The self, one’s own persona and identity of who we are in the world, portraying an image of how we want to be perceived in society. This however, has become increasing different in recent years due to the rise of social media. Social media, is the network of online communicate we have with the online world and simply we just know them as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and well the list goes on. The actual self (flesh and blood) must now co-exist with its virtual self. The virtual self can be described as ‘digital’ representation of our ‘analogue’ selves in a digital environment i.e. internet. Our virtual self or online self is a carefully crafted and thought out representation of the person we believe to be or who we want other to believe we are.
We construct our virtual selves with well thought out captions and perfectly edited photos depicting a life that we lead, often that isn’t 100% real. The questions and concerns that arise here are largely based on is our virtual self our true self? Is our virtual self a form of branding ourselves or a form of narcissism? Are we just totally obsessed with ourselves?
One key feature of online presence in a social media world is the selfie. Haven’t we all been guilty of taking a selfie or participating in some form of group selfie? The first selfie originated in 1839 by Robert Cornelius as a self-portrait in early photography experimentation and now in 2017 has become a staple of one’s online profile, with approximately 93 million selfies uploaded each day. Selfies can be taken at any time and moment, in front of landmarks, at social events and even from events such as funerals all the way to tragedies. A recent example of this taking place was from the Westminster Bridge terror attack in London that saw a man taking a selfie at the scene. The online reaction from this was not at all positive being labelled ‘disgusting idiot’ to ‘worst human ever’. The reaction to this man’s selfie emphasises the blurred lines that is our actual self and our virtual self. He was not the only spectator at the Westminster scene to see the tragedy and the extensive media coverage there to witness also, it is not till he takes the action of self-documenting himself at this location where it seems a moral panic has unleashed.
The ‘Moral Panic’ theory from Stanley Cohen, is the perceived public fear of something that threatens societies morals. In this case society had unapproved of this action. So how does taking this selfie at this scene really differ from just being at the scene?
The selfie being a form of expression and allowing us to self document our lives has also been a way to brand and market ourselves. Apart from our actual selves with limited range of audience our virtual selves allow us to be our own brand. The example of this would be Kylie Jenner. Kylie has embraced the selfie more than any other celebrity and turned herself into one of the most followed and wealthiest celebrities on Instagram. In 2016, she earned more than $18 million, 20% of which came from Instagram endorsements, only increasing the popular rise of the micro-celebrity, though not always being paid financially but rather being paid with amounts of followers, shares and ‘likes’.
There are endless possibilities that our virtual self can benefit our actual self. We use our virtual identities to document our lives and a form of self branding and promotion. The selfie phenomenon has helped launch this, however has also stirred up a ‘moral panic’ in which we are becoming somewhat obsessed and seeking validation from others. The selfie however is a form of expression and does it really do any harm? It looks as though it’s here to stay and continue to be a tool to further construct our online selves.