status update
December 13, 2011

Your Online Identity

Do you make your life sound better than it actually is?

Steven: When scrolling through your Facebook news feed, do you ever find it hard to separate the fact from the fiction?

“There’s always statuses about people going to parties, like, every other day or, like, “Oh, party over here, party over here.” But, like, how many parties can you go to? There’s not a party every single day.”

“I usually see, like, “I’m so done with this,” or like, “I’ve had enough.”

“In your status, you’d be like, ‘Oh my god! I’m dying!’ But you’re not dying. You’re just, maybe you’re in a bad mood.”

“It’s like they exaggerate just to make it seem like things are worse. So people, like, pay attention, I guess.”

Steven: Especially when all it takes to twist the truth are a few key strokes and a click.

“Overall, people are exaggeraters because you can be whatever you want over the internet.”

Steven: It is the virtual life we lead online. It is updates, posts, and photos about what we are doing right now in real life, even if the real is more like make believe.

So, why do you think they do that?

“To seem, like, cool or like they’re actually doing something.”

“Me and her, actually, were like pretending we were out but we were really sitting at each other’s houses.”

“People just want attention. They want likes, they want comments, they want to see what other people say about them.”

Steven: To these guys, it seems the web is one big exaggeration extravaganza. And it turns out, a lot of you agree. We polled teenagers online and asked them if they think most people are truthful in their posts and updates? Only twenty-four percent said, ‘yes, people do tell the truth.’ Forty-six percent say no. Twenty-four percent said yes. And thirty percent said they don’t know.

And the majority think people exaggerate “to seem cooler or more popular” and “to get likes.” But most wouldn’t admit that they stretch the truth. Seventy-seven percent said they don’t exaggerate very often or never at all.

“It’s an age old issue. I think we’ve always wanted to be bigger, more than, put it out there that we got it going on, and online it’s easy because where the checks and balance? Where is it that anybody is checking up on you?”

Steven: Dr. Jennifer Hartstein also says a little bend of the truth isn’t the problem. Even I was a little bit guilty.

Dr. Jennifer Hartstein: This is perfect!

Steven: This time last year, I had already been on two vacations. None scheduled for the summer. This makes for a sad Steven.

Dr. Hertstein: So, what happens is you get comments from people who say things like ‘Don’t be sad.’ So, what does it do? It entices people to feel bad, to feel sympathy even though that might not be what you were trying to get — all of which is great but there’s that sense of are you going to be sad? Are you really going to be sad?

But it’s when you start to believe those Facebook falsities. That things can get out of hand.

Steven: So, is saying I had the best time ever or this was the most fun I’ve ever had, is that really all that bad to do?

Dr. Hartstein: We do it all the time in real life. A little white lie happens all the time, like, ‘Oh, just tell them I’m not home.’ Still not honest but we do it all the time. And when you say, ‘I had the best time ever,’ because you want to be part of the group, not the end of the world. But it’s when you start to believe that hype all the time and start to fool yourself into believing that’s the truth.

So, can having an online persona that doesn’t match your real identity lead to any problems? Can that be dangerous?

Dr. Hartstein: It starts to really take its toll and may start to create some depression or create some anxiety, and really create some destructive behavior because you don’t know how to maintain that all the time. You can’t be the best at all times so it can lead to suicidal thoughts, self injury, substance use and it’s hard to regulate the emotion.

Big reasons why the teens I talked to said believing that image is everything, even if it’s only a virtual one, is a big mistake.

Steven: Why is maintaining that Facebook profile, that image on Facebook, why is that important?

“It’s really not. If you think about it, it’s really not at all. It’s just something people do to get a kick out of it but at the end of the day it’s really not important at all.”

“When people are posting a status every second and they’re like out, you’re not having the best time that you’re saying if your posting your status every second.”


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