I could write a book on authenticity (oh, wait, I’m trying to finish my PhD on it). This kind of research is something way up my street. the researchers describe that presenting an authentic image on social network sites such as Facebook includes an element of fakery. During the study, researchers discovered that being authentic is very important for social media users. At the same time, users also admitted faking parts of their online image in order to conform to social norms and expectations.
Before jumping to the press release, like I tend to do, I need to explain that faking or fabricating authenticity is quite common.
- The late Richard A. Peterson wrote a fascinating book on how fabricating authenticity played a role in the development of country music.
- Gilmore and Pine explained in their book ‘Authenticity’ how brands can be fake-fake, real-fake, fake-real and real-real. Sounds confusing, well: Las Vegas has a fake Eifel Tower, but it’s real in being Vegas.
- In my own research, I didn’t want to know what constitutes teachers to be authentic, but how they are perceived as being authentic. It’s not that hard to think of a situation in which a teacher is being authentic in the meaning of being true to himself, but at the same time is being perceived as fake in being a teacher. Maybe he than should fake more?
Now on the present research, from the press release:
By focusing on two social network sites (SNSs) Facebook and Last.fm, the researchers came to the conclusion that being real is much more acceptable according to social norms.
“Although both of these SNSs differ in the manner in which users are able to share content, we noticed that there was a heavy focus on maintaining a profile that is as natural as possible,” said Suvi Uski of Aalto University.
“We also encountered a widespread disdain by users for what is known as profile tuning, or intentionally sharing content designed to depict the user in a false way. Sharing personal content online on social network sites has become a common activity for increasing numbers of people around the world.
“But what our study reveals is a common belief that sharing content in a way that is considered to be excessive, attention seeking or somehow portrays that individual in a fake manner is judged extremely negatively,” said Uski.
However, this presented the researchers with an interesting paradox.
“While social norms required individuals to be real in their sharing behaviour, presenting oneself in the right way through sharing often necessitated an element of faking,” added Airi Lampinen, co-author of the study.
This faking was particularly noticeable on the music-sharing platform Last.fm where content is shared automatically.
“We found that it was not uncommon for some users to purposely choose to listen to, or indeed not listen to, particular music according to the image that that individual wants to portray to others,” said Lampinen.
“In addition, users of Facebook have a high degree of control on what is shared with others, but we found they often chose not to share anything for fear of conveying the wrong message to fellow users. Consequently our desire to be regarded as authentic in social media can also prove to be difficult to achieve. A desire to conform actually inhibits a truthful unencumbered sharing of content. Importantly, this leads the researchers to conclude that displaying an authentic image on SNSs is actually more controlled than first thought.”
Well, it’s pretty close to the mechanisms Peterson describes in 1997, long for the Facebook domination.
Abstract of the research:
“Profile work,” that is strategic self-presentation in social network sites, is configured by both the technical affordances and related social norms. In this article, we address technical and social psychological aspects that underlie acts of sharing by analyzing the social in relation to the technical. Our analysis is based on two complementary sets of qualitative data gleaned from in situ experiences of Finnish youth and young adults within the sharing mechanisms of Facebook and Last.fm. In our analysis, we identified social norms that were formed around the prevailing sharing practices in the two sites and compared them in relation to the sharing mechanisms. The analysis revealed that automated and manual sharing were sanctioned differently. We conclude that although the social norms that guide content sharing differed between the two contexts, there was an identical sociocultural goal in profile work: presentation of authenticity.