The 'real deal': Strategic authenticity, politics and social media
First Monday

The 'real deal': Strategic authenticity, politics and social media by Georgia Gaden and Delia Dumitrica

In this paper we explore what the notion of ‘authenticity’ stands for in contemporary discourses about social media. In particular, we question whether some of the discourses around authenticity on social media share the same ethical commitment to a democratic recognition of and engagement with the Other that early modern philosophical accounts argued for.


Authenticity: A historical overview
Authenticity in the information age: Blogging
Authenticity in political blogging
Social media: The new sites of political authenticity
Discussion: Strategic authenticity




In recent years, authenticity has become a buzzword as marketing professionals have become excited by the alleged power of social media to reveal, in their own words, “who you really are” (Cooke, 2013). What does being authentic mean in this context? What is the role that social media play in enabling an authentic self to be performed and recognized by others as a desirable value? If we are to listen to the recent plethora of expert advice, authenticity is about being yourself: “One of the first steps to being authentic in your social media communication is to find, establish and maintain your voice” (Stefanescu, 2013). Even scholars advise politicians to “demonstrate their authenticity” by updating their social media profiles with biographical information, “show their informal (non-political) side by sharing information about their hobbies and interests” and “avoid the perception of insincerity” (Grow and Ward, 2013). Being yourself on social media entails writing in an outspoken manner, using an informal (‘personal’) voice, and providing personal information, thus giving the impression that you are honest about what you stand for. It may well appear that authenticity is about both knowing and revealing who you are — an imagined essence defining your identity; the ‘real’ you. Yet, there is more to this story: ‘maintaining the authentic voice’ is the recommended strategy to becoming popular on social media and ‘having a following’. The ‘real’ self and ‘authentic voice’ must be sustained over time in order to preserve success.

Discussions of authenticity are not new, but the way in which ‘authenticity’ is understood has shifted throughout time (e.g., Taylor, 1992). In its early form, authenticity represented an ethic for leading our lives in a way that connects us, as individuals, to the community. Authenticity was to be the guarantor of equality and fairness. In this paper, we seek to explore the distance between this understanding of authenticity as an ethical principle and our contemporary vision of a social media-enabled authenticity as a strategy for success in the modern world. When it comes to social media, the meaning of authenticity has become enmeshed with political and market structures. We question the implications of this discursive articulation, by speculating about its ethical implications. The paper starts with a brief overview of the historical conceptualization of authenticity as an ethical system for leading a virtuous and, more importantly, an engaged life in the context of a democratic polis. We move on to recent discussions of authenticity in the context of social media. First, we look at how ‘authenticity’ makes its way into discussions of blogging (and particularly political blogging), only to become reimagined and entrenched as a strategy for creating and retaining both a loyal readership and commercial success. Second, we shift to examining how ‘authenticity’ is articulated in the relation to social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Twitter. As these sites are increasingly taken up by politicians, we witness a similar process of recommending ‘authenticity’ as a strategy for the successful presentation of the self online. In our concluding discussion we describe this as a rise of ‘strategic authenticity’: the transformation of ‘authenticity’ into a strategy for becoming successful. When comparing ‘strategic authenticity’ to earlier understandings of this concept, we find the former lacking as an ethic for leading a good life. ‘Strategic authenticity’ reinforces a consumerist attitude, where the individual presents herself on social media in order to be ‘consumed’ by others.



Authenticity: A historical overview

The rise of authenticity as a core ethical principle of modern life is usually traced back to Romanticism and Existentialism (Berman, 1970; Heter, 2006; Taylor, 1992). At the heart of these movements was a “persistent and intense concern with being oneself[1]. In that context, the emergence of ‘authenticity’ as a category for understanding one’s presence in the world was part of an intellectual shift re-defining the individual and her relation to the polis. Thinkers like Montesquieu and Rousseau were concerned with imagining a new form of engagement with the world, where authenticity becomes the basis for an ethic of leading a virtuous life (Berman, 1970). Authenticity meant knowing yourself, being true to yourself, and having the opportunity to do so. This new political ethic centered on authenticity sought to reconcile freedom, happiness and the ideal of a democratic polis. Importantly (and a little ironically in light of our argument here), the imperative of being ‘authentic’ (i.e., being true to your nature by refusing to buy into the constraints of social conventions) could only be fulfilled “through political activity and involvement” [2]. Berman further referred to this as ‘the politics of authenticity’: the freedom to be whomever you want could only be accomplished in a polis based on equality and freedom for all.

