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Rationalized identity construction and the postauthentic data self In this paper, I want to trace changes in the ideological notion of personal authenticity that have been brought on by widespread social media use.

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The true self, from this point of view, doesn’t precede the process of being encoded in social media; instead the real self — real in the sense of being influential — emerges through information processing (sharing, being shared, being on a social graph, having recommendations automated, being processed by algorithms, and so on).

As information is processed and assimilated to the archive of self, it begins feeding into the algorithmic systems that report back to us the true nature of who we are.

They dissolve the continuity of personal identity into discontinuous data that can be sold to marketers or recombined to create synthetic truths about us.

Social media are forums where we can test our uniqueness.

The data self’s existence alone proves our potential.

In its quantification, the data self offers a self that appears growable rather than fixed.

Authenticity starts to merely measure the gap between who we’re trying to be and how we are actually seen rather than stand for some intrinsic essence.

And given how social media can decontextualize these authenticity games, we can’t possibly know how large that gap is. Authenticity as fidelity to an autonomous, unified a priori self becomes untenable.

Though social media are sold as means of self-expression that let us articulate our real selves (with our real names!

), they are also intrusive, invasive technologies that make surveillance ubiquitous.


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