Is it possible to be authentic on social media?

It’s no secret that in this day and age we just can’t get enough of social media – but our obsession with it is, according to several studies, rivalled only with matching levels of angst and poor mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and poor self-esteem. Longer periods of social media use are linked with higher rates of distress and feelings of inadequacy, and also an ironic sense of loneliness despite the original point of social media being to connect us.

It’s important to recognise that it’s not all bad though – lots of positive messages and movements have been spread via social media, it has been a valuable tool for businesses and for sharing informative content, entertainment, and connecting people to mobilize them for worthy causes.

As it has become so much a part of how we interact, work, shop, entertain ourselves, learn, stay informed, network and even manage our businesses and personal brands, it is now so intertwined with our life that it has become largely inseparable from most things we do. The one thing we can probably all agree upon is that it’s here to stay and is now simply a part of how we interact. So instead of fighting the fact it’s here, isn’t it wiser to get clued up on how we can use it in a more intentional, positive, safe and productive way?!

The gateway to achieving this is first understanding what is causing the negative feelings and responses to social media use in the first place. Although there is a myriad of complex interdependent issues related to this topic, a huge part of the anxiety and poor self-esteem we are experiencing seems to be due to comparing our day-to-day experiences with other people’s highlight reels, a.k.a the thief of joy via comparison.

Most of us understand on some level that our Instagram feeds are a constructed form of reality, a sort of pseudo-version-of-self presented to the wide world web for the purpose of putting our best foot forward. There’s a good reason why we don’t post the more undesirable, personal or mundane sides of our life – we want to be perceived as someone likeable, positive and successful, for the good of our professional and personal life. If you’re going to construct an identity, why not make it a goodie, right?!

But if the sharing of only the positive, extraordinary, noteworthy and beautiful images is causing us to perceive a warped sense of reality and question our worth, isn’t it time for us all to “get real” and drop the mask? Within reason, you might say, because you want to be employable, attract opportunities and avoid over-sharing.

As social media is so often the first point of reference for most things we do, it’s become important to be intentional about what message we are sending to other people. How do we want to be perceived, and what effect may this have on others? We’ve reached the stage where we may have a responsibility to share our authentic selves with other people so that we can all help ourselves avoid the consistently unfortunate trap of thinking we’re shit and everyone else is perfect.

Nowadays to ignore this responsibility and fail to manage your social media accounts with intention and authenticity and without a clear view of the wider impact is now a choice in itself. It’s become impossible now to just “share whatever” without some sort of repercussion. It’s now important to use social media more mindfully for both ourselves and others. 

The question is though, what actually constitutes as being real and authentic and what does that mean? How do we express our authentic selves when Instagram itself is a representation of a constructed identity or “egoic” self and to do so would be a direct contradiction? And is it even possible to be authentic on social media, and if so, how do we do it? These questions seem to be dangling in the air unanswered. Let’s take a deep dive and tackle them head on. 

Authenticity within a constructed identity

So can we really ever be our full 100% authentic selves on social media? Probably not, as this would involve being glued to social media and broadcasting our every move and thought to the world wide web.

It’s important to realise that as the nature of social media is creative, the nature of our constructed identities on social are just that – created. They’re not the innate beings that we truly are, they require construction and management.

If we choose to interact with social media at all, there’s no getting around creating some sort of identity or profile or thing to be judged or interpreted by others, either intentionally or unintentionally. Even if we aren’t intentional about how we choose to be perceived and construct our content, our choice to not do this is also a choice – and is also an online identity or archetype. 

Maybe it’s time to review some of the choices choices when it comes to identity creation on social media, each with a different intention behind it: 

  • Use social media with no thought or intention behind it, offering no value to others
  • Use social media to create an identity to seek validation or fame
  • Use social media to create an identity for a specific purpose i.e. to support a business or greater cause
  • Use social media to communicate your message or movement, speaking your authentic truth

Essentially, a choice not to have any intention behind it is still a choice. If we have a tool, and we're going to have some form of identity on there whether we like it or not, maybe it's worth getting intentional with it and using it for something awesome.

It’s clear that the intention behind social media use is everything, and also seems to have a direct correlation authenticity. If the intention is anything destructive or is simply serves as ego-fuel, then that kind of social media use seems to go hand in hand with blatant in-authenticity.

Maybe authenticity on social media doesn’t mean sharing the full and unedited version of our every move, but the continuous process of making sure what we put out there is in line with our values, personal truth or voice, and is towards a greater purpose or goal than just getting likes. It also suggests a certain degree of vulnerability in sharing those things close to our heart, but maybe this is what we need to do in order to have true human connection? 

How to be Authentic (or as authentic as possible) on social media

There are a few ways in which we can work towards being more authentic on our social media channels:

Get clear on your values, purpose and message

Figuring out what you truly value and live by or for is the key to understanding what being authentic is. Once you have tapped into that compass for your life, then you’ll naturally be so excited about this you’ll naturally and organically share your message throughout all areas of your life, including social media. This is the real stuff from the soul – and what people truly want to hear about.

Check your intentions

What are you using social media for? Be prepared to get real with yourself and ask if it’s to seek validation and approval from others or fuel your ego. If that’s the case, it’s going to be pretty hard for you to be authentic as your need for validation may overtake the need to be truthful to yourself and be heard.

Share content that speaks your truth, inspires and uplifts others, or that is for a wider goal or cause – not simply to get attention. If people are inspired by what you have to say and you receive attention online because of it, that’s a great biproduct, but it should never be the primary goal.

Do an ecology check before you post something

Before you post something, ask yourself if this post/message/image is something you feel is in line with who you are, your values, the message you want to send, and if you’d call it authentic. You know what to do if the answer is no.

Don't be afraid to be a little vulnerable

Although I agree it’s not great to overshare on social media or be overly negative for the sake of being negative, in order to inject some more authenticity into our online highlight reels it’s important to share a degree of vulnerability. Everyone certainly has their unique story and challenges. By sharing some of these moments or personal struggles and how we overcome them, we help remind each other that although social media is a highlight reel of the noteworthy and beautiful, we are all real people behind the screens, with real lives and life challenges, and can inspire others to get through their own challenges. This is how meaningful connections are established and how growth happens. Vulnerability is a cornerstone of authenticity. Brené Brown would be proud!

Stop overthinking!

The more time we spend thinking about how perfect we can make an image or post, the more time we agonize over which filter or what caption to write – the less authentic it gets. If you catch yourself overthinking, check in with the authentic you and see what they have to say. You may find the anxiety over it dissipates, and you may even laugh.