Am I really me online?

On this blog I’m known under my nickname Milly. I identify with a silly picture and some personal details written in my introduction post. Most of what you know about me is my academical profile and not much more. At the same time though by reading my articles you get to indirectly learn what I like, dislike or believe in. Same process would probably occur if you went to my Facebook profile or perhaps a LinkedIn account. Even though all that data is out in the open, how much of it do you think is accurate? Do those sources let you know anything for sure or maybe they just give you a specific impression of me?

Today I’d like to talk about self presentation in social media and take a closer look at identity management in such media.

Online Identity Wordle

By introducing the concepts of indirect observation and impressions I wanted to take a first step into theoretical background that can be valuable when discussing our current topic. Those ideas were taken from works of Erving Goffman, a known sociologists who spent most of his time trying to understand how people act in their everyday lives and participate in social exchanges. In his book “Presentation of self in everyday life” he presents his dramaturgical theory and states that in interaction with people we all have a face that we try to save. We want to fulfill the expectations of others and fit into the environment and we do so by playing appropriate roles. Through such performances we produce two types of impressions: those that we give and those that we give off. Given expressions are the ones we ourselves planned on projecting whereas given off are the tiny, unintentional details that can betray us and show the audience that we are not what we appear to be [1]. An example could be a person giving a serious speech at a conference trying to create an impression of importance, but at the same time using many colloquialisms which come off as disrespectful.

How can we apply that knowledge to the online world? It is hard to judge people on what they give off since there is so little chance to actually see them or contact them personally in any way. Because of that fact, users have much more control over their image online and they can cautiously manipulate it through use of creative spaces such as profile pages. By observing those personal outlets we can’t perhaps say all that much about who the users truly are, but we understand something about the strategies they use for presentation online. For example through an analysis of Facebook profiles one might discuss how the choice of personal updates modifies peer feedback [2]. Through looking at LinkedIn profiles one might discuss how showcasing specific work positions allows a user to self promote [3]. Once we realize that we encounter a vast area of research opportunities. To further discuss the topic of presentation online I’d like to focus on one of the research problems existing in that domain and discuss a bit the potential freedom offered by the internet.

Online deception can become a real issue

Despite the joke, online deception can be an issue

There is an ongoing discussion whether social media allows us to be anyone we want or if it is just as constraining as everyday life. Some argue that the freedom of choosing our pictures, choosing our likes and connections creates a sort of identity shift and allows the users to create a persona they aspire to be. One that they might increasingly associate with and eventually perhaps even become [4]. Other studies show that many people purposefully provide incorrect data online in order to raise their social desirability [5], or alter who they are in order to create a stronger sense of belonging to online communities of their liking [6]. Those cases indicate much we can alter ourselves online to be whoever we wish to be. That said, such deception is possible only if the people we deal with do not know us personally. Boyd and Ellison have argued that the main purpose of social media is to to enhance human relationships that already exist offline [7]. If that’s the case it is highly possible that the online environments, despite strong options of user control, are much more constricted. As discussed in a recently published article [8], social networking sites tend to be spaces of reproduction of stereotypes and gender representations from real life. The authors discuss the fact that especially among adolescents, social media platforms serve as means of reinforcing offline negotiated identities. Finally to present yet a different type of argumentation, it has been argued that the online world users lose their individuality and their offline personality doesn’t matter much anymore [9].

This short overview of issues and approaches toward self presentation and image creation online is just the tip of the iceberg. By going into the topic of freedom I hoped to showcase the fact that image control online can be much more deceptive than in real life. At the same time though, it might be constricted by offline expectations of our peers. We can use social networking platforms to self promote but the possibilities of deception and fake impressions vary according to online environment we participate in. With that knowledge, I hope you can safely say wether you know something about me or not.



  1. Goffman, E. 1990. The presentation of self in everyday life. London: Penguin
  2. Bazarova, N. N., J. G. Taft, Y. H. Choi, D. Cosley. 2012. Managing Impressions and Relationships on Facebook: Self-Presentational and Relational Concerns Revealed Through the Analysis of Language Style. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 32(2): 121-141
  3. Van Dijck, J. 2013. ‘You have one identity’: performing the self on Facebook and LinkedIn. Media, Culture & Society 35(2): 199-215
  4. Gonzales, A., J. Hancock. 2009. Changing Identity Through Self-Presentation: The Effect of New Media on the Self-Perception Process. Conference Papers — International Communication Association 1-22. Communication & Mass Media Complete,
  5. DeAndrea, D.C, S.T. Tong, Y. J. Liang, T. R. Levine, J. B. Walther. 2012. When Do People Misrepresent Themselves to Others? The Effects of Social Desirability, Ground Truth, and Accountability on Deceptive Self-Presentations. Journal of Communication 62: 400-417
  6. Schwämmlein, E., K. Wodzicki. 2012. What to Tell About Me? Self-Presentation in Online Communities. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 17: 387-407
  7. boyd d and Ellison N (2007) Social network sites: definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13(1): 1–11.
  8. Tortajada, I., N. Araüna, I. J. Martinez. 2013. Advertising Stereotypes and Gender Representation in Social Networking Sites. Scientific Journal of Media Education 41: 177-186
  9. Nechita, A. 2012. Mass self-communication. Journal of Media Research 3(14): 29-44

One thought on “Am I really me online?

  1. Pingback: Presentation of self in social media | Understanding Social Media

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