Social Media Explained, via Alter Egos

With the posting of a murdered woman’s body on Facebook this summer lingering for hours, the site’s reputation as the garbage dump of the Internet was sealed for me. What is it about Facebook that brings out the caveman in us? Why is it an epicenter of misogyny? Why are serious discussions mocked? Why does the same guy who is having an intelligent discussion with me on LinkedIn about the vulturous profits of Exxon, down fiery volcano shots live when he logs on to Facebook?

I have an alter ego theory that might explain this.

I think we all have alter egos. Avatars. You know—the stronger, prettier, curvier, braver, improved version of your hidden self. Desires, personified. Under cover of darkness, the cloak of anonymity, a blank slate to reinvent ourselves, or rewrite our story, the Internet encourages us to project our fantasies onto the screen, where we can see and breathe life into them.

An avatar, an assumed name, a fake email account allows the alter ego to grow, breed, blossom, thrive and sometimes, unfortunately, lurk. Other times, it’s invigorating and empowering: A shy tween can be a rock star princess on YouTube. A socially isolated college kid can be the leader of an online battle troupe in Minecraft. Thanks to social media and gaming, we can be anything we want—on the small screen.