An authentic life thus required a democratic arrangement, where equality and freedom for all would be safeguarded by the civic participation of all members of the polis. This means that the emphasis on individual happiness and fulfilment does not end up fostering a hedonistic, atomized society, where each individual pursues her own pleasures and desires in complete disregard of others. An ‘authentic life’ is intrinsically connected to having the opportunity to discover who you are and having the opportunity to live the life you want. In other words, living authentically depends on others recognizing your right to do so, allowing you to be yourself. This also implies an acceptance of the rights of others to live authentically. Thus, as Heter argues, authenticity becomes a moral principle underlying the democratic polis, where “respect for others is as important for authenticity as awareness and responsibility are” [3]. In this tradition, authenticity meant recognizing the interdependence between ‘being for myself’ and ‘being for others’ [4].

In a sense, then, ‘authenticity’ was less about the discovery of the self and more about the social conditions under which this becomes possible. Here, politics becomes the arena where different actors compete over positioning their agendas as conducive to living an authentic life. For Berman, this marks the beginning of merging the political and the personal: “whoever you are, or want to be, you may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you” [5]. In these discussions, the notion of ‘authenticity’ brings together the (selfish) concern with the self and the concern for others (as a both a precondition and a consequence of the concern with the self). Thus married to each other, these concerns become envisaged as the prime movers of democratic politics.



Authenticity in the information age: Blogging

Coined by Jorn Barger in 1997, the term ‘weblog’ described texts which often were, literally, ‘logs of the Web’. Their creators compiled lists of links to sites of interest online, sometimes with a little commentary, with their most recent update appearing first. It wasn’t really until free, easy-to-use blogging software became available at the turn of the century that large numbers of bloggers without HTML coding skills took up the format for their own purposes. Topic-based blogs and personal journal style blogs proliferated. Early blogging aficionado Rebecca Blood saw authenticity as a hallmark of ‘good’ blogging. In her own blog, Rebecca’s Pocket, she describes the importance of the work of these early bloggers: “Their sarcasm and fearless commentary reminds us to question the vested interests of our sources of information and the expertise of individual reporters as they file news stories about subjects they may not fully understand” [6]. A good blogger, she continued, “speaks in an individual voice of an individual vision” [7]. Blood contrasts this ‘good blogger’ to commercial media, described as “a high-stakes world of carefully orchestrated messages designed to distract and manipulate” [8] in contrast, readers can clearly discern a blogger’s biases, ultimately making them a more predictable source. In her guide to the practice of blogging (the first such full-length guide), Blood takes up the discussion again: “A blog’s quality ...” she writes, “... is ultimately based on the authenticity of its voice ... the weblogger may not be respectful or even nice about the sites and stories he links, but readers can be sure he is not speaking to placate an important advertiser” [9]. Authenticity, the hallmark of a ‘good’ blog, here becomes understood as speaking in your ‘own voice’ and is clearly defined in opposition to the commercial, strategically planned productions of commercial media. Many of the early observations of blogging and new media culture (e.g., Kitzmann, 2003; Herring, et al., 2004, Mortensen and Walker, 2002) locate what is particular to these texts and practices within three discursive areas, which we sketch here. Personality, connectivity, and immediacy and regularity are all often discussed as central to the character of new media, what makes texts like blogs ‘new’. Here, we suggest that these characteristics are also tied to discourses of authenticity around social media.


