The emergence of the internet as a commonly used item brought about many possibilities for how people could portray themselves. The internet gives people the opportunity to talk to others, who they will never see again. This freedom allows for self-expression in a way unlike when communicating with someone face-to-face. Oftentimes, people portray themselves as one of two ways on the internet: as their completely truthful selves or as the way they want to be (and are not).
Chat rooms, online games, blogs, social media, and other websites in which people can comment allow for people to portray themselves a certain way to the (online) public. The online world gives a person the opportunity to construct and edit a “self” (2). Many times, people will construct their ideal self, or someone they want to be. They do so by making themselves online look a certain way or give themselves certain characteristics. Having this opportunity allows people to explore different identities in a virtual environment, which overall wouldn’t have any consequences on their real lives. On virtual reality websites, you are able to experience things that would happen in real life, and be able to react without real life pressures (you are able to log out or delete yourself at any point).
However, instead of completely lying to others about themselves, people can be brutally honest (more than they would be in real life around people they know). Many times, people will make blog posts describing their current feelings that portray ideas they wouldn’t be willing to tell people in real life (but would be willing to tell strangers that they don’t have to see or talk to anymore in their lives). The virtual self can allow people to practice sharing their feelings and prepare them to do so in real life. Virtual life also allows people to gain confidence with this practice in order to do things they would otherwise be worried to do (for example, coming out to others). By being able to say certain things to strangers, it makes it a little easier to say it to friends and family.
Apart from virtual reality, people can also talk to others in other ways online. For example, people will talk to friends and family over social media (like the option to chat with others). Without having the person in front of you when you tell them important information, it makes it easier to say what is on your mind. The internet communication, in comparison to face-to-face communication, also allows a period of time people can have before responding. Many people find this preferable because they can think about what they are going to say before they say it. Even just the lack of physical contact (which usually leads to a more personal connection) allows people to feel more open to share ideas (1). People will also post their thoughts as a “status” which is public to all of a person’s friends or followers (and sometimes to the whole world). In this case, if people react positively to the message, the person who posted can feel good. If people react negatively, the browser could just be closed and the person wouldn’t have to deal with people’s responses (which is easier to do than having to physically run away from a group of people who are disagreeing with you). The online option is a less stressful way to express oneself.
The ability to portray oneself differently than they are in real life is slightly misleading. If you talk to someone solely online, that doesn’t give you an accurate representation of how the person is in real life. Online communication also takes out the personalized aspect of building relationships (2). However, it also brings a sense of comfort that would not be available in person.
(1) Suchanek, A. M. (2012). Is your social media presence an accurate portrayal of who you are? Information Space. Retrieved from http://infospace.ischool.syr.edu/2012/03/08/is-your-social-media-presence-an-accurate-portrayal-of-who-you-are/.
(2) Turkle, Sherry. (2011). Alone Together. New York, NY: Basic Books.