Illusions of Approval with Online Deception in Social Media

The rapid growth of technology has allowed individuals a new medium to which they can seek for feelings of belongingness and approval that they are deprived of in reality. The nature of the virtual world is such that it is very easy for individuals to distort personal information, and this has lead to a phenomenon known as PID – personal information deception. A study conducted by Church and Thambusamy investigates the motivations behind PID online, confirming that competition is the driving force that fosters feelings of social and physical inadequacy in individuals, and that this is the main factor that instigates PID.  There are however pitfalls in trying to gain feelings of superiority through online competition, as it can have detrimental effects on our self-esteem. Trying to find fulfilment through the use of PID online may paradoxically cause individuals to feel unfulfilled, as feelings of belongingness and approval that one attains from winning online competition may be illusory.

In order to examine the motivators that cause PID, Church et al. propose the framework of self-regulation, a theoretical model that was developed to explore the relationship between competitive desires and their role on PID. They determined that social status and hedonism are the two main factors that instigate competitive feelings that lead to PID. This is similar to the social comparison theory raised by Garcia et al., which states that individuals are motivated through the need to assert or maintain their position of superiority relative to others. In this case, individuals may be compelled to distort personal information online in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage. By building a desirable image online, they may be perceived as beautiful and successful by others. These feelings of superiority can lead to increased feelings of admiration from others. Thus, they may adopt an online persona as an attempt to cover up their defects in reality, to avoid being condemned, and to feel a sense of approval, belonging and admiration.

@lizfarlinger connects this need for approval to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which focuses on describing the stages of growth in humans through a hierarchy of needs. People inherently need to feel a sense of love and belongingness in their community in order for them to proceed to the next stage of the hierarchy, namely, self-esteem. In relation to PID, perhaps as an attempt to gain a sense of self-esteem, individuals misrepresent personal to receive praise and feelings of approval from others. This need for validation may stem from an initial lack of belongingness and self-esteem.  Because these individuals are unable to embrace their imperfections, they may begin to cultivate an online persona that reflects their ideal selves. This can result in an attempt to seek for validation and belongingness through other people’s admiration of their online persona. Thus, they may use PID as a means to satisfy the crave for love and belongingness because they feel that they cannot receive a sufficient amount in reality.

Nonetheless, perhaps these feelings of dissatisfaction will persist because individuals cannot truly improve self-confidence if those feelings of belongingness are illusions. The disparity between ideal and reality may be due to the fact that they are dissatisfied with their real selves. This suggests that the individual is unable to accept their true self. The individual may build these personas, as it indirectly arouses feelings of acceptance in the individual. Thus, the emotions that are supposed to be felt by them are now experienced through a medium, namely, this online persona. The individual therefore may be deluded to think that they themselves are experiencing these feelings, when they are actually feeding themselves a bunch of illusions. This is because creating an online persona does not mean that their flaws in reality will magically disappear. When they return to reality, they may be confronted by the fact that their real selves are still defective. They may feel as though they are being fed with compliments and likes online, but the individual will always remain hungry because their true selves are starving.

Perhaps instead of using PID as a means of seeking approval from others, finding a better coping mechanism may be the key to building self-esteem. Perhaps these distorted online personas that we create carry a message about the emotions that they are essentially deprived of. Thus, instead of competing with others for superiority and approval, attempting to analyze the messages that they carry can potentially help the individual find real connections that give them a sense of belonging. By finding a place where they belong, the individual may be able to improve their sense of self-esteem and accept their true selves, even their flaws.


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