Social Networking and Identity

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Social Networking sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are popular among adolescences. Around 90% of the 16 to 24-year-olds in Germany and the Netherland indicated they used social networking sites (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, 2014; Statistisches Bundesamt, 2018). Furthermore, more than 500 million pictures are uploaded worldwide to Instagram each day and around 1.52 billion users are active on Facebook daily (Instagram, 2018; Facebook Company Info, 2019). This shows, that social media is used often and frequently by adolescents and that they share many aspects of their lives and identities on social media platforms by sharing photos, thoughts and moments of their lives online (Curtis, 2015). This way, adolescence create their own autobiography on social networking sites, to share them with their friends, family and even strangers. In this study the identification with automatically generated autobiographies and the accompanying emotions is explored.

These online autobiographies represent important experiences in an individual’s life, as well as part of their identity (Marwick, 2013; Q. Wang, Lee, & Hou, 2017). Similarly, Wilson and Ross (2003) stressed the bidirectional influence of autobiographical memory and self-identity, in which autobiographical memory is an important part of self-identity and self-identity is important in the formation of autobiographical memory. As a consequence , these social media posts can be used as a new way to reminiscence about one’s life. This might be supported by the fact that social networking sites such as Facebook or Instagram save moments, experiences, thoughts and situations that were judged to be important and worth of sharing with others by the individual (Q. Wang et al., 2017).

Nevertheless, not much research in the fields of social media and reminiscence has focused on reviewing one’s own social media posts and the reminiscence function of social media. For instance, Thomas and Briggs (2016a, 2016b) explored the value of automated autobiographies based on social media as a tool for reminiscence with the applications Museum of Me and MySocialBook. Furthermore, emotions in regard to reviewing one’s own social media posts has focussed mainly on regret and an individual’s concern about what other people might think of them (Y. Wang et al., 2011; Zhao et al., 2013). Additionally, the emotional responses of people while browsing Facebook were studied, including positive emotions (Lin & Utz, 2015). However, the possible positive emotions which might be elicited while reviewing one’s own profile and posts was not of special focus. Consequently, this study aims to provide a more complete picture on the emotions elicited by reviewing one’s own social media posts.

Moreover, the extent of identification with one’s own social media presence is not widely researched. So far, research in the field of social media has focused on the way social media is linked and can help or hinder identity construction (Camacho, Minelli, & Grosseck, 2012; Thomas & Briggs, 2016a). Nevertheless, it might be important to find out, to what extent individuals identity with their online presence. This is because social media might not only be linked to identity construction, as many moments are shared on social media, but also to creating an online autobiography (Thomas & Briggs, 2016a).

These online autobiographies can be generated with the help of applications, such as Intel’s Museum of Me or the website MySocialBook.com, which use social media posts to create automated autobiographies. More specifically, they allow an individual to review, reflect and reminiscence on their own life based on posts on social networking sites, by putting all posts together in a way that allows an easy overview (Paramboukis, Skues, & Wise, 2016). The two most popular social networking sites which allow for such an automatically generated autobiography to be created are Facebook and Instagram. While Instagram mainly allows for visual content, such as photos and videos, Facebook is constructed more widely. In addition to photos and videos, it is also possible to share texts and posts from other users. Therefore, the question arises, whether there exists a difference between persons whose autobiography is created by using the content of Facebook or Instagram in regard to their identity and emotions experienced while reviewing their autobiography.

Theoretical Framework

Autobiographical memory

Autobiographical memory is part of the explicit memory, which stores facts and events (Williams, Conway, & Cohen, 2008). More specifically, autobiographical memory encompasses experiences and facts of an individual about themselves (Williams et al., 2008). However, Fivush, Habermas, Waters, and Zaman (2011) state that autobiographical memory “goes beyond the recalling of the who, what, where and when” (p. 322) of those experiences and facts, but includes the reasons for explaining why the experience happened the way it did, the meaning ascribed to the experience as well as an explanation of its importance to the individual. This way, autobiographical memory is the memory of an individual’s life, about their relationships and social interactions (Fivush, Habermas, Waters, & Zaman, 2011). More specifically, autobiographical memory develops as part of social interactions which include significant life events, which are then told and retold (Nelson & Fivush, 2004).


