Performance Self-Censorship: Showing Others What We Think They Want to See

© Copyright 2017 Sarah Mariotti, Ryerson University

An Instagram profile capture
Mariotti, Sarah. “Looking at Self-Censorship Performance,” Instagram. April 2017.
Mariotti, Sarah. “Looking at Self-Censorship Performance,” Instagram. April 2017.


I. Introduction

Social media as an experience is interactive. It is designed to provide us with quick and easy human connections. Considering social media heavily depends on pictures, users often use that aspect as a way of showing off moments they have experienced – showing as telling. The assembly of these photos creates a series of (often lasting) impressions for how this person’s life is lived or shaped – including class, interests, social interaction, profession, and personal life. This project investigates the motive behind the decisions of social media users, specifically on Instagram, on what to share with their followers, and then looks at how some users may choose to challenge these performances. A growing trend in the contemporary era is a way to resist these aspects of standard public image sharing. This experiment I tried, along with many Instagram users, is a spam account called a finstagram (finsta), meaning fake-Instagram account. The process of undermining the performance of social media, while also still performing on social media platforms, deals with the culture of image production and consumption, the concept of self-censorship, and redefining public cyber spaces as semi-private.

II. Process of Creation

The self-imaging tactics I have analyzed, rehearsed, and presented through comparing my real and public Instagram account, @sarahmariotti, with my spam/finstagram account, @mari_hottie, make me believe that we have the ability to counterattack the social media structure. Pressures that users take on are entirely rooted in social construct. The decision to participate in this performance comes from comparison and the perceived notions of other’s lives, as well as the want to construct a beautifully illustrated life. The user has full control of what to display. A feminist essay on self-imaging and Instagram by Magdalena Olszanowski states that, “In a self-imaging practice, the artist is the object and the subject at the same time – a threat to the social order of image production and consumption” (Olszanowski 1).

During this project, I had a very aware conscious of what I was viewing in my daily routines. Questions like, what would I want other people to see me encounter? Does this exemplify the persona I am trying to create with my Instagram account(s)? were always being used to examine my surroundings. Users are ultimately just posting pictures of their routine, particularly when it proves to be extraordinary. The spam account, from my experience, is used as an outlet to share funny anecdotes of my day, random experiences, or less-than-adequate photography. A spam account compliments your already constructed cyber-personality, as finstagram accounts are created by users who also run regular personal Instagram accounts. Many Instagram users put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform at high levels; it turns into a competition for them.

III. How the Form of my Project Engages Self-Censorship

Number of likes and comments, photo composition and aesthetic, choice of clothing and other materialistic items, events being shown, et cetera, are all involved in having and maintaining a social status through Instagram. It applies also to platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, et cetera. With a spam outlet enabling users to relieve themselves of all of those fabricated, visible status-indicators, users are undermining the social media performance with self-censorship. To be clear, self-censorship is defined as “withholding relevant ideas for self-protective reasons” (Detert & Edmondson, 2011, p. 462). These ideas can include photos – as photos are fabricated to prompt thoughts and ideas, they are not tangible moments.

The culture of image production and consumption is altered when sharing content with a closer and smaller group of, often trusted, friends. These would be people who know you well, and know what your life is like in reality – they wouldn’t need a meticulously constructed Instagram feed to inform them of your lifestyle and personality. Viewing someone’s life though a social media lens leads to an ideological construction of the life he or she lives. After taking a look at the two Instagram profiles provided by my project, think about the lifestyle or personality the person running each account may have. Considering the accounts are both run by the same person, it is obvious that we have full reign when it comes to portraying ourselves on social media. I can make it appear as if I am sophisticated, care about my appearance, enjoy adventuring and eating healthy, or I could make it appear as though I don’t care about filters, what people think of me and my appearance, or am more carefree about my sense of humor. Through the spam account, I have the agency to share content, not thinking about how many likes each post will receive. I have redefined a public space as semi-private. This is the agency I have discovered in running a finstagram.

IV. Influencers and Intellectual Context:

The desire to present one’s social status through images has been ongoing for centuries. Garner and Hancock state in their essay on Erving Goffman, “Self-construction and the structure of the self are seen largely in trans-historical and universal processes” (Garner, Hancock 165). European portraits in the fifteenth century were created to express something about who a person is. In the Renaissance era, each painter’s goal was to depict a unique sense of identity and reality for their portraits (Sorabella, 1). This desire to recreate a person’s identity still exists in contemporary culture. Instagram, a result of capitalism, proves that. However, the flaws in the culture produced by capitalism extend so far as to remove us from our own lives (Lecture 12). Users struggle to have meaningful connections with each other, as we are awarded with a false consciousness of others’ identities. This is where the desire to challenge the pseudo-world – pseudo meaning false, or not genuine (English Oxford Dictionaries) – stems from.

A more real, unpolished spin on imaging ourselves is growing. An example of this counterculture comes from an incidence in 2013, when Petra Collins, a feminist photographer, was banned from Instagram for posting a rather taboo photo. Collins was scolded for posting a picture of her underwear, with her pubic hair emerging from the waist and leg bands. This suggests that women’s bodies are controversial when it comes to what is considered a proper Instagram image (Olszanowski 1), and in what is polished enough to share with the public. Nicholas Mirzoeff’s chapter How to See Yourself, from his book “How to See the World,” also gave me a lot of valuable insight in examining the concept of social media profiles. The desire to create this project stemmed from my research into all of these anecdotes. With an understanding that the history of imaging ourselves dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, and studying the trends it has gone through, I had a more meaningful experience developing my project.

V. Conclusion

This experimental project has provided me with a greater awareness of what we are sharing on social media, and more importantly, why. In a social media era, our lives are artificially constructed to express what a good time is (Lecture 12). Users are taught to survey other users, and in return, live with the expectation of being evaluated by others. The ways in which I approached the question of my research, as well as the process of creation in constructing my project, heavily depended on these historical contexts. The culture of image production and consumption, the concept of self-censorship, and redefining public cyber spaces as semi-private all involve the processes of participating in counterculture. Because our world, and human-nature, revolve around a desire to present life through a specific lens, the conduction of simple, unpolished performances are much more admirable.



Works Cited

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Collins, Petra. “Why Instagram Censored My Body.” The Huffington Post, January 2014.

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Olszanowski, Magdalena. “Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Tactics of Circumventing
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Sorabella, Jean. “Portraiture in Renaissance and Baroque Europe.”Heilbrunn Timeline of Art
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  • Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.