The availability of user-friendly software such as BlogSpot, Moveable Type, and Wordpress was accompanied by a rapid popularization of the personal diary blog (Siles, 2011). Such blogs provided personal information, recording the details of everyday life in a casual, conversational tone. Even “the scantiest of blog narratives”, McNeill notes in her assessment of blogging, “incorporates ‘trademark’ diary features ... the diary component ... seems essential to the Weblog” [10]. Andreas Kitzmann (2003) also connects blogging diary writing with traditional, off-line, ‘written’ diaries, pointing to authenticity as a feature of these blogs. Diaries, both online and off-line, can act as an “avatar, literally standing in place for the writer” [11]. Authenticity becomes understood as a realism produced in these texts through the provision of detailed, mundane and personal content.

At the time, this emphasis on the ‘real self’ was very much articulated against other practices of online identity constructions such as MOOs and virtual communities, where “simulation is assumed and expected” [12]. In contrast, the diary blogosphere valued the ‘authentic’ presentation of the self as a symbol of genuine communication, as well as a means for community participation (e.g., Miller and Shepherd, 2004; Mortensen and Walker, 2002). As Kitzmann explains, “one thus belongs to the community by writing from the heart and the home — these corporeal and cultural places where authenticity and reality are believed to reside” [13]. As a result of being personal — as well as having a clearly defined personality — authenticity comes to be understood as the freedom to represent yourself openly in a semi-public, online arena. It brings together the writer and the reader, who is given a “voyeuristic thrill ... a sensation of having entered another’s personal, private world” [14]. This private world is not only the ‘real thing’, but also ‘realistically’ achieved in the blogs through the provision of personal details; reality, as Kitzmann observes, becomes fetishized and “proclaimed as a kind of value” [15].


Links are another crucial characteristic of blogs, leading to the creation of networks, an often lauded integral feature of Web 2.0. (e.g., O’Reilly, 2005). McNeill points out that links, and the connectivity they simultaneously build and signify, are also contexts for the production of authenticity: “By following the links, readers can in a sense share the diarist’s experiences, see as he or she does, rather than relying on the diarist’s textual descriptions, and thus these links foster a greater sense of intimacy between writer and audience. They also, arguably, add to the reader’s sense of the diary’s “authenticity,” because the narrative is anchored in “actual” places and people that members of the audience may also recognize, making them feel part of the narrative, as ‘insiders’ who are part of the community the diarist addresses” [16]. The presence of links to other bloggers or other type of content is often seen as part and parcel of the representation of the ‘personal’ self: “a blog is also characterized by its reflection of a personal style, and this style may be reflected in either the writing or the selection of links passed along to readers” (Downes, 2004). The hyperlinks make the ‘real self’ available, as a series of preferences and symbolic connections that are meant to give readers a deeper understanding of who the blogger truly is.

Immediacy and regularity

Last, but not least, blogs were understood as ‘immediate’ — or potentially immediate — forms of communication. The ‘authentic’ self of the blogger can be made available at any moment in time, as technically all one has to do is click ‘publish’ in order to make herself/ himself ‘public’. As Kitzmann [17] explains, this brings blogs closer to ‘live’ communication; and it is precisely this ‘live’ quality of the communication of the self that produces the feeling of authenticity.

At the same time, blogs also have to be regularly updated. The Oxford English Dictionary defined ‘weblog’ as: “A frequently updated web site consisting of personal observations, excerpts from other sources, etc., typically run by a single person, and usually with hyperlinks to other sites; an online journal or diary” [18]. The ‘authenticity’ of the blogger is thus also constructed through regular updates on his or her intimate perspective. This view of the ‘real self’ enabled by immediate and regular updates has to be understood against an emerging reconceptualization of traditional media as producing ‘delayed’ and ‘edited’ texts. Unlike such communication forms, the ‘authenticity’ of blogging appears as a result of the possibility to present your own self to the world on an ongoing basis, or ‘as it unfolds’.



Authenticity in political blogging

As the genres and technological platforms of blogging gradually stabilized, journalists and political commentators were among the first to appropriate them as means of reaching out to their audiences (e.g., Graves, 2007; Miller and Shepherd, 2009; Siles, 2011). Bloggers writing about politics earned recognition in the mainstream media with early heavy-hitters such as Charles Johnson (Little Green Footballs), Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos), and Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) appearing as talking heads on mainstream news shows, being published in print, and professionalizing their practices. In spite of being numerically inferior to personal journal blogs in the early 2000s, such ‘public affairs’ bloggers were certainly more influential (Miller and Shepherd, 2009). In 2005-6, a Pew Internet study on blogging reported that while personal life was the number one topic of blogs, politics and government emerged as the second most popular topic (albeit consisting of only 11 percent of the surveyed bloggers) (cited in Miller and Shepherd, 2009).

