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The Relationship between Language, Identity and Social Media Saffiyah Patel

According to the Oxford dictionary Social media is ‘websites and applications that enable users to share and create content or to participate in social networking’.

Fouts on the other hand, describes social media as

‘The hottest craze right now but it is really the new title for a very old method of communicating’ (Fouts, Pg 8, 2009)

Social media brings individuals together from all backgrounds, races and cultures. Even though there are many benefits to social media there are also many disadvantages of using certain platforms. According to Hootsuite 5.2 billion of us now have mobile phones. 4.5 of these individuals are connected to the internet and 3.8 are avid social media users.  Showing just how many individuals use social media and how their language may be affected.

According to Simon Kemp, the CEO of Kepios[1] 6 hours and 43 minutes are spent each day simply online. Henk Campher the vice president of cooperate marketing at Hootsuite also describes social media platforms as the following (Koetsier, Forbes, 2020)

  1. Facebook as the audience that knows you.
  2. Instagram as the ‘Hollywood’ of social media.
  3. Twitter where you find out what is happening right here, right now.
  4. LinkedIn- The place for professional sharing.
  5. Snapchat where you can connect with close friends.
  6. YouTube the entertainment centre.

Showcasing how social media is taking over lives of individuals and almost replacing reality. Individuals, especially the younger generation have learnt to adapt to this ‘new reality’ and face an ‘artificial society’ (Van Dijck & Poell, Pg 14, 2013)

According to Justin Healey it is the younger generation and teenagers who use social media more on an average of 2-3 hours (Healey, 2017).

However, social media can be used by anyone as individuals can be completely anonymous or use pseudonyms to get online. Individuals online can post opinions, their interests and even photos. In the virtual world people are able to escape preconceptions or stereotypes and be accepted. Hence the generation today prefer the online world rather than the real world (Perdew, 2016). Perdew calls this the ‘playing field’ where individuals come together and accept different online identities (Perdew, Pg 21, 2016) and do not judge one another.

However, with this also comes the negatives.  Catfishing[2] is also on the rise today with the rise of social influencers and YouTubers. As of June 2018, an average of 64% of women are catfished, 73% of catfishers use photos of others rather than themselves and 25% of catfishers use phony details even for business purposes. Dozens of women are ‘catfished’ more than men where individuals steal their photos and impersonate them (Benwell, The Guardian, 2019).It can also take months to track down the imposter. According to Cooke, catfishing occurs mostly on online dating apps and 1 in 7 accounts are actually frauds (Cooke, 2019). Even though there have been many warnings from the Federal Trade Commission more than 50% of victims were targeted last year in 2019. The question that may arise is why do individuals feel the need to steal identities and impersonate others? Catfishers use stolen photos to seem attractive and manipulate people into trusting them (Cooke, 2019).

Not only are identities impersonated, cyberbullying has also been on the rise due to the avid use of social media.

‘When cyberbullying incidents are linked with suicides, social media companies find themselves in the spotlight’ (Milosevic, 2018)

Keeffe et al describe adolescents facing a ‘Facebook depression’ and discusses how parents are not monitoring children’s use online (Keeffe et al, 2011). Due to individuals becoming anonymous and losing their real identity they are able to create a fake persona and engage in hate and abuse online. The impact of cyberbullying has also led to an increase in suicide rates and self-harm (Knapton, 2018). In addition, due to the high demand of ‘self-conscious commodification’ individuals feel the need to join an ‘in group’ i.e. bullies and portray themselves as abusive when in reality they may not be (Marwick & Boyd, 2011) but want a status.

However, it is also important to consider that not all communications on social media are negative. Even though cyberbullying has led to an increased suicide rate, online communication has also given mental health services the opportunity to come together and care for those struggling. Individuals are able to speak anonymously about their stresses and mental health. Devon discusses how therapy for some individuals may not be effective and so individuals coming together online creates a sense of ‘togetherness’ and an ‘anonymous self presentation’ (Devon, 2018). In addition to this, there are also many blogs online such as ‘Tea with Strangers’ where individuals can come together and ‘have a conversation’  but be anonymous simultaneously.  

Additionally, social media has also had an effect on language. Writing has become more summarised and more abbreviations are used. Users are able to rapidly express themselves through abbreviations such ‘idc’[3] and ‘idk’[4]. This has led to the decline in structure of syntax and has instead led to less punctuation and less words being said/used. According to the Global Language Monitor around 5,400 words are created every year, half being compounded or being ‘portmanteaus words’ (Bodle, The Guardian, 2016) showing that language is affected in some way. Portraying that new words and new ways of communicating are on the rise perhaps affecting our speaking and writing skills.

However, even though the use of slang and abbreviations has led to increased levels of sarcasm and the decline in syntactical structures, it has also led to literacy achievements according to researchers at Coventry University. Researchers Beverly Plester and Clare Wood found that individuals using text abbreviations meant more skills were found in reading and writing.  Most text abbreviations are phonetic based such as ‘wot’ for ‘what’. The researchers also found that those better at spelling and writing used more ‘textisms’ (Smith, The Guardian, 2006). Therefore, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that slang and abbreviations only affect language negatively. Individuals have learnt to become versatile and acknowledge when to use slang and when no to portraying a skill which can enhance learning and communication.

Overall, it may be argued that social media has given a boost to the English Language and has enhanced communication however, there are many setbacks also. Social media can not only lead to cyberbullying but identities may also be stolen and fake news can be spread. However, social media is now a necessity in society and without it individuals are seen as ‘weird and uncool’ (Blakeman, BBN Times, 2018) and therefore, instead of being part of the ‘out group’ individuals would rather fit in and use social media as a daily part of their lives.

Word count: 1121/1000


Bodle, A, 2016,  How New Words Are Born The Guardian, <> [Accessed: 22nd April 2020]

Blakeman, S, 2018, Are you weird if you do not use social media? BBN Times, <> [Accessed: 22nd April 2020]

Cooke, K, 2019 Catfishing Numbers by State HighSpeedInternet <> [Accessed: 22nd April 2020]

Fouts, J, 2009, Social Media Success! Happy About, California, USA

Healey, J, 2017, Social Media and Young People Spinney Press, UK

Keeffe, G, 2011,  CyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming, and Social Media, American Academy of Pediatrics 2011, USA

Koetsier, J, 2019, Forbes, <> [Accessed 22nd April 2020]

Knapton, S, 2018, Cyberbullying makes young people twice as likely to self-harm or attempt suicide <> [Accessed: 23rd April]

Marwick A, Boyd, D, 2013, Networked Privacy: How teenagers negotiate context in Social Media Fordham University, USA, Microsoft Research, USA

Milosevic, T, 2018, Protecting Children Online The MIT Press, Cambridge, UK

Oxford Dictionary of English, 2010, Oxford University Press

Perdew, L, 2016, Online Identity, Abdo Publishing, Minnesota, USA

Smith, A, 2006, Texting slang aiding children’s language skills <> [Accessed 24th April 2020]

Van Dijck, J, Poell, T, 2013, Understanding Social Media Logic,  Department of Media Studies, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Websites used:

Stand Against Violence, 2005, Increased suicide rates due to social media [Accessed: 24th April 2020]

Tea With Strangers, 2016

< > [Accessed: 24th April]

[1] Kepios: A marketing consultancy.

[2] A fictional online persona that people create.

[3] I don’t care.

[4] I don’t know.

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