Self-representation on social media

Our world is now gradually being media-oriented world. In this digital era surrounded by information flows, an increasing number of medias images have existed in our potential consciousness. With the development of new media, especially social media, most of us can quickly and easily achieve self- propagate. So, people no longer satisfied merely their viewing position and they expected to watch what they created, watch themselves through a variety of images to shape their own and they also expected to be viewed. Just as Nancy (2012) said, when using social media has became a global trend, people participate online social activities through representing themselves so that self-representation is already a condition of participation in social network sites. In this essay, I will examine three kinds of phenomenon on social media to analyse self-representation of social media users.

Avatars and self-representation

With the development of Web2.0 technology, especially a wave of social media, SNS social networking sites not only changed the way we receive information, and more importantly, they changed the personal self-expression and interpersonal way. According to Kim and his colleagues (2016), social media provide participants opportunities to alert their self-representation through various forms, such as creating avatars, designing signatures or editing their profile introduction and posting photos. In this light, Individual identities are ever changing on social medias.


Choosing what avatars to use online is a kind of self-representation. In this view, Nick & Jeremy (2007) support that the avatar is the main identity hint in internet world and the avatars we chose or created online might shape our self-representations and then that will change the way of communicating with others. For example, people need to set their profile photos when they use any social media platform. Just drawing Wechat as an example to analyse, any user can choose any picture as profile photo and five different kinds of pictures are often set by people, shelfies, family photos, pet photos, cartoon pictures and childhood photos. Some researches revealed that physiological and psychological status of each person is different and this lead to their different needs, which could be satisfied by participating in social medias (Azar, Chris & Neil, 2014). Those who use their shelfie as profile photo may be confident with their appearance while those who use family photo as profile photo may think their family members is the most important thing in this world. Therefore, the profile photos on social media, like Facebook, Twitter could be regarded as a kind of self-representation of users. In doing so, everyone can reset their image to let others to accept this image of yourself.

A variety of “shows” in our social media

Another of the most remarkable self-representations is the behavior of a “show” on social media platforms. A lot of Facebook users like to “show rather than tell” and engage in presenting an implicational meaning by posting photos. (Zhao, Grasmuck & Martin, 2008). That means many people used to post their photos that could reflect some characteristic of themselves. According to the different content, the “shows” will be divided into the following three categories. One is showing life: eating and drinking and other daily chores. This type of show almost includes a variety of daily chores. In addition, showing resources is another type. Women show luxury bags and handsome show cars. This category contains a variety of luxury goods as well as tourism photos. Glamorous and luxury scene occupy the full screen and some of people represent them self as wealthy meanwhile expect others to know this. The last one is showing attitude. These people like to show their personal point of views, ideas, and works that may contains more original composition. Moreover, forwarding others’ opinions and ideas can also be classified in this category.


These three kinds of online behaviors could be seen on social media every day, such as Facebook, Wechat and that could be regarded as an unconscious self-representation.

In fact, most information on social media is presented in a running account type. Most of these populations are mainly eager to communicate. For instance, people continue online updates and show friends their own lives to get everyone’s attention so that it may produce interaction and communication that they need. From a psychological point of view, the majority of people show off themselves in order to cause others’ envy or respect and then to give a sense of self-satisfaction. However, it can not be ignored that this kind of “show” often reveal an inferiority complex.

Using emoji and self-representation

The improvement of online communication makes people realize that they could express the emotion through the text description, such as “silly smile” or “go away”. Then, more people prefer to use the combination of keyboard symbols to convey expressions or pictograms. For example, 🙂 stands for smile and 😦 indicate sad or sad. Since Apple released the iOS5 that added emoji to input, this kind of emoticon has become popular.


Derks and his colleagues (2007) indicate that computer mediated communication cannot completely replace the real communication in daily life because of the lack of expressive gestures. So, when people realize this point, they attempted to create emoticons, like emoji to restore the face-to-face communication as far as possible.

However, emoji cannot simply deemed as a communication tool, it could be regarded as a mask for people’s self-protection. Using emoji on social media can not only shape the image of the user’s mental feelings but also leave a space for communicators to imagine and guess the real information based on the context. In addition, the feeling of everyone is different and this may result in some special meanings that will be bestowed on emoji to achieve their self-expression. For instance, some cry emoji in apple’s emoji list stands for smile, some goodbye emoji stands for “I hate you”. That is an exaggerated expression but is very popular in youth. At the same time, it is important to realize that using emoticons combined with text could create a fresh effect than text itself (Mitchell, 1986). For example, when some people send a message to another, like “Did you finish your report?” they often add a smile emoji. But, they did not smile behind the screens of phone and computers at all. The aim of this behavior is that people may want to shape a friendly image and maintain a relaxed environment by using emoji.

So, from this perspective, using emoticons on social media could also be considered as a kind of self-representation.


Human belong to social animals, but the modern society separate the people from each other. For example, you have a very close friend, the spatial distance between you and your friend is 10 meters, and you have a net friend who is far away 10,000 km from you. Physical distance can explain the closeness of relationship between two people, but in the network, the relationships between them have been squashed into same distance. So, the Internet alienated close relationship and made alienate people become intimate. In fact, the evident of what a person present is what he said and what he did. Social networking sites just like a large database and people could mimic their expected image and predict others’ personality to some extent. Finally, a represented person has been manufactured out. However, all features of a person are unlikely to be represented on social medias, even media technology further developed.



  • Kim, G. M. (2016). Transcultural digital literacies: Cross‐Border connections and Self‐Representations in an online forum.Reading Research Quarterly, 51(2), 199-219. doi:10.1002/rrq.131
  • Nick Yee & Jeremy Bailenson, (2007), The Proteus Effect: The Effect of Transformed Self-Representation on Behavior, Human Communication Research 33 (2007) 271–290 a 2007 International Communication Association.
  • Azar Eftekhar, Chris Fullwood, Neil Morris, (2014), Capturing personality from Facebook photos and photo-related activities: How much exposure do you need? Computers in Human Behavior 37 (2014) 162–170
  • Zhao, S. Grasmuck, J. Martin, (2008), Identity construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationships, Computers in Human Behavior, 24 (5) (2008), pp. 1816–1836
  • Daantje Derks *, Arjan E.R. Bos, Jasper von Grumbkow (2007). Emoticons and social interaction on the Internet: the importance of social context. Computers in Human Behavior 23 (2007) 842–849
  • 12、 Mitchell, A. A. (1986). The effect of verbal and visual components of advertisements on brand attitudes and attitude toward the ad. Journal of Consumer Research, 13, 12-24. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/209044


Name: Huijun Chen

SID: 440524348


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