The 2004 U.S. presidential campaigns not only raised the profile of political bloggers, but also brought the use of blogs by politicians to the forefront, linking these means of communication to political ends (e.g., Farrell and Drezner, 2008; Miller and Shepherd, 2009; Trent, et al., 2011). In their discussion of the influence of bloggers on politics, Farrell and Drezner (2008) conclude that as politicians incorporate blogs into their campaign strategies, “we also expect blogs will lose some of their disruptive impact ... by the same token, we predict political blogs will become increasingly pervasive tool through which politicians and others will seek to influence political debate” [19].

The marriage of blogs and electoral campaigns raises important questions about the blogs’ alleged ability to mirror the ‘real, authentic’ self. In many ways, politicians’ blogs become a means of extending the politicians’ reach, strategically attracting voters in ways often understood as ‘unmediated’ (as opposed to relying on traditional media to attract supporters). This strategic aspect of using blogs needs to be understood in relation to the early excitement over the possibility that blogs could close the ‘distance’ between politicians and citizens (for a critical discussion of this excitement, see Coleman and Wright, 2008; Francoli and Ward, 2008). The excitement often stemmed from the perceived immediacy of blogs where the politician-blogger and the reader can be seen as engaged in a direct (i.e., ‘unmediated’, as discussed above) dialogue with each other (through blog posts and comments, for instance). This gives the politician-blogger a chance to “present an appearance of listening to comments from the public and to change their messages accordingly” [20].

Such excitement is echoed in the comments of this U.K. politician, an early user of blogs. Blogging, she argued, was a form of “thinking and writing that appealed — that I did not really approach ... from the point of view of the campaign — or with any degree of consciousness about it being read. It was more therapy for me and it helped me form my own views on issues as I mulled over and analysed my time and my thoughts” [21]. The blog, she adds, is a mirror of her point of view: “If it isn’t personal — then what’s the point?” [22]. In this case, the practice of blogging is cast as an avenue for self-reflexivity, for making explicit those very elements that come to form a politician’s personality, her choices and decisions. As another politician in the same study points out, blogging is about having “one’s voice heard” [23].

However appealing this vision of politicians-bloggers may be, it is important to remember that politicians adopt new communication technologies for strategic reasons. In their study of politicians’ blogs in U.K. and Canada, Francoli and Ward (2008) found that in several instances, these blogs are in fact run on the politician’s behalf; the ‘personality’ or ‘personalization’ aspect is largely missing in such cases. “For some, blogging represents a continuation of their old media strategies, but in a newer and more convenient format ... For others, blogs have a more personal cathartic benefit ... However, many political blogs look like the traditional soapbox and megaphone used in town square meetings — where most people ignore the speaker and walk on by, a few people stop, and some shout abuse but few actually listen or debate” [24].

The marriage between ‘authenticity’ and politics is, of course, not new. On the one hand, democratic politics has been marred by disengagement, skepticism and growing social inequalities. While some advocate the need to make politics more attractive (e.g., Coleman, 2007), others note that politics has always entailed a focus on the ‘real’ self of leaders (Langer, 2011). The question of the leader’s character has always been an important element in citizens’ decision to support a politician or not; good leadership is understood as a consequence of good character (Langer, 2011). Langer (2011) notes that contemporary politics is characterized by two related trends: presidentialisation of power (concentration of power in the hands of leaders) and personality politics (increased attention to details of personal lives of politicians). Knowing which TV shows our leaders indulge in, where they go out for dinner and what car they drive has become a staple of media coverage as politicians attract similar attention to celebrities in sports or entertainment.

