Putting on a Front

I recently read an article on the idea that there are a defined number of “fronts” that we use when deciding what to post on social media, specifically Facebook.  He identified them as: The Partier, The Socialite, The Risk-Taker, The Comic, The Institutional Citizen, & The Eccentric – oddly closely resembling the members of the Breakfast Club.  The author argued that these categories allow Facebook friends to more quickly understand the messages that we are communicating and that this communication generally leaves a positive impression.  He went further and suggested the fronts are “central to performing as an undergraduate in front of peers.”  Viewed from this lens, he suggests that the social media process is less about Narcissism and more about participating in a socially expected manner.  Conformity would be the wrong word choice here, but there is a certain tinge of conformity to his suggestion.   I am more apt to spin it as harmonizing with your peers.

When harmonizing, the trick is to hit the right key.  Without the use of subtle social cues and facial expressions, it can often be safer to exist in these categories.  I would argue that these categories change over time as this article only deals with college aged students.  For instance, I might add the categories of “Involved Parent,” “Proud Foodie” or “Single and having fun!”  to my 30-something generation.

If social media is truly becoming a paralleled process to normal everyday interaction then we should treat it as such.  The danger is not social media, but when we mistake social media for the normal everyday interaction.  If you are having a bad day, don’t post it on Facebook or Twitter.  It does not resonate with the categories and will not yield positive results.  Use your normal everyday interactions for that purpose.  Lean over to your friend and say, “I’m really struggling today.”  They can listen, empathize, and comfort in real time.  Alternatively, use social media to reinforce the more important aspects of your personality.  Express that creativity and and wit, tag your friends and post on how you are training for a marathon.  Just remember when reading your newsfeed – fronts are exhibitions and are sometimes exaggerated.

So what front do you use on Social Media?  Would you suggest a separate category?  I felt while reading the article that people might be fluid in their categories depending on a variety of factors (ie. relationship status, commuter vs. residence hall status, greek involvement, performance of the school’s sports teams, etc.)  Is behavior on social media static enough to categorize?

-Logan Williamson, LPC
University Counseling Center

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