Performance after Tragedy on Social Media

For this blog’s inaugural week, we decided to write about social media and self-perception. This, by no means, is a topic that has nothing to do with me (regardless of my self-perception as a sharing-averse stoic) since I do have a Facebook account and I do use it to share and consume content just about every day.

I am, however, probably on the lower half of the spectrum, compared with Facebook users my age, in terms of engagement. I don’t actually post content on any social platform other than Facebook, and there I mostly share articles or comment on post threads, rarely posting much about myself. I follow the Facebook feeds of a number of news outlets; these post quite frequently, crowding out content posted by my family and friends. Since I’m an admin of the Tufts Daily Facebook page, my notifications also tend to be swamped with likes and shares from that page and I can often miss posts I’m tagged in. Couple all this with regular periods of separation from any media on a screen for mental health reasons, and I don’t really consume enough of my friends’ broadcasts about their lives for comparison between my existence and theirs to begin to affect the way I see myself.

This isn’t to say that my social media experience, which mostly involves consuming news, features or editorial content posted by liberal outlets, doesn’t affect my self-perception in other ways (the constant stream of fear-choked liberal news on my feed creates anxiety issues that will be the subject of a whole other post.) Social media tends to have the greatest effect on my own self-perception during or in the wake of global or national tragedies or turmoil; the aftermath of the 2015 Paris attacks, for example, or the protests surrounding the killing of black men by police in the summer of 2016.

Events like these tend to compel response, because as they command public attention it can feel wrong to be silent about them on social media. I have a liberal friend group, and therefore an overwhelmingly liberal network on Facebook. The political posts that I made after the Paris attacks and the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, both of which pushed the liberal line on the issues, may have been designed to articulate my thoughts or sway one of my friends through argument.

It’s worth considering, however, the extent to which my posts were performative. The arguments I made were certainly identifiers; they framed me in a certain way, allowed a visitor to my page to ‘sort’ me based on my political opinion. The way in which I knew that people would sort me based on my post — with the “good guys,” I hoped — had an impact on my self-conception as a liberal. By speaking out on an issue and articulating a liberal argument, I had proved my political bona fides to myself.

Especially in a university context, political self-perception can be just as important as perception about relative success, beauty or happiness.

-JT

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