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What is Social Identity In Social Media?

What is Social Identity In Social Media?


CIA Deputy Director Jennifer Ewbank on Defending America in the 21st Century

Self-identity is a complicated topic that has been discussed by thousands of philosophers through different perspectives, and it still has not been preserved as a consistent theory. Although one’s self-identity can hardly be described with several simple sentences, different theories developed by famous philosophers could be good approaches to narrow down one’s identity. Identity is a set of qualities that present one’s characteristics, which could be both carried congenitally from genetic inheritance and influenced postnatally by environmental conditioning.

To be more specific, for example, genetic inheritance could be the blood flowing in the body and the place that you were born; environmental conditioning could be personality and hobby you developed via growth. Photographic artist Marcus uses some examples that approach one’s identity from DNA on TED Talk, which discuss that the extent of identity is given innately; oppositely, two philosophers David Hume and Derek Parfit provide two theories about how identity changes through time. They also estimate that the extent of identity is shaped afterward.

After the context of identity is set up, the question of how social media nowadays affects one’s identity is a more important issue to discuss. It is a serious matter under the current circumstance because social media is something that has become a necessity in human society. It can be the tool that influences and shapes one’s identity prominently because identity can be transformed both intendedly and unintendedly in the short and long term. Social media can be powerful to help human beings share their characteristics and shape their public images they would like to reveal, but it is hard to acknowledge whether these public identities are real or fake, positive or negative.

  Identity is both determined by nature and nurture, and it is consistent and changeable to some extent. Firstly, approaching from the aspect that identity is formed by nature, one obtains a series of tokens that is consistent and carved in their blood. Photographic artist Marcus uses his DNA as an example to talk about identity. He initially views his identity as a hundred percent British, but his “ancestral DNA tells (him) actually (he’s) much more French and Scandinavian than British” and he “was named after (his) great uncle Richard’s fabulously foul-mouthed African Grey parrot Marcus Aurelie” (Is your identity given or created?).

The stereotypic cognition of his own identity is wrong as a British when he examines his identity from the DNA until someone else talks to him and tells him the history associated with his blood before he was born. Identity approaching from this aspect presents that identity seems to be fixed and already determined once one was born on the Earth. Those are the facts that cannot be changed over time, and they internally exist inside one’s blood. In addition, these identity tokens are so unimpressive that someone can mistakenly acknowledge by themselves as Marcus did before. 

  On the contrary, identity is also determined by nurture, which means experience and memories shape identity. There are two theories given the idea that how identity is changed over time. One is stated by David Hume, which is that identity changes all the time, and there is no consistent “you”. He shows “the idea of the self doesn’t persist over time. There is no you that is the same person from birth to death”, and he also points out that “If having a certain identity means possessing the same set of properties, it is impossible for one to remain the same over time” (Arguments Against Personal Identity).

His point of view is that it is impossible for someone to have a consistent identity because the identity tokens that are formed by experiences and memories are always changing from one period to another. In other words, the “you” between one moment and another moment are totally distinctive and cannot be categorized as consistent. Identity of one person in the past has no relationship with that in the future. His theory of identity seems to be contradicted with common senses, and his reasoning is not logically rigorous. In a scholarly article, David Pears argues against Hume’s theory “his account of the identity of particular perceptions was defective, but that he could not see his way to putting it right” (Pears 257).

In addition, he points out that “the relations on his list are resemblance, causation, and continuity in time, and the suggestion is that he ought to have added the relation, “co-experienced”” (Pears 259). Moreover, in his arguments against Hume’s theory, the relationships between one period and another cannot be ignored, and those relationships indeed appear and obtain the shared character “co-experienced”. Which means obtaining the same experience beyond the time. Hence, in his point of view, Hume’s idea of changeable identity is acknowledged, but his reasoning has loopholes about the relationship between identity in one period and another. 

