Social media - caring in a shared-world (2): Authentic Identity

How to develop an authentic identity when using social networking sites professionally

How can academics understand and develop an authentic (true) identity when using social media professionally? This is the second post in the series on Caring in a shared-world (see also Social media - caring in a shared-world (1): Self & others) providing insights based on Heidegger’s (1962) shared-world theory.

Martin Heidegger is a German philosopher who dedicated his life to studying the essence of our human being. In his major work Being and Time (Heidegger, 1962) provided a revolutionary perspective on how we may think about our human being. Heidegger (1962) argues that we belong to the shared-world where everything is related between any moment in time across the future, past and the present. Within that world academics should always care about what they are and who they are. Their being is always at stake depending on the choices they make and the multiple identities they may adopt.

When using social media, academics’ authenticity is not given and may never be fully reached, because relations in their shared-online and offline-worlds impact on their identity. You may be interested to learn more about why we may question authenticity in the third post in this series on online identity reconstruction. Therefore, when using social media, academics who wish to be authentic may strive towards an authentic identity when making purposeful choices about their online presence.

The importance of an authentic identity in social media

Heidegger (1962) argues that people may forget their true being if they live according to the standards and norms provided by their shared-worlds. Likewise, communication on social media may often be inauthentic when academics follow the norms (for instance, clicking like or re-sharing a post without leaving a comment) delivered by their social networks.

Additionally, the existence of a myriad of content and potential connections provides infinite opportunities for academics to instantly access, reach, and engage with people and information. Therefore, it may be difficult to determine if content and people are trustworthy, reliable and genuine. Developing an authentic identity is important for academics’ social media use because:

  • An authentic identity enables academics to communicate their perspectives and feelings uniquely using their own words and creativity. This may elevate their "competitive advantage" due to increased recognition shown by individuum, groups and communities.
  • An authentic identity may be important to the building of trust between academics and their stakeholders. Stakeholders are more likely to engage with academics and their content if their online presence appears reliable and aims to show their true being.

Challenges of developing an authentic identity

Developing an authentic identity may be challenging when using social media, because a part of academics’ being co-exists in the offline and online world. On the one hand, digital communication in the online world may be non-personal, and inauthentic as posts can be published at any time and may be addressed to everybody. On the other hand, when academics use social media a part of their being is related to their offline presence. The key to developing an authentic identity is to bring these two worlds together.

In my research (Sathish, 2019) I conducted in-depth interviews with UK academics, about their professional social media use, and found them facing the following challenges when attempting to develop an authentic identity.

Academics may:

  • be anxious to reveal their true being on social media due to the fear that their identity may be harmed by others.
  • face difficulties to choose and distinguish between their personal and professional identities. They may find it complex to reveal their true self for professional purposes and prefer to remain inauthentic instead.
  • need to choose between multiple identities and roles (researcher, teacher, colleague, co-worker). If the choice of the identity is not purposeful this may lead to a blurred identity on social media. If academics don’t choose a clear identity when using social media, their identity may be created for them by others, which may have harmful consequences.
  • be concerned that their authentic identity may not be perceived to be true, and that their true being and engagement may be misunderstood by others.

Tips on how to develop an authentic identity

To develop an authentic identity, it is not enough to only like and share or re-share others’ content as people may not understand who you truly are. Developing an authentic identity requires you to:

  • care for yourself and others
  • be creative
  • be generous
  • be courageous

The key to developing an effective authentic identity is the ability to tune yourself within the flow of the shared-online-worlds. As being of these worlds you then may passionately engage with and express how you feel about belonging to these worlds. You may find some of these tips helpful:

  • Focus on things that you are passionate about.
  • Express and share how you feel when engaging with others in your network.
  • Engage and share everything that might inspire and enlighten others.
  • Talk about how you feel as being part of the shared-online-world.
  • Avoid adhering to standard, cliches and norms as this leads to inauthenticity.
  • Do not be afraid to lose followers when expressing your true self. The process of developing an authentic identity is challenging and not everybody will follow your true self.
  • Try to show your face in pictures or videos when talking about yourself.
  • Try to feature your colleagues, co-workers, or friends as often possible.
  • Avoid talking only about yourself and focus on showing care for others.
  • Share pictures, video clips or other content that may allow you to express your feelings creatively.

In sum, your authentic identity should express the real you as closely as possible and not present a fabricated collage of normative perspectives.

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