Social Media Survival Manual: My Four Commandments to Showcase Identity

Is social media increasing or degrading human connection?

This question bubbled up a while ago and is gaining heat recently. However, there is something wrong with it.  

Now if we look at social media as it is: a tool, like a hammer for instance, when we haven’t learnt how to use it, at best, we can’t drive a nail in the wall, at worst, we hammer our own thumb.

For that reason, I think it is wrong to contemplate the above mentioned question, because it doesn’t have that power at all. I also think we shouldn’t condemn it and avoid it like a plague – you know, that friend of yours who disabled her Facebook account – because  it represents incredible opportunities. And not least, I think we should avoid using social media to express our anguish about how others are using social media, because then the new feeds of this world will have two negative messages at once.


The other day on the evening news, my face widened as I heard  about young Vietnamese used Facebook in barbaric manners like badmouthing their teachers, cursing their grandparents, wishing all poor people to die so the country can get rich. It seems shocking at first, but not difficult to understand. They hammered their own heads because they hadn’t learnt how to use the “hammer”. Nobody has taught them to.

Reacting to that problem, one high school in Hanoi released an official guide for using social media – “only like something on Facebook when…” kind of rule. Though, I’m glad  the school made effort to be part of the solution, I doubt the effects of these rules on teenagers. Education on social media behaviors is surprisingly inadequate, considering the stupefying amount of time youngsters wander in the virtual world.

The problem perhaps lie in the unclear purposes when using social media. (My friend has a Facebook, so I’ll have one.) And, well. If one walks around the house with a hammer all the time, he will end up breaking something. 

In regard to the purposes of social media, I came across an fundamental insight on the psychology of social media users in The Zen of Social Media Marketing. Social media expert Shama Kabani, shares her light bulb moment:

I theorized…that people craved community. They wanted to connect with each other and create communities around this very human need for connection. I was wrong. My research led me to believe that this was only a secondary reason for most social media users. The fundamental reason was that social networking sites allowed people to showcase their own identity…Social media is like a mirror we hold up to show how we are unique and special.

My brain synapses connected as I read the last sentence. Pure truth! It was gratifying to upload a profile photos of me standing next to the Eiffel tower, and get a hundred likes. It sounds narcissistic at first, but this feeling is very human – the arguably only species that has a yearning for identity, a desire to be special, unique and worthy.


We fulfill this yearning by expressing ourselves, one way or another: we speak, write, paint, play music – that’s why creative activities are so fulfilling. And then the web came along. All of a sudden, we no longer need a stage, a soapbox, a gallery or a even campfire with folks sitting in circle on wood logs, to tell our stories. Anybody can let his voice be heard, even if he is a shoes polisher at the corner of a street market. This is incredible! Opening up ourselves and share our worlds with others is a courageous act.

Contradictory to what doomsayers are blasting, I don’t think what exists in the virtual world is unreal. Many face-to-face interactions are anyway fake.  It is wonderful to peek at another person’s worldview through channel of her choice – not everyone has a knack for verbal expressions.

So a social media survival manual first needs to solve the puzzle of expressing our identity. I have created the Four Social Media Commandments to help myself, maybe it will help you too:

1. Never trash negative emotions on the web. Negativity is contagious and why create more darkness when there’s already plenty?

2. Never post anything that is not true. I don’t blast everything about me online. But it is essential to make sure every bit and pieces I post reflect my true self.

3. Only share what adds value to others – something useful or beautiful. This is a personal choice, but I if I want to talk blatantly about myself, I’ll go write in my journal. There is already too many information and garbage on the web.

4. Never measure self-worth by followers or likes: learn to be not too excited when a photo of my smiley face gets loads of like and not too daunted when a picture quote, which I spends half an hour on, just flops. For some ridiculous reason, this is hard. But it might be the most important Commandment. I disabled social media notifications on my devices completely. I move on to other things right after posting, instead of waiting with tongue out, tail waving, ears perked up, panting excitedly. This helps. It’s also useful to know that Facebook uses algorithms, quite similar to Google, to decide which post gets to go to the new feeds section, there is dumb luck factor involved in getting shared and liked. Besides, I tell myself that if I solely aim for popularity, I’d better off posting about Korean pop bands or pornography, for instance.


I’d like to imagine expressing my identity on social media as putting love letters in bottles and releasing them to the ocean. I do so not because I’m starving in a deserted island, but because there’s beauty in giving unconditionally. And it will be a wonderful thing if someone finds the bottle, reads my love letter, and begins to wonder or smile.

Come back tomorrow for Social Media Survival Manual 2: My Eight Commandments in Building Connection 

More on authenticity, expand your perspective with Don’t Try to Be Different, Simply Be Yourself, or The Difference between a Leader and a Lunatic: the Ability to Communicate 

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Photo Credit: Paul Tridon on Flickr