The identity indeed changes from one period to another; however, the relationship seems to be connected instead of disconnected. Another philosopher Derek Parfit points out his theory that “each of us has a psychological connection with ourselves over time” and illustrates the relationships by using connected chains (Arguments Against Personal Identity). He shows that identity is composed of bunches of experiences and memories. Indeed, identity changes over time and the combinations of experiences and memories change as well, but some parts of experiences and memories keep the same. In his theory, the experiences and memories can be viewed as lots of separated chains, and they intersect at certain points to make up the chain mail, which forms a certain identity.

When one forgets memories over time, some chains lose the intersections at certain points; when one gains new experiences, some new chains are added to the chain mail. Although identity changes and forms into a distinctive one composed by different combinations of chains, it still contains certain same chains overtime so that identities between different time periods share some consistent experiences. For instance, Marcus shows that one important thing drives him is “the loss of (his) brother Andrew when (he) was six” (Is your identity given or created?).

That incidence is the core chain of his identity that can hardly vanish through time, and that chain shows the significance of connections of identity beyond time and changes. In addition, it is common to see that when meeting with old friends, the first thing you would do is to talk about memories in the past. It is the best way to shape your identity chain in other’s minds again and refresh their impressions on your identity. Hence, one’s identity has internal connections although it changes over time. It can be viewed as relatively the same in a short period, and it changes little by little. The connections have significant meaning in Parfit’s theory that identity indeed changes, but it has certain relationships among different time periods.

Advanced technology transforms human identity significantly nowadays. Social media plays a dispensable role in human society because people can easily access to the Internet and social media by using smartphones, which means it is convenient for people to update pictures to and browse others’ pictures from social media. In the past, it was hard to know someone’s self-identity because the information was spread slowly. One’s impression almost stopped at the last time they met, so one’s public identity in others’ minds is tough to accumulate and update. The common way to acknowledge the identity is talking with each other face to face. However, that is not the case in this modern era. With the help of social media, human identity could be transformed significantly.

On one hand, it could be a useful tool to shape one’s identity quickly and directly, and it is also an effective way to know someone else by browsing their social media. On the other hand, it could be a destructive tool for fake information dissemination and lead to the wrong path of cognition of identity. Nevertheless, it is hard to detect whether possible effects are good or bad just simply approaching them from a single perspective. It is complicated to discuss those effects because it not only has an obvious influence on one party, but it could also implicitly have side-effects on another party. 

Social media helps us define ourselves from others and also forms certain characteristics belonging to groups’ identity. Zhao Pan describes that “social categories such as groups, relationships, and personal characteristics could become part of self-identity to the extent that people use them to define themselves” (Pan). Self-identity formed through social media is pigeonholed by social categories as Pan states: “an individual self-identity” and “a social self-identity” (Pan).

For the individual self-identity, one upload distinguishing pictures and share interesting news to let others know them. The intended effects are making a distinction between one and others, highlighting one’s personality and characteristic, and showing self as an important individual. In the short term, indeed, one could be able to generate a huge impact on social media that was almost impossible before under the mode of knowing others face to face. For example, some online celebrities could generate huge amounts of influences on fashion by simply posting a distinctive and unique photo. His or her identity revealed through physical appearance could spread through social media immediately since everyone can transmit and share the interesting news on their social media. In a short period of time, one dressing style could be popularized beyond imagination.

However, due to the characteristics of social media, that transient popular individual is just a flash in the pan. In other words, their public identities could be easily impressed among people’s minds, but they could vanish in people’s heads too. By using the analogy raised by Parfit, one’s popular individual self-identity could form a connection among everyone’s chains, but it could also disconnect to a certain point when no one pays attention to it. On the other hand, “a social self-identity” could last longer, but individualism weakens a lot. As Pan conveys that “Individuals apply the shared characteristics of the group (e.g., demographics, occupations, culture, and organizational membership) to categorize themselves as group members through a depersonalization process and place greater value on group-level features and properties” (Pan).

