Social media and identity

A fifty-year-old woman with brown short hair

Dagmar Hoffman has studied how young people use social networks. It is 54 years old. She has studied social work, social pedagogy and sociology. She has been a professor of media and communication at the University of Siegen since 2011.

When teenagers use social networks, it affects their identity. The identity of a person is how he feels and sees himself. This can change over time. For children and young people, identity develops only gradually. Scientists talk about identity formation here. Interaction with other people is particularly important for identity formation.

Young people interact differently on the Internet than in the real world. For example, they can present themselves differently than they really are. Someone can write on the Internet: I am tall and blond. But in reality he is small and has dark hair.

The oldest online network is Facebook . It was founded in 2004. Meanwhile, not so many young people use Facebook . They are more likely to use Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube . This is what new scientific research shows. There are various reasons for young people to use social networks.

Why do young people use social networks?
• You want to know the news. For example, news from friends and acquaintances. Or news from people who share the same interests. And news from celebrities.
• They want to make contacts. For example, contacts with people who are important to them.
• They want to have fun have. For example, when looking at photos. It can also be fun make it possible to learn something about the experiences of others.
• They want to get praise and recognition. Praising comments from others makes them self-confident.

Some young people pretend to be themselves on the Internet

Young people use social networks differently. Some look at pictures above all. Some prefer to read only what others have written. Others involve themselves a lot. Researchers have also found differences in the use of different networks. On Snapchat, for example, young people send photos and videos more often than on Instagram .

The texts and photos say something about the young people. They show the interests and preferences of the young people. And they show their skills. In social networks, young people usually present themselves the way they want to be seen by others. Their self-portrayal is important to them. Scientists also call self-presentation on the Internet the digital self. Scientists say: Sometimes the digital self and the real self of a young person are very different. It can lead to identity problems. In simpler terms, this means that some young people pretend a lot on the Internet. This can then be confusing for themselves. They may no longer be able to distinguish clearly between truth and deception.

Teenagers want others to like and praise them. Often friends and acquaintances of a teenager notice this. You realize that there is a big difference between your digital self and your real self. Then he gets no praise or recognition from them. Maybe friends and acquaintances even make fun of him or her. It happens more often in social networks: One young person makes fun of another. Or one speaks badly about another. If this happens again and again over a long period of time, it’s called bullying . The word bullying comes from English and means: to harass or mob someone. There are different forms of bullying on the Internet. For example, when someone reveals something about someone else that no one is supposed to know. Or when someone threatens another. Bullying can hurt people a lot. That’s why bullying victims need to get help.

Teenagers often show photos and videos of themselves on the Internet. On it they want to look as good as possible. Their role models are often stars from film and television. A great deal of effort is usually put into the perfect star photos. Normal teenagers can’t keep up. Many young people suffer from this.

There are also photos of people who are different.

The online network Instagram is mainly used by people between the ages of 18 and 35. Most of them are girls and women. They show selfies very often . So photos they have taken of themselves. They also often post their opinions on other people’s photos. The most important theme in these photos is appearance. It is mainly about how to make oneself more beautiful with fashion and make-up. Being beautiful here usually means: looking as much as possible like the women and men in advertisements and movies. So slim and athletic. But there are also photos of bodies that are different. There are also photos of people with disabilities. This shows that people are very different. It is normal if someone is not perfect. For example Ilka Bruhl. Ilka has a face cleft. They show photos of themselves on the social network Instagram. Here you can read an interview with Ilka .

Boys and men want to be masculine above all. Many find it masculine when they are strong. Or they find it masculine when they have power over others. Many also believe that stupid sayings are masculine. But not everyone in social networks thinks this is well.

Their body is very important for most people today. It is important to them that their body looks good and is fit. That’s why many people do sports. There are more fitness studios today than in the past. Many people decorate their bodies with tattoos. For teenagers, the body is an important subject. They show their body in photos on social networks. And they look at the photos of others.

Most teenagers only show good qualities and skills of themselves on social networks. Young people rarely talk about their problems. For example, about eating disorders or addiction diseases. Or about other mental problems. They usually get little praise and recognition from others for their problems. That is why they do not tell about it. On social networks you can easily show praise and appreciation. For example with a like (pronunciation: leik). That is English and means to like. All it takes is one click. If you get a lot of likes from others, you’re happy. Because that way he gets a lot of praise and recognition.

A young woman with straight long reddish blonde hair. Her eyes, nose and mouth look a little different than usual

Ilka Bruhl has a face cleft. Ilka shows photos of herself in the social network Instagram.

Young people are often dissatisfied with themselves

Every teenager can decide for himself what he wants to show of himself on an online network. They decide what they want to emphasize. For example, he can show that he likes to do sports. Or they show that they like to cook. Others look at it. You then have an idea of the young person. They also look at it themselves. If he is not satisfied, he can make improvements. For example, he can take away photos again. And he can add new photos. He can do that as often as he likes. So he can find out what is really important to him. And they can get to know themselves better. But some young people present themselves very differently on the Internet than they really are. They say, for example, that they do a lot of sports. In reality, however, they do very little sport. Or they show photos in which they look much better than in reality. They want to be perfect. This can make them feel very badly. Because they know that in reality they are not perfect. And it can lead to them getting into trouble with others.

Young people are often dissatisfied with themselves. Thetransition from child to adult is a difficult phase. Young people are still searching. They ask themselves about the meaning of life. And they ask themselves what they actually want and can do. Young people cannot answer such questions on their own. Meetings with others are important. Encounters in the real world. But also encounters in social networks. Encounters in social networks are usually fun. But they can also put pressure on young people. In social networks you sometimes read the saying: Be yourself or be nobody . This means in German: You have to be yourself. Otherwise you are no one. But that’s not so easy. After all, young people still have to find out who they are themselves.

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