On their side, politicians adapt to the logic of the dominant medium of communication in order to reach large numbers of voters. Blogs and, as discussed next, SNS build on the older promise that television made: that it will reveal the ‘true’ character of politicians, by giving us an ‘unmediated’ glimpse into their private lives. It is worth remembering that back in its heyday, television was dubbed the “delivery system for intimacy” [25]. It is thus less surprising that the very features with which early blogging aficionados endowed these forms of communication go back to the very promise of ‘direct’ access to the ‘real self’.

While political blogging continues to exist, public attention is now focused on the Twitter feeds and Facebook posts of politicians. Next we draw attention to how discussions of the ‘authenticity’ of politicians using social media have both quickly emerged and are accompanied by a similar shift from presenting the ‘real’ self to thinking about the ‘presentation of the real self’ in strategic terms.



Social media: The new sites of political authenticity

Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential election campaigns made social media the ‘prodigy’ medium that journalists, pundits and, perhaps to a lesser extent, citizens at large come to associate with a successful, honest and engaged electoral candidate. Social media, we are often told, allow us to communicate with each other, thus becoming both more intimately tied together and more knowledgeable of each other and of the world. For instance, Facebook’s slogan is “connect with friends and the world around you”, Twitter (2013) entices us to “find out what’s happening, right now, with the people and organizations you care about”, while Instagram positions itself as a “fast, beautiful and fun way to share your life with friends and family” (Instagram, 2013). Even the dubious collective label — social media — alludes to the alleged core purpose of these technologies: communication aimed at creating and strengthening social bond, usually by making yourself known to others. The assumption behind the imperative “share and connect” is that sharing personal details leads to tighter social ties, as well as intimate and relevant knowledge of significant others (friends, family, or organizations we care about) and of the world (John, 2013). The impetus of ‘share and connect’ becomes an expectation and a norm in such online environments, not unlike the early practices of blogging, further entrenching personality, connectivity, and immediacy as central values of SNS.

The promise that the ‘real self’ will be somehow guaranteed by the mere fact of using SNS is particularly interesting in the context of the articulation of ‘authenticity’ and ‘politics’. Two years after Obama sold young voters and political commentators on the effectiveness of using SNS as electoral tools, a Canadian politician’s use of Facebook and Twitter was widely discussed for its ‘authenticity’. In the 2010 municipal elections in Calgary, Naheed Nenshi’s victory was heralded by many, including Nenshi himself, as an example of the ‘authentic’ politician-citizen interaction. Social media, Nenshi declared, allowed him to directly respond to and engage citizens. Invoking the themes of connectivity and immediacy that we have already encountered in the case of blogs, Nenshi explained: “I regularly answer people’s questions and further the conversation” (Braid, 2010). Nenshi had launched his candidacy on Twitter, explaining that such communication platforms allowed him to be connected to citizens in an ‘unmediated’ way: “if someone posts on my Facebook fan page, I can respond to it” (Gignac, 2010).

Over and over again, the politician and his campaign staff emphasized that the mayor-to-be was the only one accessing his own Facebook and Twitter accounts: “The only person who had the password to Nenshi’s Twitter account was Nenshi. There was no second account set up for the campaign. Everybody was real. Every person that worked for the Nenshi campaign had their own Twitter account, which allowed us to have authentic communications across the medium” (Davy, 2010). Authenticity in this context meant that Nenshi was the only one communicating under Nenshi’s name on social media; citizens could be certain that they were talking to the politician himself and not a public relations staff member.

Yet, authenticity seems to mean a bit more than just connecting directly to the politician and receiving an answer from him or her in real time. After all, as The Telecom Blog noted, “follow a politician on Twitter and you’ll get a boring litany of carefully prepared statements and bland talking points” (Richardson, 2010). For Judith Timson (2013) of the Toronto Star, the quest for authenticity in political life has to do precisely with this feeling of being fed up with “they hype and the canned political messaging.” Just like in the early days of blogging, authenticity stands in opposition to strategically crafted messages aimed at manipulating or persuading consumers or, in this case, voters. On social media, being authentic means getting personal and having personality; both of which come to signify ‘being real’ as opposed to putting up a façade or playing a (public) role. One blogger commenting on the 2010 Calgary campaign argued that “the message that Twitter can put out for someone is: here I am, this is actually me writing this, I am honest, this is how I think, you can ask me things, I know what I’m talking about, anyone can test me and access me, you will see who I am through how I choose to respond or not respond” (Pashak, 2010). Authenticity in politics is not simply about the politician revealing the ‘real self’ to persuade voters that s/he is “someone voters want to have a beer with”, but rather about “a leader who comes across as authentically in his or her own skin, not spouting platitudes, panaceas, but one whose words and actions, in a very cynical age, people can believe” (Timson, 2013). Social media appears as the lie detector of the day: “You can’t be a phony and get away with it. You’ll reek of it on YouTube” (Timson, 2013).

