the day time, and have responsibilities that they must cater to in contrast to their wild, party-like selves.


That scene is an excellent example of social media users attempting to reinforce this image of themselves as something they are not.  They perform as these characters of  liveliness and excitement to appeal to their online audience, when the reality behind the video is that of nothing more than two men putting up a front to their fairly average, boring day.

Consider the notion that on social media platforms, we replace our identities with our online profiles, ultimately utilizing what we post to represent how we want to be idealized as. Therefore, our online selves are almost identical to that of performances – glorified in a manner that hides true components of ourselves that we choose not to reveal to our audiences.

This brings to question if we are truly representing our authentic selves or actually always performing a hyper-idealistic and artificially crafted version of ourselves. Sure, doing so gives us a false sense of superiority and self-esteem via the number of reposts, comments, and likes that we receive; nevertheless it is still imperative that we align our authentic selves with our crafted selves that we put on for our audience to witness.

Discussion Questions:

Rather than perform a certain persona that seems more appealing online, why does one not simply choose to perform that persona in real life?

In what other aspects of social media have you experienced or witnessed Goffman’s concept of “front stage” and “back stage”?

Can there be instances of “front stage” occurring in the “back stage” or vice versa?



Relevant Readings:  

Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life


4 thoughts on “BLOG POST (Module 10): HILLARY TANG, The False Self on Social Media–How Social Media Overthrows our Understanding of Reality”

  1. Great post Hillary, that video was hilarious as well as painfully accurate!! SO many times I’ve seen people do exactly what was seen inn that video, especially the part of the girls who were on diets posting food to make it seem like they are care free and adventurous, when in reality they refuse to eat a bite of anything remotely unhealthy. I’ve also been a part of an outing where someone was pissed off and not having fun the whole night, but then the next day I see an Instagram post from them with the caption as something close to “Last night was amazing, love my friends!!” God that irks me so much. Many people, including me, think that candid pictures where the whole group looks happy and having a great time is the best type of picture. People want these pictures so bad that they’ll go as far as faking the laughter and looking the other direction to make it look like they were caught off guard (guilty lol :/). I do not think we are truly representing our authentic selves when we post on social media, and if we did we wouldn’t be trying to look our best in pictures and fake poses, we would just post freely how we feel at the moment of the post. However, this is not realistic and I don’t think it would be smart to just post sporadically because one must remember, once you post something on the internet, its likely out there forever for anyone to see. So although we may be very selective in what we choose to post on our social media, it is very understandable because you gotta be careful of what you want the world to see of you.


  2. Hey, great blog post, and the issues are so relevant and something I think everyone has either experienced themselves or know of people how really take advantage of the ways social media can create a “second” reality. I recently did a 36 hours without my phone or internet access for an other class that I am in, and it is interesting how addicted we are to our phones and social media without even noticing. Being without a phone to play around on when I was bored or for entertainment reason really made me aware of everyone elses “addiction”. We are socializing in completely different ways than we used to.

    I definitely feel that one of the most used aspects of Goffman´s “front stage” and “back stage” is the situation when people cover up that they are not doing good. I know friends that when they go through a breakup and are actually feeling pretty down, they create snap stories that makes it look that they are having a great time. I even have friends that have deleted the person from all social media except from Snapchat because they want to put on a show about how much better and exciting their life is now after the breakup. When they are out they barely say anything because reality is that they are actually pretty upset about the situation, but the snap or post picture to create a different reality in order to win the “I-am-doing-better-than-you” battle.


  3. Hi and thanks for your very insightful post! In particular I would like to address your question regarding the duality of people’s personality and why our social media persona does not translate or does so very poorly to our real life. I think that the matter is fairly practical. It is just much easier to build and sustain a social media persona, especially when the intended image is very different from the real us. I believe that in real life it is sometimes hard to rationalize and even communicate correctly the intended meaning. In social media, the element of inference plays a big role and it is generally a lot easier to create an impression through a 1 minute video or just a picture. Then you can let the people do the inference and that would be it.


  4. Hi Hillary! Great post, I definitely think social media has given us more of an awareness about how we present ourselves and some of the drastic differences that we create between our public and private selfs on these platforms. I will however argue that even offline we perform various personas depending on our given circumstances and audience. Think of going into an interview, there’s a pretty large difference between the self you portray for a potential boss versus the everyday hanging-out-with-friends-you, isn’t there? I know for myself, I try to make myself/image look as appealing as possible for a potential employer, adopting better posture, wearing loads of make-up, etc. While when I’m with friends, I’d never wear make-up and am comfortable on a fart sharing level. So while social does provide tools for crafting image and creates a similar dichotomy of personal/public performance, as a result, I also think there is an anti-technology bias that tends to make us even more critical of this dichotomy.


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