Our Online Personalities Change Across Different Social Media Platforms

Do we portray a consistent self across different social media platforms? A new study says that's not the case. Yagi Studio/Getty Images

Multiple personality disorder is a complicated psychological condition that causes a person to act like two (or more) completely different people. The various identities that a person with the condition take on may vary in age, sex and race. They also often have different manners of speech and gestures. A person with the disorder, also called dissociative identity disorder (DID), morphs from one identity to another in a "switching" process that in some cases happens in a matter of seconds.

The scores of us who alter our personas for social media purposes probably don't meet the standard for a clinical DID diagnosis. In fact, a new study from Pennsylvania State University finds that many social media users tweak the way they come off on different platforms for one simple reason — they just want to fit in.


"The users tend to portray themselves differently in these different worlds," Penn State researcher Dongwon Lee said in a press release. Lee and his colleagues analyzed more than 100,000 social media users who voluntarily provided their profiles for review.

Take, for example, a person who uses Instagram or Snapchat to show off a new pair of stunner shades or show everyone how lit their trip to Coachella was this year. The same person might swap the sunglasses for reading specs on LinkedIn and post an article about fluctuations in the Bolivian oil market. That's because they use different outlets to convey different messages about themselves.

We've all seen versions of this type of persona shifting online. Many of us have probably done it ourselves. Still, the researchers say having data to back up those hunches and anecdotes is helpful, as it provides actual insight into how people interact with one another in an ever-changing world.