Sigmund Freud and 21st Century Social Media: Id, Ego & SuperEgo as Social Media Platforms
June 13, 2018
By Chris Broyles
You walk up to Berggasse 19 in Vienna, Austria, and enter a dimly lit room filled with thousands of books, odd antiquities and hear the dull tick of an unseen clock. You see an oddly familiar face of a slight older man with a silver-grey beard, cigar delicately balanced between his fingers, and he asks you to sit down. After a measured beat, the famed neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud leans in and gently asks:
“Tell me about your Twitter…”
So that might not be *exactly* what he would have said back in the late 1800s and the early 1900s during the rise of psychiatry. But given the progression of some of his famed theories including the belief that the human psyche is structured into three parts; the Id, the Ego, and the SuperEgo, he might have had a field day equating these systems to the way individuals seem to approach modern day social media.
As Sigmund Freud’s model of the psyche – or personality – lays it out, these three components can be viewed like an iceberg – the tip of the iceberg above water represents conscious awareness (Ego), while the larger mass of the iceberg below the surface represents the unconscious mind (Id), where the innate desires, urges, needs are met, and the ‘pleasure principle’ initiates the human need for instant gratification. As you grow older, your personality develops, and you grow to control these ‘Id’ based urges, and your true self (your ‘Ego’) matures. All the while, resting both above and below the surface, you strive to reach your own ideal (‘SuperEgo’) by controlling the Id, and balancing your Ego, and who you actually are as a person.
What’s the correlation to social media? Well, as we’ve seen in the three major social networks, the instantaneous nature of Twitter – or our “social Id” – lends itself to both real-time moments of delight, humor and shared event-driven experiences, but also gives voice to regrettable bursts and limited character shots of insults, sexism, racism, and other streams of consciousness that might have better been left unsaid (or at least, unwritten).
Facebook, with its shared connections, photos, posts and ‘likes’ between friends, family, schools, businesses and our everyday lives, is a reflection of our self (our “social Ego”) …demonstrating on a near daily basis who we actually are as a person and member of society or defined group.
LinkedIn on the other hand, is a platform where we define who we are professionally, but also enables the user to carefully construct who they want others (more often than not, strangers vs. friends or colleagues) to see who we want to believe we are: a “social SuperEgo” that symbolizes our ideal self.
What makes it so hard for people to control their pleasure principle, or “social Id” on Twitter? Sigmund Freud himself wrote: “The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.” It took ABC mere hours to respond to Roseanne Barr’s racist and Islamophobic tweet about Valerie Jarrett by firing her and canceling the recent Roseanne reboot. “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey wrote in a statement. There have been many other moments where jobs have been lost, lives altered and online “angry mobs” formed as a result of what was tweeted. Jon Ronson gave a TEDTalk a few years back on how ‘one tweet can ruin your life,’ despite the fact that the platform initially gave voice to the voiceless, but was now growing into a steady stream of epithets and dehumanizing colloquy. The talk featured the now infamous 2013 story of Justine Sacco, the PR exec, who as she was leaving for an 11 hour flight to South Africa from London, tweeted ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding, I’m white!” The fallout was as swift and punishing as you might imagine with this kind of exercise in ‘social Id.’ And there isn’t room in this piece to discuss how our current President utilizes his primal need to use the social platform.
Facebook addressed the societal impact it has in a blog post late last year. David Ginsberg, Facebook’s Director of Research, and Moira Burke, Research Scientist at Facebook, wrote about the critical question about whether spending time on social media was “bad for us.” While they candidly talked about the ‘bad’ that can come with passively scrolling and consuming social media, they also addressed the research that describes the positives that come with actively interacting with one another. The research netted out that separating good from bad comes down to how you use the technology.
“…it’s important to remember that Facebook is about bringing people closer together and enabling meaningful social interactions; it’s not primarily about passively consuming content. Research shows that interacting with friends and family on social media tends to be more meaningful and can be good for our well-being, and that’s time well spent. But when we just passively consume content, that may be less true.”
Facebook’s platform allows for us to have those meaningful relationships and engagement, and as the age of its user grows older, the sharing of photos, videos, graduation announcements, trips, dinners and entertainment becomes even more a part of the sharing of “self.”
Now that we’ve talked about our Id and our Ego, what about our “social SuperEgo?” If the SuperEgo is “the component of personality composed of our internalized ideals that we have acquired from our parents and society,” working to suppress the pleasure principle of the Id and at the same time striving to make the Ego stay in line, how does LinkedIn play its role? In our world, it’s a business tool. And as professionals, we strive to present ourselves in our ‘ideal form’ to others.
AdWeek wrote an article last fall about how LinkedIn has gone from questionable Microsoft acquisition to one of the most influential social media platforms for businesses and professionals. “People are more careful about what they say on LinkedIn, because it’s essentially their default resume,” says M. Scott Havens, global head of digital for Bloomberg Media. “We see a much cleaner conversation that’s supportive, positive and actually useful.” LinkedIn has grown to be a platform where ‘civil discourse’ and B2B engagement runs supreme.
While Sigmund Freud may not have lived to see 21st century social media, he believed that “the voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing.” He invariably would have had a lot of business lining people up and laying them down on the couch to analyze their online profiles. At the end of the day, social media platforms have now become inescapably woven into the fabric of our society. Whether exercising our pleasure principle on Twitter, sharing photos of our latest family outing on Facebook, or posting recent thought leadership from our company on LinkedIn, it’s interesting to see how our personalities naturally fall into this “tripartite” theory.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.