On the one hand, an individual’s current beliefs, views of the self and aims influence their memory and judgment of their past selves. On the other hand, what exactly an individual remembers as well as how past selves and experiences are remembered influences an individual’s current identity (Wilson & Ross, 2003). In this way, autobiographical memory is inevitably linked to identity and plays an important role in the construction of the same (Wilson & Ross, 2003). Identity is constructed especially in adolescence and early adulthood and involves identifying who an individual is, what is valued and how one would like to spend their life (Berk, 2013) . It is usually thought of as being fixed and stable over time, however, contrary to beliefs identity is constantly changing throughout the life (Berk, 2013). Moreover, a stable identity describes an individual who is confident enough to be him or herself and also represent the values which are seen as important to the individual to the outside (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999).

Furthermore, people will present themselves differently to different people and in varying contexts, presenting a different part of their identity in each case (Goffman, 2002). Consequently, the concept that an individual might have multiple roles or identities is called hybridised identity (Bennett & Folley, 2014). In this sense, an individual can occupy roles such as being a student, employee and child to their parents simultaneously and all of these roles are part of the individual’s identity.

Online identity

Social networking sites are defined as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections” (boyd & Ellison, 2007)(p. 211). According to some postmodern theorists, people construct their identities using these social networking sites, consumer goods and other mass media (Marwick, 2013). More specifically, people will construct their identities based on the clothes they wear or the media they consume. In this way, people separate themselves from others and show who they are by putting their belongings on display and showing their individuality off (Woodward, 1997). In a sense, social networking sites, such as Facebook or Instagram, might support this way of presenting one’s identity, as is allows people to share parts of their life, while other parts, such as emotions and interpersonal connectedness are more difficult to convey through social media.

This view also supports the notion of an online identity, however, this is often seen as different from the offline identity (Marwick, 2013). Suler (2005) argued that due to the anonymity of social media, individuals might behave differently online than they would offline. For instance, they might disclose more personal information (to strangers) or behave more rudely than they would in the offline world (Suler, 2005). This effect is called online disinhibition and it is argued that this is due to the fact that the online and offline identities are not integrated, and the online identity is seen as a dissociated self (Suler, 2005).

Furthermore, Marwick (2013) found that the perceived audience plays another role in the expression of online identity, where different information is shared with close friends compared to a group of strangers. Consequently, the type of information that people share might differ across different social media platforms and the degree to which an individual sees the online identity as part of their offline identity might vary as well. This is further supported by the fact that different social networking sites allow different types of information sharing (Marwick, 2013). For instance, Instagram mainly allows pictures to be posted, whereas Facebook also allows for text posts to be shared. Additionally, people usually try to present their best selves, and will try to only portray their ideal self-image on social media (Dunne, Lawlor, & Rowley, 2010).


The creation of an online identity is accompanied by the sharing of information about oneself. Nowadays, people share many aspects of their lives on social media and share photos, status updates, videos and more with their online audience. In this way, individuals are creating their own online autobiography, as they are sharing their thoughts and experiences (Curtis, 2015). Furthermore, this online autobiography can in turn be used to review and reminiscence on the experienced events by revisiting the photos, videos and text posts that were shared with others. Consequently, social media cannot only be used as a way to communicate and stay in touch with others, but also as a new tool for reminiscence and reflection about the self. More specifically, reminiscence typically describes the process of recalling memories of oneself in past experiences (Bluck & Levine, 1998). From this it is clear that the act of reminiscing is linked to memory, especially autobiographical memory (Merriam, 1980). Even though reminiscing is often linked to the act of reflecting about one’s life at an old age, it is also important at a younger age.

Emotions during Reminiscence

Emotions are linked to memory. Research has shown that emotions can change the way in which information is organized about the self and how the self is appraised (Ruth & Vilkko, 1996). According to Butler (1963), the process of life review in elderly people describes the critical analysis of one’s past life and can help to give new significance by integrating prior conflicts and increase satisfaction and self-esteem. Furthermore, fear and anxiety about the future can be reduced (Haight & Webster, 1995). On the contrary, life review might also lead to the feeling that one’s life has been a failure (Wong & Watt, 1991). Similar feelings might also hold true for the reflection about social media posts. For example, Y. Wang et al. (2011) found that people often regret some of the information that they shared online. Related to this, people often report concern about how others might see and interpret their posts (Zhao et al., 2013). Additionally, participants in a study by Krasnova, Wenninger, Widjaja, and Buxmann (2013) reported feelings of boredom, frustration, sadness, loneliness, anger and guilt while using Facebook. It could be argued that the same or similar emotions are also experienced while reviewing one’s own social media posts.