From this perspective, social media works as a platform that groups people with a similar identity and extracts that similar characteristic and forms a common social self-identity via social media. It does not only demonstrate one’s most conspicuous identity, but it also makes them find common ground. In the long term, “a social self-identity” could last in everyone’s mind because it does not represent one’s individual public face, but instead, it shows a group of people’s common public face that forms a larger influence in the society. 

What’s more, social media provides people with huge amounts of information for them to know the society and help them to acknowledge what standard social identity that everyone confirms, but it could either lead them to a correct or wrong path. Social media is like a sword that has double sides, which could either transform one’s identity to the one they would like to be, or to the one others anticipate but they are actually not in their nature. On one hand, identity can be shaped by viewing others’ identities through social media. One could absorb the characteristics they admire and make their identity more satisfied by themselves.

In addition, some model’s identities could make them acknowledge what they really are, what kind of person they really would like to be, and those could be the template to follow. On the other hand, Sabrina Lea Worsham points out that “With a constant bombardment of information, deciding what type of person you want to be can become a challenge for some” (Worsham). She shows tons of information everyday to shape one’s identity from any aspect, which could make one lost on the pathfinding what self-identity really belongs to them. Furthermore, they could grow into a person that others anticipate; however, that is not the identity that belongs to them. It is problematic for them to transform into a fake identity.

Even worse, no one could make sure public identity online is real, and the “ideas, can either be enforced or even corrupted, by a false sense of what the world actually is” (Worsham). In addition, social media could be the platform to share the identity you are proud of, but it also obtains side-effects of spreading wrong stereotypical identity. For example, “by viewing beautiful models in advertising campaigns, women reported lower body satisfaction, a temporary rise in comparison standards toward physical attractiveness, and an enhanced belief regarding the importance of attractiveness” (Eisend & Möller 102).

In Eisend and Möller’s study, they state identity posted online by beautiful models could have negative side-effects on the public and enforce the stereotype of a certain identity. It is fine for the models to share the beautiful appearance they have online because those are the identity they obtain, but it has a larger unintended influence on others because as Worsham says “The constant persuasion of what is “reality” plays a pivotal role in young girl’s development of negative self-image” (Worsham). Hence, due to the convenience of social media, the transformation of identity could happen to different paths with different consequences, and the unintended side-effects brought with social media are inevitable to shape identity in the deviated way.

All in all, social media works a powerful tool for everyone in the world to share the identity they obtain. Indeed, it provides convenience for people to gain the form their identity through this process. However, side-effects of social media are unknown that no one knows how large the influence of one photo could be. It keeps refresh the chains in our identities and transforms into a new one that even you are not familiar with yourself. For identity itself, it changes and transforms anytime in the universe through the interaction with the world and other people. Indeed, it changes a lot by examining the identity from different approaches; nevertheless, the part of the identity that is unchanged is the nature one obtains, the goals one pursues, and the memories one cannot forget. Those are the fundamentals that drive people to live and the core identity they represent to others. 

Written by Gechen Shen
What is Social Identity In Social Media?

Works Cited

CrashCourse. “Arguments Against Personal Identity: Crash Course Philosophy #20.” YouTube, 11 July 2016,

Eisend, Martin, and Jana Möller. “The Influence of TV Viewing on Consumers’ Body Images and Related Consumption Behavior.” Marketing Letters, vol. 18, no. 1, 2007, pp. 101–116.

Marcus, Lyon. “Is Your Identity given or Created? | Talks, TEDx | TEDxExeter.” YouTube, 11 May 2016,

Pan, Zhao, et al. “Who Do You Think You Are? Common and Differential Effects of Social Self-Identity on Social Media Usage.” Journal of Management Information Systems, vol. 34, no. 1, 2017, pp. 71–101.

Pears, David. “Hume’s Recantation of His Theory of Personal Identity.” Hume Studies, vol. 30, no. 2, 2004, pp. 257–264.

Worsham, Sabrina Lea, and Rachel Elizabeth Clark. “Medias Influence on Social Norms and Identity Development of Youth.” Medias Influence on Social Norms and Identity Development of Youth – Applied Social Psychology,