Yet, at the same time, this act of making the ‘self’ available to others cannot be divorced from “what Jodi Dean (2002) calls the ‘ideology of publicity’, in which we value whatever grabs the public’s attention” [26]. Ironically, the more Nenshi, his campaigners and the media discussed his social media-enabled authenticity, the more the latter appeared as the ‘right’ electoral strategy. Authenticity emerges as the best way of winning votes, and campaigners start explaining how it can be achieved. Nenshi’s success becomes understood as the results of building “an authentic brand of conversing with people via multiple mediums” (Fekete, 2010). A blog post on Mashable explains how political campaigns can use social media: by sharing the politician’s “beliefs and goals” and by “directly responding to followers” (Fitzpatrick, 2011). But this is also old news: authenticity in social media is not very different from practices such as canvassing or tabloid coverage of the private lives of political leaders (Langer, 2011). What is worth noting is that with the change in the medium, the latter becomes a guarantor of politicians’ intentions (Dumitrica, 2014). Social media becomes the ‘test’ that politicians must learn to pass in order to gather votes.



Discussion: Strategic authenticity

Throughout this paper, we have showed how the notions of ‘authenticity’ and ‘social media’ become temporarily articulated with each other (Hall and Grossberg, 1986). Articulation stands here for the idea that meaning does not simply emerge out of the words we use, but rather stems from the particular organization of words and ideas into a narrative that is part of a wider ideology. In this section, we seek to explore the narrative constructed by the articulation of ‘social media’ and ‘authenticity’, and think about it in relation to to early philosophical conceptualizations of ‘authenticity’ as a core ethical principle of modernity. For these philosophers, authenticity entailed an ethos of democratic participation which implied recognition of the Other (i.e., the realization of the necessity of recognizing, respecting and making room for difference from yourself). We ask to what extent the conceptualization of authenticity in the relation to blogging and social media is — or rather, is not — consistent with this philosophical tradition. What are the underlying values and worldviews that today’s notion of authenticity through social media recommends?

In a brief essay on bullshit, philosopher Harry Frankfurt (2005) suggests that Western democracies are confronted with a major epistemological problem. On the one hand, there is an increased expectation that we generally have to offer opinions on things we do not really know anything about; as responsible citizens, we have to have opinions about our polis. But we also live in a time of skepticism; epistemologically, the possibility of really ‘knowing’ the world and the possibility of identity as an ‘inner essence’ have been under great challenge. As a result, argues Frankfurt, we are no longer looking for the ‘truth’, but merely for ‘sincerity’: “Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself” [27]. For many early practitioners, blogging represented a credible and valuable practice of conveying the ‘real self’ in a sincere manner. In this context, authenticity meant that the blogger was speaking on her own behalf and not as a representative of an institution (such as traditional news organizations) or of commercial interests. To use Frankfurt’s argument, the speaker provided ‘honest representations of the self’, where ‘honesty’ stemmed from the speaker’s willingness to share her personal life and her personality as part of an ongoing and immediate process of communication.

As authenticity becomes taken up in discussions around ‘good blogging’, the practice of blogging itself promises to guarantee the authenticity of the speaker. The authentic blogger is ‘recognized’ by Others, who start to follow her and include her in networks created by blogrolls. Perceived ‘authenticity’ thus becomes valuable, as it promotes credibility and likeability leading to increased visibility/popularity of the blogger. As this publicity becomes a form of success (reputational or financial), authenticity becomes a recommended strategy for the presentation of the self that results in a loyal audience and an increased visibility (through links, likes, shares, or re-tweets) in the public arena.

