Why do we act different online?

Opinion Columnist

Growing up on social media, I quickly learned how people I know acted very different online –  as if everyone had an alternate personality.

People who were generally not funny would try to act like comedians on social media. Shy or socially awkward people would go onto Facebook and socialize like crazy. What I saw the most, however, was people who mostly kept to themselves in real life becoming the biggest attention-seekers online. For example, people who make posts with captions and pictures designed to get others’ attention, because they want you to interact and give them attention.

I will admit, on every one of my social media accounts I have a laid-back personality, even though my personality is pretty random in real life.



There are two reasons, I think, for why people behave differently online:

First is that we can use social media to change others’ perception of our character. On social media, you can post anything you want. If you want to be seen as a positive person by strangers, for example, you can post positive things, such as uplifting quotes and happy-looking pictures. Some of us want to be seen in a way that we cannot portray ourselves in real life, so we use social media to create that perception.

Second is that, mainly for younger people, we act differently on social media due to relatives watching our posts like hawks. My parents watched everything I posted until I was about 15, and they are doing the same to my younger sister right now. It sucked because I could not post or say whatever I wanted at the time.

As it turns out, I am not the only person who feels people act different on the internet. A 2012 article by the Huffington Post compares two separate experiments conducted by scholars. One experiment conducted by Keith Wilcox and Andrew T. Stephen aimed to answer why online behavior differs from reality, and they ultimately came to seven conclusions.

Study two of this experiment matches up well with one of the reasons I mentioned earlier: We post for self-preservation, not for the preservation of others. In short, this means we post certain things to make ourselves look good.