THE CONCEPT OF "FACE" in SOCIAL MEDIA


"Face” is a sociological term established in the 60s by Erving Goffman who defines it “as an image of the self which depends on both the rules and values of a particular society and the situation the social interaction is embedded in.”

It would be interesting to find out how this plays out in social media, and in particular, on Facebook. In this short piece, I will talk about how over the years I observed how people put on a face in social media, and how pervasive this phenomenon is. While it may be true that what I discuss is common knowledge, it is still of benefit to frame it under a particular context. Let me eliminate the aspects of using social media for face to face interactions. Face as I will discuss it, focuses on how people present themselves on social media.

The “positive” and the “negative” face

Goffman (1959) and Brown and Levinson (1987) define positive face as the desire to be liked, appreciated and approved, while negative face is the desire not to be imposed upon, intruded, or otherwise put upon.

I find the following “acts” indicative of people attempting to show positive face

  • Sending posts that have quotes, photos or images promoting positivity, encouragement, sending good vibes to their networks; some even do so through religious posts including bible verses, prayers, religious-themed chain messages

  • Sending posts/photos that show their travels, achievements, activities that encourage networks to like or share to others the posts that interested them

  • Posting “promotional” posts, for example posts that promote a personal business, one’s own skill, an endeavour, or perhaps advertising another product or service (not the posters own) as a way of recommending it to others

  • Testimonials, of how certain products/services/experiences have created something positive to themselves or family; a sub-set of this is sharing success of others through congratulating or greeting them, or sympathising if the story or experience is not positive (e.g. death in family where networks offer condolences)

I find minimal posts on “negative” face, if any, as it is the premise of social media to connect and to encourage relationships online through storytelling and sharing.

Face Threatening Acts (FTA)

Goffman (1959), and Brown and Levinson (1987) also put forward the notion of face threatening acts in relation to politeness. There is a good number of scenarios where this can happen. One such scenario is the politically charged post, for or against a group, an individual, or a cause. This sort of post can generate a lot of reactions through comments, emoticons, like or dislike preferences or even shares. Posts can present support or opposition of the idea being delivered and the contributions can be polite to harsh even. A contributor can be considered too threatening to the extent that he or she can be blocked or be considered a troll.

Too much Self- Disclosure

I find overly disclosing one’s thoughts, feelings, or disclosing too much information on posts, or through photos on Facebook may be a bit problematic. I would now consider this as too much “one one’s face” where social media is used as a platform to air one’s dirty laundry, something like an online diary where most of the stuff one posts could be kept to one’s self or to people in their closest circle. There is such a thing as restraint that people should be aware of, as being too open may have disastrous consequences as well, not only for their online presence or persona, but also to who they may potentially become in real life.

One may argue that your social media or online persona is an extension of yourself, and what you put there creates an image of who you are, your words, your actions, and ultimately your posts, are a reflection of your “face.”