At the same time, people might also experience positive emotions while reviewing and reflecting on their social media posts. Positive emotions associated with the everyday use of social media are for instance, joy or fun, excitement, relaxation or satisfaction (Krasnova et al., 2013). Similar to the negative feelings, it might be expected that these or similar positive feelings are not exclusive to viewing other’s posts but can also be experienced while reviewing one’s own posts. Moreover, people also reported to be proud of their profile (Oldmeadow, Quinn, & Kowert, 2013).

Social media as a tool for reminiscence

Social networking sites are frequently used and, as mentioned above, can hold much information about a certain individual. More specifically, people will construct an online identity and create a narrative of their life. However, the extent to which these sites can be used to reflect and reminiscence on the content itself and on their life by an individual is still unclear (Thomas & Briggs, 2016a).


Facebook is a social networking site which was founded in 2004 (Camacho et al., 2012). It was initially founded to enable university students to make and preserve relationships which were relevant to the university environment (Ellison et al., 2007). Later it was expanded to educational setting in other countries and to the public (Camacho et al., 2012). In the third quartal of 2018 Facebook had 375 million users in Europe alone (Senn, 2018).

Facebook has a wide range of features. The social networking site enables the user to post pictures, videos and text posts. It can be used to keep up with old friends, as well as making new friends (boyd & Ellison, 2007; Joinson, 2008; Raacke & Bonds-Raacke, 2008). Nevertheless, Facebook was most frequently used to stay in touch with old friends in contrast to finding new friends (Joinson, 2008; Raacke & Bonds-Raacke, 2008). Further evidence for the fact that Facebook is not frequently used to meet new people comes from Ross et al. (2009), who found that Facebook friends are usually “individuals known from the offline world” (p.2).


Instagram is another social networking sites which was launched in 2010, around one billion people use it today (Instagram, 2018). In 2012, Instagram was bought by Facebook Inc. (Upbin, 2012). However, in contrast to Facebook, Instagram focuses exclusively on photography and videography (Paramboukis et al., 2016). Nevertheless, comments and short written descriptions are possible. Instagram is most often used for social interaction, archiving, self-expression, escaping one’s own reality and follow the daily lives of other people (Lee, Lee, Moon, & Sung, 2015). Furthermore, social interaction was the strongest motivator for using Instagram and it is frequently used to interact with family, friends and individuals who are not known in the offline world. Additionally, the most followed users are celebrities (Lee et al., 2015). Moreover, Marwick (2015) suggested that having as many followers, Instagram friends, as possible might be strong motivating factor for using Instagram.

The current study. In the current study, a comparison of Facebook and Instagram with regard to identification with and emotions related to an automatically generated autobiography will be made with higher education students. It is assumed that the degree to which students identify with an automatically created autobiography differs between Facebook and Instagram. Furthermore, it should be investigated whether a difference exists between the experienced emotions while reviewing an automatically generated autobiography based on posts generated from either of the two social networking sites.

Both Facebook’s as well as Instagram’s layout of the sites cannot be customized, though this was shown to be a common way to show identity (Marwick, 2015). Consequently, drawing on Woodward’s (1997) theory, one would expect that people will try to find another way of showing their individuality and identity, in this case by the type of content that is posted and shared with the audience. Furthermore, the audience might differ for Facebook in comparison to Instagram, as Facebook friends are usually individuals known from the offline world, whereas for Instagram a strong motivator is the accumulation of many followers, who are usually not known in real life. Moreover, the information that is shared in those social networking sites might differ due to the specifics of diverse services and audiences (Thomas & Briggs, 2016a). Consequently, it is assumed that the shared content differs on Facebook and Instagram, which in turn leads to a different degree of identification with it.

Additionally, the review of the content from social networking sites might lead to different emotions. Research has found that people experience, for instance regret when reviewing their social media posts. It might be that due to the difference in audience, content and specifics of the two social networking sites, the emotions while reviewing the content differs as well.

Cite this paper

Social Networking and Identity. (2020, Nov 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/social-networking-and-identity/

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