#THISISME A Study on Self-Representation of Dutch High School Adolescents on Instagram

University essay from Malmö högskola/Fakulteten för kultur och samhälle (KS)

Abstract: In the world of Web 2.0, the evolution of the static web towards an interactive, collaborative digital world, we are subjected to many social platforms and applications on which we can represent our-selves. These applications enable us to present ourselves accordingly for an applications’ social con-text. However, the application alone does not determine our entire representation of self. No, rather, in addition to the social setting, our peers on such platforms greatly determine our representation. Adolescents in particular are very vulnerable to meeting the norms of peers and audiences in a specific social setting. They are in the midst of discovering who they are and where they belong. Earlier, ado-lescents would undergo this development in social settings that were part of one of three domains: family, neighbourhood and school. Now, in the era of Web 2.0 and its endless possibilities in discover-ing online social environments and other people with whom adolescents can interact, the internet is considered to be a fourth domain where adolescents develop themselves. Instagram is one of these platforms on Web 2.0 where one can choose to represent oneself. This thesis tried to discover how adolescents represent themselves on Instagram, why and with what consequences according to them. The sample was focused on adolescents between the ages of 15 to 18 in Alphen aan den Rijn, the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a strong individualized culture and its population are heavy users of Web 2.0 applications and Instagram. Since the internet is considered to be such an important domain in self-development in adolescence, it was interesting to discover what behaviours adolescents show on Instagram and what effects these behaviours have. It is not new that adjustments of the self, also referred to as the altered self, take place in different social settings. As far back as 1902, adjustments of the self in a specific social setting have been acknowledged. Throughout the years it has been concluded multiple times that our imagined peers and audiences and their judgements of us, stimulate us to represent ourselves in a way that stimulates posi-tive feedback from others. Web 2.0 social settings, such as Instagram, are still subjected to this point of view where we consider our peers and audiences on Instagram to have ‘power’ over how we should represent ourselves. These interactions are considered to be part of our outer self-esteem, where we feel good or bad about ourselves depending on the engagements we have with our peers. For Instagram specifically, the way we represent ourselves is, as mentioned above, mostly determined by others. Adolescents, who are particularly sensitive to the opinions of their peers, voiced the im-portance of others in this research for their engagement with Instagram. Furthermore, they sometimes try to be popular, but not necessarily, document life events and aim to be creative. They do not tend to share negative feelings on the platform, but solely aim to come across as cool and positive as possible. What both respondents and literature have acknowledged is that there are several consequences of self-representation on Instagram. Respondents in this research mostly saw people presenting them-selves better than they are in offline social settings. It makes the respondents feel insecure and stimu-lates them to also alter their ‘selves’ on Instagram to be able to compete with others. This might be related to social media-driven narcissism, where one becomes increasingly insecure because of all their peers whom appear to be living better lives than they are and in return, urges them to alter their own self on Instagram. This self-made standard of determining whether someone is good enough or not, to my peers, seems to be the biggest danger of self-representations on Instagram. It has also been acknowledged in literature that focusing the self too much on fictional aspects, can cause identity problems which, especially in adolescence, can undermine one’s self-development.

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