Derek Thompson in The Economist:
A friend who stumbled upon my Twitter account told me that my tweets made me sound like an unrecognisable jerk. “You’re much nicer than this in real life,” she said. This is a common refrain about social media: that they make people behave worse than they do in “real life”. On Twitter, I snark. On Facebook, I preen. On Instagram, I pose. On Snapchat, I goof. It is tempting to say, as my friend suggested, that these online identities are caricatures of the real me. It is certainly true that social media can unleash the cruellest side of human nature. For many women and minorities, the virtual world is a hellscape of bullying and taunting. But as face-to-face conversation becomes rarer it’s time to stop thinking that it is authentic and social media are artificial. Preener, snarker, poser, goof: they’re all real, and they’re all me.
The internet and social media don’t create new personalities; they allow people to express sides of themselves that social norms discourage in the “real world”. Some people want to lark around in the office but fear their boss will look dimly on their behaviour. Snapchat, however, provides them with an outlet for the natural impulse to caper without disturbing their colleagues. Facebook and Instagram encourage pride in one’s achievements that might appear unseemly in other circumstances. We may come to see face-to-face conversation as the social medium that most distorts our personalities. It requires us to speak even when we don’t know what to say and forces us to be pleasant or acquiescent when we would rather not.
But how does the internet manage to elicit such different sides of our personality? And why should social media reveal some aspect of our humanity that many centuries of chit-chat failed to unearth?