With the proliferation of social media platforms, friendships and relationships that begin or are based solely online are becoming more and more common. Whether it be chatting with a significant other on a dating app like Tinder before meeting up with them in person or becoming mutual followers with someone on Twitter because of a mutual interest, many of our friendships now have some degree of an online component. With this in mind, it can be very important to consider the dichotomies that can sometimes exist between an online profile and and an offline personality.
Social media platforms such as Facebook allow users a fair amount of control over their profile and the content that they decide to share for their friends to see. If an individual doesn’t want to post a photo of themselves because they don’t like how they look in it, they won’t post it and none of their social circle will ever know that the photo even existed. Social media users have relatively complete control over the way that their internet presence is perceived by others. As we saw in class with the discussion of the employee who was fired due to racist comments from his friends that were posted on one of his photos, there are some circumstances where those that you associate yourself with can have a hand in crafting your social media presence. However, generally speaking, the vast majority of profiles are crafted by the user to meet their specifications or manner in which they want to present themselves. People see only what the user wants people to see.
A quick browse through Tinder (which I haven’t personally used, but have observed many of my friends using) shows a plethora of profiles of potential friends or significant others. Each one of these is notated by a few lines about the individual behind the profile. Most make mention of the current school that the person attends, a couple interests that they think are important, a couple of jokes, what they are looking for on the app, or some combination of these and other things. These profile descriptions are purposely crafted by a user, in hopes of finding and striking up conversation with someone who shares a mutual interest. If someone named Matt is incredibly passionate about the New England Patriots, then he will likely mention it in his profile description so that if someone that is also a huge Patriots fan sees him on their app, they will know that they have this major interest in common and might be able to have a nice connection.
Additionally, as previously mentioned, users have total control over the photos that populate their profiles. Sticking with the Tinder example, when someone is browsing on the app they are usually making split-second decisions about whether or not they see any potential friendship or relationship developing with this individual. All of this judgement, about an entire person’s existence, is based on a few lines of words and a handful of photos. I would wager that it is typically very uncommon for someone to upload a picture of themselves to Tinder that shows them in a very disheveled moment (such as just after waking up). Users want their profiles and lives to be interesting to other individuals, regardless of whether or not they are looking for a serious relationship, and typically select their best selfies or photos to upload to the app.My point in writing this blog post is to raise the question of whether or not friendships that begin on social media adequately prepare people for offline interactions. I personally have met many folks online, mostly on Facebook, through the music community. A good number of these I have met in person at a later date and had great experiences with. However, there is always a bit of a gap between these in-person interactions and past internet correspondences. Reading lines of text on a laptop screen is slightly different than hearing an actual voice speaking to you, with inflections and tones and sarcasm and a plethora of other entities that are entirely lost online. Not only that, but the concept of mutual interests could be slightly skewed when people meet up in-person for the first time. If all you know about someone from the internet is how much they love music, then conversation could get very stale or awkward when you try to change topics once you meet up. Even someone who is as passionate about music as I am has a ton of other interests and topics for discussion that might not be readily apparent from my social media channels.
What do all of you think about this? Do you think that social media provides a helpful lens through which to learn about someone? Do you think that these online interactions have an unjust impact on someone’s perception of someone else? I’d be very curious to hear your thoughts!