Sherry Turkle maintains that the Internet is now a site for the construction of one’s identity, a place where ‘we project ourselves into our own dramas, dramas in which we are producer, director and star.’ According to Turkle, [multi-user dimension participants] become not only authors of text in cyberspace but also authors of themselves, manifesting fluid and multiple identities. (Dixon 471)
The Internet offers users a chance to communicate instantly with people from around the world, and make new friends with similar interests. We communicate without being physically present in a virtual “place,” which allows users, if they desire, to create alternate versions of themselves. This is obvious in virtual reality video games like Second Life, self-described as “a 3D virtual world where users can socialize, connect and create using free voice and text chat,” where users create virtual avatars. Some users choose to create virtual versions of themselves very similar to their physical self, while others choose to create a separate virtual identity with a different gender, race, age or appearance, for example. The virtual sphere acts “as a space to rehearse, explore, reconfigure and act out different permutations of one's self and identity” (Dixon 471).
While selfies are more restrictive because they offer a seemingly “true” portrayal of the subject, the virtual identity is still open to performance or creation. The Oxford Dictionaries define a selfie as, “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website” (“selfie,” emphasis added). It is not just the act of taking a self-portrait that makes it a “selfie”; the act of editing and posting that image online as part of a virtual identity plays a vital role in the classification. The nature of portraiture gives it the illusion of truth, but the selfie’s truth is a mediated truth. It is the version of the truth we choose to present online. A user will only choose certain images taken to post online, and those images are often cropped and filtered to create a better version of ourselves. It becomes a “mechanism for achieving that desired identity. The right self-portrait directs others to see us the way we desire to be seen” (Cep).
For celebrities, the selfie gives their fans a supposed up-close-and-personal snapshot into their lives, but it also serves as a means of power: “Attention is power. And if you are someone people are interested in, then the selfie provides something very powerful, from the most privileged perspective possible” (Franco). Despite the idea that a celebrity selfie has “value regardless of the photo’s quality” (Franco), there is no shortage of celebrity selfie controversies, from U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s sexts to Geraldo Rivera’s shirtless selfie (Wortham). Other celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, are accused of editing their selfies before posting them online (Watts); they are supposed to be intimate, real glimpses into the celebrity’s life, but they are mediated.
The selfie has become more than just posting a standard self-portrait, with some selfie trends expanding to more of a performance. From posting selfies at funerals to planking (the act of “lying face down with your hands by your sides, and toes pointed straight down. Although there are no set rules as to where [planking] takes place, it is often done in precarious places so one can show off to friends. Photos of people performing [planking] are often posted on social media sites, such as Facebook and Tumblr” (Funky W.)), performance selfies show the subject in a fun or interesting situation – it brings attention to the subject – and furthers that desired identity; that the subject is a fun or interesting person who should be admired. Additionally, as Wortham describes, the performance selfie provides “a kind of visual diary, a way to mark our short existence and hold it up to others as proof that we were here.”