The importance of being authentic on social media

Authenticity online

Facebook built its brand on the premise of esse quam videri (to be, not to seem to be).  In contrast to social media predecessor MySpace, which allowed multiple accounts and digital noms de plume, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook enforced a single-identity, real-name policy more reflective of a real, offline self. In doing so, it implicitly defined modern-day authenticity, condoning commentary of the banal minutiae of normal people’s lives after a decade or more of celebrity infatuation.

It seemed that we were over ideals and wanted to keep it real (or at least as real as we could without compromising our friend count). Which is where the ‘real’ thing comes undone. Rather than depicting our lives, these selective representations were still treated as ‘projects’ according to social media expert Dr Natasha Richardson from Murdoch University.

“We have this moral tradition that goes back decades of presenting an ideal self as our public face, so it’s not surprising that these kinds of trends get translated into a social media form and start to infiltrate all of the media productions that we do of ourselves,” says Dr Richardson.

Yet after a decade or so of Photoshopping, filters and omitting the less-flattering truths of who we are – Maldives, yes. Meltdown at the kids’ football match, no – there is a new version of the authenticity ideal coined by 18th century Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The rules for keeping it real have changed – and it’s not limited to Facebook.

Are contemporary social media norms compromising our offline selves – and is it possible to be authentic online? Editor Rebecca Long explores this concept in the launch issue of muse magazine.

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