Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

12 August, 2015

Social Media: your best foot forward
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:59 AM

Blaugust, day 12

Today we’ll discuss the issue of “projecting” in social media. Some people like to think of social media as this free and open communication medium where people can be themselves. The reality is that a lot of our images are carefully groomed and massaged to put our best foot forward.

When image matters most

The perfect example of of this is celebrities. A lot of older celebrities on social media rarely post directly. Instead, they generally have a “social media advisor” who will take content, edit it, and then post it for the celebrity as a function of public relations (PR). Why? Well, most of these older celebrities don’t understand the online medium, but they do understand PR. And, this hot new medium is one they want to use to stay “relevant”.

Same thing happens at companies. When you see a company tweet, it’s almost always a PR person who has crafted that tweet to meet a message standard set by the company. You’re rarely getting unvarnished information, even if it feels spontaneous because of social media. (Not to say there aren’t glorious exceptions to this rule.)

Projecting and interpreting projections

There’s the old joke that “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” It points out that social interactions tend to lack a lot of the physical cues of in-person communication. But, it’s not quite as utopian as you might think.

The reality is that a lot of people just make assumptions about the other person. We do often form an image in our mind about what another person looks like, even if we can’t see them. We might assume they conform to either majority characteristics (“this person is male because most people on this forum are male”), or match personal characteristics (“this person is caucasian because I’m caucasian”). In some ways this is good, because it can help overcome the “fear of the outsider” that plagues a lot of interaction, but it can be harmful if we depersonalize the person and assume characteristics.

There can be a more sinister side of this as well, where people will want to claim authority or expertise they don’t have. People generally give deference to authority, so someone claiming authority can short-circuit this process and gain attention they might not otherwise. And because of the concept of “social proof”, it’s easy to just go along with the crowd if someone is particularly convincing that they are an authority.

Little white lies

Related to this concept of projecting is how people present themselves. It’s common advice for people to “put their best foot forward”, meaning that they should present their best image. On social media, you can do that even easier than in the offline world. It’s easy to give people a small glimpse of your life and allow them to make assumptions. For example, I might say that I was backstage of the National Symphony Orchestra on Saturday at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts and watched Darth Vader conduct the orchestra. (True story!) If I just tell you that, what is your assumption? Maybe you think I was organizing something, or that I’m some sort of VIP.

The reality is that one of my local friends in in the 501st Legion and was on stage. I was lending a hand to the people in costume, since they tend to have limited vision and mobility. Also, that Darth Vader suit is really, really good at trapping heat.

But, it’s common for people to not give the whole truth, especially if limited to 140 characters. We want to project that we’re awesome, as sometimes setbacks are seen as personal flaws. And, even if you do have a problem, people who are aware of the audience might give pause. Say I’m having trouble at work with my boss. If I post about it, will that post get back to my boss and cause more problems? So, even if work is terrible and I really hate going into work every day, I’m unlikely to actually say that because of the consequences. But, as always, that doesn’t seem to stop some people.

Not the whole picture

So, the reality is always more complicated than what is presented. We might see a pretty image in front of us, but the reality is that sometimes people hide parts of themselves, either intentionally or not. We all want to be seen in the best light. Some beautiful people do understand this and want to look past the smiling faces and understand the pain beneath. But, by and large, social media isn’t necessarily giving us an accurate picture of what is going on. And that hurts how we communicate.


  1. Somewhat related, I’ve recently had a discussion with few others about the big ‘pageviews secret’. Lately due to blaugust, there’s been more bloggers talking about this sort of thing and it’s always fascinating to see how different people react. Some really do not want to show or know numbers, mostly because they assume it makes someone either feel better or worse than them. I assume this is because that’s how they feel about stats themselves (not judging, just observing here). We project our obsessions into others.

    I am on the opposite camp – I haven’t talked or bragged about numbers in the past because am not overly interested in that with my blog (I don’t have further ambitions for it), but I am more than happy to talk numbers if anyone would like to know. The whole hush-hush deal bugs me a bit, because most of us really don’t have high-traffic blogs anyway. :D We are peanuts. Whether it’s 300, 1k or 5k hits per post, doesn’t make a difference.

    Yet, so many bloggers are probably miserable about their stats and living under this illusion that everyone is above them, since we don’t share and don’t give references. It’s the whole aspiration complex I also hate in other areas of life (politics cough). I’ve had a few people asking me about my blog and I always told them, also podcast stats. I think these secrets harm us more than they do us good. Most of us assume everyone is better than they are and it just ain’t true.

    So I wish we talked more openly about these things….also because that’s the only way of addressing the deeper issue. It’s the only way to learn that NO MATTER if someone has a bit more than you or not, you are not alone, you are most likely not doing as bad as you think and there’s ALWAYS someone doing better than the next person. :) Which means, you should not define yourself in this way in the first place. We make this insight impossible by playing the game instead – we perpetuate a state of misery and competition and fake that we’re somehow aloof. There is no growth in secrets, secrets are avoidance. It’s an okay way to protect yourself if you need it but it’s not actually a way of dealing.

    And again, thanks for the link to my post (and the kind words!).

    Comment by Syl — 12 August, 2015 @ 11:17 AM

  2. I do have to ask: how is this different from the rest of the Internet, including interaction on blogs, forums or MMOs, or even in real life, a personality projected at work may not show all of the person, for example?

    Comment by Jeromai — 12 August, 2015 @ 4:45 PM

  3. Syl wrote:
    Somewhat related, I’ve recently had a discussion with few others about the big ‘pageviews secret’.

    Guess I’ve been too busy writing and not spending much time reading, as I’ve missed this conversation. I agree with you, though. I think it’s a stretch to think anyone is going to become rich from MMO blogging. And, why be jealous if someone else has more readers than you? If you want more readers, then work to get more readers. Comparing sizes is a waste of time.

    Jeromai wrote:
    I do have to ask: how is this different from the rest of the Internet, including interaction on blogs, forums or MMOs, or even in real life, a personality projected at work may not show all of the person, for example?

    I wasn’t explicit, but I didn’t mean to make it sound like this is somehow different on the internet as a whole. The whole “nobody knows you’re a dog” joke originated before social media, after all. And, as I said, we do the same thing in the offline world as well.

    The difference, in my opinion, is that social media feels more immediate and therefore more personal to many people. People assume that posts on social media are off-the-cuff and a glimpse at the “real person”. Long form text like a blog post is probably planned and edited. Plus, you don’t come to my blog to read about me, most likely, but about my views on game development and related topics.

    On the other hand, a tweet feels more spontaneous. You might not be surprised to find breakfast photos or selfies with Darth Vader on my Twitter stream. But, the reality is that a tweet, especially a tweet from most celebrities, is probably planned and edited to a surprising degree.

    So, the issue isn’t original to social media, but I think it exacerbates the problem of only providing part of the picture.

    Comment by Psychochild — 13 August, 2015 @ 12:00 AM

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