Constructing Authenticity: Social Media Influencers and the Shaping of Online Identity

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Online Identity - An Essential Guide [Working Title]


This chapter explores the construction of authenticity by social media influencers. Understood to include attributes and practices such as sincerity, trustworthiness, accuracy, originality, spontaneity, and visibility, influencer authenticity is complex. We argue that the perceived authenticity of influencers can create virtual communities through shared identities and experiences, has the power to impact followers’ actions such as purchases and beliefs, and is often contradictory as influencers navigate their opposing roles as both proponents for consumption and facilitators of social connection. Further, we discuss the ways in which ideas about authenticity are central to the digital labor that influencers perform, and that authenticity, as it is enacted, possesses a complex ethics. We conclude with a discussion of how social media authenticity is further complicated in the wake of advancements in generative artificial intelligence that produce cultural content whose veracity is difficult to determine.