Are we facing an online identity crisis?

Updated: Stream the latest UOW Luminaries webinar series in full.

In today’s hyperconnected world, the never-ending cycle of selfies, filtering, posting, and checking for likes and comments is almost second nature. But what’s the cost to our sense of identity, self-worth and mental health?

Navigating the impact of the digital landscape on self-perception and authenticity was the focus of ‘Tech & Media Unmasked: Redefining Self-Image & Authenticity’, the latest event in the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Luminaries webinar series.

The leading expert panel included:

The panel’s interdisciplinary experience led discussion into the complex implications of our society's growing obsession with digital self-portrayal. Exploring this highly topical and relevant issue generated fascinating insights and eye-opening revelations into the psychology, ethics and commercialisation that drives our online image fixation.

The webinar also demonstrated the University of Wollongong's commitment to United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDG), in particular SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

Stream the ‘Tech & Media Unmasked: Redefining Self-Image & Authenticity’ webinar in full, with a roundup of compelling insights below:


It's a digital life

"We're now living in a moment where surveillance capitalism is embedded and pervasive in our lives, which has implications for the way we develop and experience our autonomy. It's a moment where the widespread availability of generative AI is confusing, and even masking the distinction between real and artificial. And at the same time, social media algorithms are demanding frequent and increasing forms of vulnerability from often very young users." 
- Yvonne Apolo

In the role of moderator, Yvonne Apolo from UOW's School of Law opened the conversation by highlighting three major societal shifts happening right now. Apolo's insight is a crucial introduction to the complex interplay between technology, autonomy, and vulnerability along with the challenges emerging from our increasingly digital lives.  

The numbers are in on selfies

"Millennials will take an average of 25,700 selfies in their lifetime. Why? Why are we doing this?"
- Dr. Katina Michael

This undeniably staggering statistic from Dr. Michael puts a number on how consumed this demographic is with taking and sharing self-portraits online. Her questioning on the motivations behind this obsessive behaviour explores whether it stems from an unhealthy need for validation and acceptance from others.


From media consumers to media creators

"Now they're all snipers. Now they can drill down. Before there were three channels. Four channels in Australia. Now everyone is a channel, right? So, it's not an even playing field. People go out there [and] curate their own experiences, their own little space. They're not just passive adopters and consumers. They're active participants."
- Dr. Michael Mehmet

Dr. Mehmet's insight captures the monumental shift in the media landscape from linear, broadcast television to today’s dizzying array of digital-led options, that includes short-form video platforms and always-on streaming options. Unlike traditional media's broad approach, today’s focus on active participation by individuals highlights both positive opportunities and the potential dangers in curating our online image.


Genuine change is deeper than what's trending

“I think there are a lot of platforms that are already implementing really, positive, changes to their environments. But my concern is with that regulation that these could just be trends that, you know, come and go.”
- Dr. Jasmine Fardouly

While Dr. Fardouly acknowledged some social media platforms are taking positive steps, she cautioned that self-regulation is fickle and real change needs to be codified and enforced through universal laws and strict policies. Her insights reflect the seemingly impossible task of regulating negative behaviour online on a per-platform basis that also adheres to a varied and complex web of political frameworks.


Personal data collection or invasion of privacy?

"Marketers have done a fantastic job of normalising surveillance. Now let's take a second to digest how scary that is."
- Dr. Michael Mehmet

This powerful quote from Dr. Mehmet drives home how marketing has been able to reshape societal norms and public acceptance of high levels of privacy invasion and personal data collection. The information we have agreed to provide search engines and social media platforms has only served to optimise the influence over our thoughts, feelings and purchases.


Sharing is the solution

"At our research centre, we're looking at the…use of artificial intelligence in health care...the ethical, legal and social implications. And one of the things that I find that's really helpful in trying to balance the benefits and the potential harms would obviously be interdisciplinary work. So making sure that different experts in different, sectors and different disciplines are working together."
- Dr. Yves Saint James Aquino 
In his role at UOW's Australian Centre for Health Engagement, Evidence and Values, Dr Aquino advocates that an interdisciplinary solution is our best strategy to face an expanding digital landscape. Adopting a comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck approach that blends expertise and promotes collaboration is the pathway to positive change.


See the complete 2024 Luminaries line up and stream past webinars in full.