Dabbing grandmas to cancer hoaxes. How online identities are polarizing in success.

What is the weirdest, most bizarre thing you’ve seen online? Maybe it was a webpage? A video? Or maybe even an individual; partaking in strange behaviours, bound to evoke interest from an online audience?
Do you remember how you found it? What you were doing at the time? And, why you found this particular thing so perplexing?

Let me put you in my shoes for a minute. Now this is nowhere near the category of ‘strangest thing online’, but it is quite weird!
She’s an instagrammer.
She’s a grandma.
And she’s a cannabis advocate.

Dabbing Granny’ is her name, and she uploads intriguing videos to her Instagram: smoking bongs, skolling beers, and testing out new varieties of marijuana.
Lame? I know! Ridiculous? Definitely!
However, her content is so compelling; its like you’re barracking for the underdog. ‘A grandma surely shouldn’t be able to do that,’ you may think. So every time you view her uploads, it’s as if you’re willing her on.
Her branding is unique, but entertaining, enthralling and engaging.

In an online context, we see people like this each and every day. From fitness bloggers, to amateur social commentators, to videogame reviewers, individuals moulding their identities in various internet-based platforms.
Image is everything!
How you present yourself to the world around is everything.

Daily, knowingly or unknowingly, our interactions with the world around us subtly shape our identity. ‘The Pygmalion effect’ suggests that identity is not something you create for yourself by yourself; rather your identity emerges through interactions with other people.

This is certainly true in a real world sense, although in this modern world of new and developing technologies- where we can create completely new identities online- this idea is outdated. More digestible is the idea of a ‘splitting’ identity, where particular facets of our identity can be concealed in the real world, and other facets nurtured in the online world.
The distance between performer and audience, that physical detachment makes it easy to conceal aspects of the offline self and embellish the online self. (Bullingham, 2013)

This is illustrated through the example of the ‘Dabbing Granny’, who’s content on her Instagram shows none of her personal life; she only uploads videos which stick to her brand, her online identity.

However, with the opportunity for these identities to become globalized and popular, many individuals can become immersed in the continued interactions with their audience. People consciously seek media for obtaining specific gratifications. The choices people make when consuming media are motivated by their desire to gratify a range of needs (Krishnatray, Singh, Raghavan, and Varma, 2009).

Belle Gibson is an infamous Australian figure who exemplifies this idea.
Many may be familiar with her blog, ‘The Whole Pantry’, which wooed the nation with the miraculous notion that ‘healthy eating cured her brain cancer’. After releasing consistent blogposts her popularity soared, and by late 2014 she was in discussions with major book dealers and even Apple.
It was revealed subsequently in early 2015, that her claims of having multiple cancers were actually fabricated. She had deceived a naïve nation and the world.
This revelation not only brought down the hope of cancer victims, but it showed, in no uncertain terms, how easily individuals can hide behind their online identity and present false information.

Photo: Brent Parker Jones

Belle’s determination to market her brand, and an addiction to gratification and adulation from an audience forced her to fabricate one of the most immoral stories ever presented.

In a study done on ‘Internet Gratifications and Internet Addiction: On the Uses and Abuses of New Media’, the authors note that people become addicted to the pleasurable outcomes associated with a behavior (or identity). After the gratifications are sought, the continued success of the behavior becomes a goal in itself (Song, Larose, Eastin, Lin, 2004).

The opportunities within the Internet are immeasurable. It allows us to develop our identity online; and embrace things we wouldn’t wish to show in a real world sense.
These identities can be weird, quirky, niche: even empowering.
Gratification is an addictive entity and a growing desire to impress online communities can lead us into actions we wouldn’t normally do in the real world.

Initially our foray into a juxtaposed identity online would begin with a subtle understanding that we can be “ found out” as case after case is reported worldwide. Success brings with it gratification that can lead to addiction, that then can lead to the false belief that you can hide your online identity. Hard to sometimes accept, but no, it all comes out in the end.
Tall poppy syndrome- take that successful person down!


Oloo, Frederick. ““Instagratification”: Uses And Gratification Of Instagram By University Students For Interpersonal Communication”. (2013): n. pag. Print.

Petersen, Deborah. “Social Media Redefines Mental Gratification”. The Sydney Morning Herald. N.p., 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Song, Indeed et al. “Internet Gratifications And Internet Addiction: On The Uses And Abuses Of New Media”. N.p., 2004. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Krishnatray, P., Singh, P. P., Raghavan, S., & Varma, V. (2009). Gratifications from New Media: Gender Differences in Internet Use in Cybercafes. Journal of Creative Communications, 4(1), 19-31. doi: 10.1177/097325861000400102
Bullingham, L. and Vasconcelos, A.C., 2013. ‘The presentation of self in the online world’: Goffman and the study of online identities. Journal of Information Science, 39(1), pp.101-112.

Bullingham, L. and Vasconcelos, A.C., 2013. ‘The presentation of self in the online world’: Goffman and the study of online identities. Journal of Information Science, 39(1), pp.101-112.


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