Social Identities, Group Formation, and the Analysis of Online Communities

Social Identities, Group Formation, and the Analysis of Online Communities

Jillianne R. Code (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and Nicholas E. Zaparyniuk (Simon Fraser University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-208-4.ch007
OnDemand PDF Download:


Central to research in social psychology is the means in which communities form, attract new members, and develop over time. Research has found that the relative anonymity of Internet communication encourages self-expression and facilitates the formation of relationships based on shared values and beliefs. Self-expression in online social networks enables identity experimentation and development. As identities are fluid, situationally contingent, and are the perpetual subject and object of negotiation within the individual, the presented and perceived identity of the individual may not match reality. In this chapter, the authors consider the psychological challenges unique to understanding the dynamics of social identity formation and strategic interaction in online social networks. The psychological development of social identities in online social network interaction is discussed, highlighting how collective identity and self-categorization associates social identity to online group formation. The overall aim of this chapter is to explore how social identity affects the formation and development of online communities, how to analyze the development of these communities, and the implications such social networks have within education.
Chapter Preview


Central to research in social psychology is the means in which communities form, attract new members, and develop over time. The mechanisms in which communities grow depend on an individual’s ability to find and collaborate with others with relevant knowledge, skills, and beliefs that meet a particular need. While these mechanisms of social collaboration are not unlike traditional face-to-face interactions (Tyler, 2002), there are some important differences in the way in which group members interact in online environments. Relative anonymity, selective self-disclosure, physical appearance, and the ease in finding ‘familiar others’ through search, embedded traits, and predefined groups, are some of the important differences between Internet communication and face-to-face interactions (Bargh & McKenna, 2004; McKenna, Green, & Gleason, 2002; Walther, 2007). Research into Internet social interaction has led to an increased understanding of face-to-face communications and brings into focus the implicit assumptions and biases that exist in traditional communication (Lea & Spears, 1995; Tyler, 2002). Assumptions that mediate face-to-face interactions such as physical proximity and non-verbal cues, assumed necessary to communicate and relate, do not exist in most Internet communications. However, given these limitations, online social communities continue to thrive and grow. The evolution of online communities confronts current views of how social and psychological dynamics contribute to human relationships, communication, and community formation.

Research supports the idea that the relative anonymity of Internet communication encourages self-expression and facilitates the formation of relationships outside of what is considered ‘normal’ socially mediated communication (Wallace, 1999). The complex origins of shared values and beliefs (Bargh & McKenna, 2004), self-expression through identity experimentation (Ruitenberg, 2003), and relative anonymous interaction (i.e. strangers on the train effect; Derlega & Chaikin, 1977; Rubin, 1975) challenge ideas of an ‘individual’ identity in relationship formation (Lea & Spears, 1995). As individual identities are malleable, adaptable, and the perpetual subject and object of negotiation within each context (Jenkins, 2004), the notion of identity requires an incessant comparison between the individual, the context in which they are interacting, their intentionality in the context of that interaction, and their ‘true’ (nominal) identity. The irregular nature in which individuals present arbitrary identities in various contexts, with multiple intentions, and within different social groups, results in a novel dynamic to human community formation and evolution.

In this chapter, we consider the psychological challenges unique to understanding the dynamics of social identity formation and strategic interaction in online social networks. We start with a brief overview of aspects within social psychology that are pertinent to a discussion on social identity formation in online social networks. Specifically, we introduce Social Identity Theory as a perspective in which to frame our current understanding of online social network formation. Next, the psychological development of social (virtual) identities (Jenkins, 2004) are explored in online social networks using the conceptualization of self-presentation (Goffman, 1959/1997). A discussion of collective identity and self-categorization follows and relates how social identity contributes to online group formation and evolution. Further, to illustrate how to evaluate the effectiveness of online social networks, we review several studies on online social networks using ethnographic methodologies, visualization techniques, and social network analysis (SNA). Finally, we present practical teaching and learning strategies educators can use to facilitate the use of social software for online social network formation within educational environments. The overall aim of this chapter is to explore how social identity affects the formation and development of online communities, to present some methodologies for evaluating the effectiveness of group formation, and to explore the implications of online social networks within education.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Network Analysis: Social network analysis involves the theorizing, model building and empirical research focused on uncovering the patterning of links among network members (Freeman, 2000). Social network analysis conceives of social structure as a social network: a set of social actors and a set of relations ties connecting pairs of these actors (Wellman, 2000).

Ethnography: Ethnography is a method of research primarily concerned with the description of natural human communities (Munroe, 2000) and enables the interpretation of the flow of social discourse (Gertz, 1973/2000).

Collective Identity: Collective identification is a representation of how people are similar to each other based on the psychological connection between the self and social group (Abrams & Hogg, 2001; Jenkins, 2004).

Depersonalization: Depersonalization causes people to conform to the group prototype and behave according to group norms.

Artifacts of Digital Performance: Artifacts of digital performance refer to traces of interaction history (Wexelblat & Maes, 1999), such as previous discussion postings and posted images, that new network members use as virtual cues to interpret and build social context.

