Hardly any of us are unfamiliar with Twitter. Many also know of its impact on people’s psyche and behaviour. But do we know that it also impacts our identity? Sounds far-fetched but Twitter has an “identity perspective” that shapes and moulds how we and others perceive us. The first way Twitter impacts our identity is by making us part of a social group. For example, people following a certain celebrity or using a certain hashtag to support (or oppose) a particular cause get identified as a homogenous group, thus creating their social identity.
Twitter also gives a person an identity through their posts. After all, they do say, “You are what you tweet.” The 280 character limit does not leave room for justification. A person can only post the core of the thing they want to say without packaging or embellishing it. This gives others an insight into that person’s thoughts and beliefs. We need only look at Donald Trump to know how tweets can “brand” a person.
However, this reliance on tweets can also allow us to change our identity. A person considered rude and insensitive in the real world can frame himself as a woke messiah on Twitter by simply tweeting good things, even if they do not believe in it. They can even wear a virtual mask and portray themselves as someone else entirely by creating fake profiles.
In today’s day and age when most of our interactions are online, Twitter offers a very real opportunity of “resetting” our identity simply by changing the appearance of our public profile. So, Twitter also adds an element of fluidity to people’s identities. In addition to shaping our identities, Twitter can also be an extension of them. People project themselves onto others here. People associate themselves with a celebrity, an activist or a cause and start identifying so much with them that they become abusive and intolerant of others. They relate their projection’s successes and failures with their own and start becoming obsessive. This problem of identity projection is by no means unique to Twitter but its public nature and wide reach have certainly exacerbated it. And this is usually exploited by individuals and groups seeking to disseminate propaganda. Also relevant to the topic of Twitter’s identity perspective is how the microblogging platform not only moulds our identity but also allows itself to be moulded by us.
As a social networking site, Twitter inherently wants to adapt to our personal tastes and preferences. Their business model depends on appealing to us and hence, they are willing to bend over backwards to suit our needs. So, Twitter’s services are a blend of shaping and being shaped by a person’s identity.
Hence, in conclusion, it would not be wrong to put an identity perspective on Twitter because, in 2021, it is no longer just a site where celebrities post about what they had for lunch. It gives people a larger group to be a part of and brands them based on their tweets and activities. It also allows people to escape their offline personas by simply changing what they say publicly and who they are seen engaging with. Twitter also changes to meet our expectations and desires and, in a way, becomes an extension of us the same way our clothes or our vehicles are. This is not always good but this is how it is.
To summarise in one sentence, Twitter is a tool for people to present, portray or construct their identity and judge the identities of others. We can now know nearly everything about a person without ever having met them. This is what Twitter’s identity perspective means.