How does this ‘strategic authenticity’ compare to the earlier understandings of ‘authenticity’ as an ethic of living in a democratic polis? For existentialist philosophers, authenticity represented the prime mover of the recognition — and tolerance — of difference: to live authentically implied to recognize the right of the Other to be different. Authenticity thus required that the Self and the Other establish a relationship between them that will eventually result in cooperation, cohabitation and mutual respect. This particular relationship with the Other, we argue, becomes lost in the articulations of ‘authenticity’ and ‘social media’ discussed here.

It is not the case that the Other is no longer present. Quite on the contrary! The relation with the Other becomes one of consumption: the Self is offered, through practices of blogging or of social media use, for the consumption of the Other. The Other, by linking, liking, sharing, posting or re-tweeting, validates the ‘authenticity’ of the Self, its worth and validity. The act of being consumed by Others entails the recognition and validation of the ‘authentic’ Self in the public-private space created by social media (Papacharissi, 2010). On the other hand, the Other is also present in the ‘imagined audience’ for whom the social media user shares herself online. As Ervin Goffman (1959) remarked, this is part and parcel of any social relations: we present ourselves to the imagined Other. In the presentation of the ‘authentic’ self on social media however, the emphasis on authenticity hides away the role of the relation Self/Imagined Other in the actual construction of the Self. In other words, the ‘authentic’ self appears to be a process of witty narration of an inner personality made available for subsequent consumption by the audience.

The assumption of this inner personality is, of course, highly problematic, as it essentializes the Self. More importantly, the Self is essentialized as a commodity to be consumed by the Other; this also opens up a particular subject position for the Other, who is to be understood as a ‘consumer’ and thus to be ‘satisfied’ in his consumption process, rather than known, understood, or respected. This approach to the Self and Other is rooted in an instrumental logic: the ‘authentic’ self becomes a strategy for ensuring a loyal base of followers. The ‘genuine’ connection to the Other is one driven by a quick sale to co-opt the Other. The driving force of this relationship is not the recognition and working out of difference, but rather consumption and strategic use of the Other for the promotion of the Self. End of article


About the authors

Georgia Gaden is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication and Culture at the University of Calgary. She is interested in the relationship between the self and social media use.
E-mail: georgiagaden [at] gmail [dot] com

Delia Dumitrica is a Visiting Professor in Communication at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus. Her research focuses on discursive constructions of digital media, electoral politics and digital media, civic engagement and digital media.
E-mail: dumitricad [at] slu [dot] edu



1. Berman, 1970, p. xv.

2. Berman, 1970, p. 216.

3. Heter, 2006, p. 84.

4. Heter, 2006, pp. 24–25.

5. Berman, 1970, p. 325.

6. Blood, 2000, n.p., emphasis ours.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Blood, 2002, p. 15.

10. McNeill, 2003, p. 29.

11. Kitzmann, 2003, p. 54.

12. Kitzmann, 2003, p. 61.

13. Kitzmann, 2003, p. 55.

14. Ibid.

15. Kitzmann, 2003, p. 60.

16. McNeill, 2003, p. 33.

17. Kitzmann, 2003, p. 60.

18. OED in Richardson, et al., 2013, p. 75.

19. Farrell and Drezner, 2008, p. 29.

20. Coleman and Wright, 2008, p. 2.

21. Quoted in Ferguson and Griffiths, 2006, p. 367.

22. Ferguson and Griffiths, 2006, p. 370.

23. Ferguson and Griffiths, 2006, p. 368.

24. Francoli and Ward, 2008, p. 37.

25. Hart quoted in Parry-Giles and Parry-Giles, 2002, p. 24.

26. Marwick and boyd, 2011, p. 119.

27. Frankfurt, 2005, p. 65.



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Editorial history

Received 11 December 2013; accepted 27 December 2014.

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This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The ‘real deal’: Strategic authenticity, politics and social media
by Georgia Gaden and Delia Dumitrica.
First Monday, Volume 20, Number 1 - 5 January 2015

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

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