9 Books About Crafting Identity on Social Media
What happens when your obsession with your feed on the internet becomes toxic?
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
It’s increasingly easy to be somebody else online. More and more people are drawn to catfishing, creating fake accounts, or tailoring their own lives for social media. Whatever the reason behind altering yourself for Instagram, Twitter, or the newest hottest app, it’s undeniable how commonplace it is.
On Instagram, I have 5 accounts. My “rinsta” (real instagram), my “finsta” (fake instagram), a deep finsta (no followers, no following), a sapphic meme page, and a bookstagram. Throughout these accounts I choose which parts of my life to reveal. This continues throughout other apps. I have three Twitter accounts, two TikTok profiles, two Facebook pages, a sea of inactive Tumblr pages. With how influential and consuming social media has become, it’s helpful to compartmentalize across platforms and personas.
While influencing has become a full-time job for those who are rich or lucky enough to turn their identity into a brand, now, even “average” people take their time capturing pictures of their meals, vacations, and partners, to curate envy and attention.
Our online personas are as real as ever. And while it can be challenging to write about ever-changing technologies, these authors address the ways social media impacts our identities.
The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy
Sarah Marcus, a once-beloved influencer, gets canceled and left without a career. When she reaches out to her childhood friend, he suggests that she should become the face of his new business venture: The Atmosphere, a cult to cure men of toxic masculinity. The two cult leaders now must venture into the desert with a group of misogynists to see if they have the chops to make the world a better place, when they secretly only want attention and praise.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Korede’s sister, Ayoola, is obsessive. She’s addicted to social media, herself, and killing her boyfriends. After Ayoola’s third boyfriend ends up dead, Korede is frustrated with her sister’s murder streak and upset that she is her accomplice in the cover-ups. Then Ayoola sets her sight on a doctor who not only works with Korede, but is her secret crush. Their identities risk exposure as they test the durability of their sisterly bond.
A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan
Hilarious, biting, and embarrassing, this debut novel follows a couple and their distant acquaintance and Instagram crush, Jen. When they run into Jen at the Apple Store, she invites them on a weekend trip to her boyfriend’s house in the Hamptons. Tensions are high as the couple reconciles with their imagined Jen and the real Jen. Complete with adult braces, manifestation, and Jake Gyllenhaal, Morgan portrait of millennials is spot-on.
#FashionVictim by Amina Akhtar
Anya is a New York City-based fashion editor with a throng of loyal social media followers. However, she is still infatuated with her coworker, Sarah. Though she starts out wishing she could befriend the beautiful and rich women, Anya learns that they are up for the same promotion, and her harmless obsession turns dangerous. Anya decides that the only way to beat Sarah is to embody what makes her so enviable.
Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler
When the young woman at the center of this novel discovers her liberal boyfriend is the creator of a popular alt-right conspiracy page, the world becomes untrustworthy. After an unexpected and life-changing event on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the narrator revisits the origins of their relationship. Then, she flees to Berlin, the place they met, to try to reconcile with the gap in her boyfriend’s identity. Complete with catfishing, paranoia, and plenty of plot twists, Fake Accounts is an autofictional answer about how we live with our lies.
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
It might be impossible to get on the L Train or to tap through an influencer’s story without seeing Trick Mirror. In a series of essays, Tolentino addresses rape culture at UVA, girlbosses, Fyre Fest, and our relationship to social media. In “Always Be Optimizing,” one of the fan favorites of the collection, Tolentino dissects how women use themselves as avatars on social media. While documenting countless hours of our everyday life or “self-surveillancing”, we hand our data to tech monopolies like Facebook and Google.
So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter
This novel follows the parallel lives of two mothers, and their linked connection through Instagram influencer Lauren. Beth, Lauren’s wedding planner, is a new mother and her husband has lost all interest in sex, preferring to dote on their baby. Ruby, one of the photographers for the wedding, has a medical condition that makes her insecure, and a toddler she struggles to bond with. Their narratives are occasionally interrupted by Lauren’s Instagram posts and her seemingly flawless life. The three women struggle with dating, love, and their perceptions of perfection, until something has to give.
No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
Lockwood, one of the hailed “Poet Laureates of Twitter,” Logs On for this experimental and unusual novel. When the narrator goes viral for the tweet, can a dogs be twins, she lives in the Portal, musing about trivialities and memes. However, midway through the narrative (formatted as a series of short paragraphs), she is jolted back to reality. Suddenly, the world of the Portal and her Internet virality don’t matter in the face of personal and familial tragedy.
What It Seems by Emily Bleeker
Since she was young, Tara has lived with her foster “Mother,” a controlling and vindictive woman who isolated Tara from the world. Tara’s only escape is through a YouTube family’s vlogs. While watching those videos she is able to feel like a part of their family, and when they make a post looking for an intern, she applies. However, after gaining the job and getting closer to the family, she discovers the young family isn’t as perfect as they appear.