Social Identity: Social identity is central in understanding intergroup relations and is the key element linking an individual to his or her social group (Tajfel, 1974, 1981).

Self-Categorization: Self-categorization theory (Turner, 1985, 1987) suggests that identification with any group is based on the extent to which individuals can enhance their social identity through categorizing themselves as group members (Chattopadhyay et al., 2004).

Nominal and Virtual Identity: A nominal identity is the label with which an individual is identified and a virtual identity is an individual’s experience of the nominal identity. In other words, your nominal identity is what you believe you are (internal dialectic), and your virtual identity is the experience of being (external dialectic).

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Jennifer Preece
Stylianos Hatzipanagos, Steven Warburton
Chapter 1
Jon Dron, Terry Anderson
Understanding the affordances, effectiveness and applicability of new media in multiple contexts is usually a slow and evolving process with many... Sample PDF
How the Crowd Can Teach
Chapter 2
Chris Abbott, William Alder
Although social networking has been enthusiastically embraced by large numbers of children and young people, their schools and colleges have been... Sample PDF
Social Networking and Schools: Early Responses and Implications for Practice
Chapter 3
Eleni Berki, Mikko Jäkälä
Information and communication technology gradually transform virtual communities to active meeting places for sharing information and for supporting... Sample PDF
Cyber-Identities and Social Life in Cyberspace
Chapter 4
Werner Beuschel
Weblogs are a popular form of Social Software, supporting personal Web authoring as well as innovative forms of social interaction via internet. The... Sample PDF
Weblogs in Higher Education
Chapter 5
Mark Bilandzic, Marcus Foth
Web services such as wikis, blogs, podcasting, file sharing and social networking are frequently referred to by the term Web 2.0. The innovation of... Sample PDF
Social Navigation and Local Folksonomies: Technical and Design Considerations for a Mobile Information System
Chapter 6
Rakesh Biswas, Carmel M. Martin, Joachim Sturmberg, Kamalika Mukherji, Edwin Wen Huo Lee, Shashikiran Umakanth
The chapter starts from the premise that illness and healthcare are predominantly social phenomena that shape the perspectives of key stakeholders... Sample PDF
Social Cognitive Ontology and User Driven Healthcare
Chapter 7
Jillianne R. Code, Nicholas E. Zaparyniuk
Central to research in social psychology is the means in which communities form, attract new members, and develop over time. Research has found that... Sample PDF
Social Identities, Group Formation, and the Analysis of Online Communities
Chapter 8
Jillianne R. Code, Nicholas E. Zaparyniuk
Social and group interactions in online and virtual communities develop and evolve from expressions of human agency. The exploration of the... Sample PDF
The Emergence of Agency in Online Social Networks
Chapter 9
A. Malizia, A. De Angeli, S. Levialdi, I. Aedo Cuevas
The User Experience (UX) is a crucial factor for designing and enhancing the user satisfaction when interacting with a computational tool or with a... Sample PDF
Exploiting Collaborative Tagging Systems to Unveil the User-Experience of Web Contents: An Operative Proposal
Chapter 10
Utpal M. Dholakia, Richard Baraniuk
Open Education Programs provide a range of digitized educational resources freely to educators, students, and self-learners to use and reuse for... Sample PDF
The Roles of Social Networks and Communities in Open Education Programs
Chapter 11
Sebastian Fiedler, Kai Pata
This chapter discusses how the construction of an adequate design and intervention framework for distributed learning environments might be... Sample PDF
Distributed Learning Environments and Social Software: In Search for a Framework of Design
Chapter 12
Yoni Ryan, Robert Fitzgerald
This chapter considers the potential of social software to support learning in higher education. It outlines a current project funded by the then... Sample PDF
Exploring the Role of Social Software in Higher Education
Chapter 13
Kathryn Gow
This chapter focuses on the identification of a range of competencies that entry level workers, and thus graduating students, will need to acquire... Sample PDF
Identifying New Virtual Competencies for the Digital Age: Essential Tools for Entry Level Workers
Chapter 14
Jerald Hughes, Scott Robinson
This chapter examines interaction-oriented virtual religious communities online in the light of sociological theory of religious communities. The... Sample PDF
Social Structures of Online Religious Communities
Chapter 15
Helen Keegan, Bernard Lisewski
This chapter explores emergent behaviours in the use of social software across multiple online communities of practice where informal learning... Sample PDF
Living, Working, Teaching and Learning by Social Software
Chapter 16
Lucinda Kerawalla, Shailey Minocha, Gill Kirkup, Gráinne Conole
With a variety of asynchronous communication and collaboration tools and environments such as Wikis, blogs, and forums, it can be increasingly... Sample PDF
Supporting Student Blogging in Higher Education
Chapter 17
Lisa Kervin, Jessica Mantei, Anthony Herrington
This chapter examines blogging as a social networking tool to engage final year preservice teachers in reflective processes. Using a developed Web... Sample PDF
Blogs as a Social Networking Tool to Build Community
Chapter 18
Jennifer Ann Linder-VanBerschot
The objective of this chapter is to introduce a model that outlines the evolution of knowledge and sustainable innovation of community through the... Sample PDF
A Model for Knowledge and Innovation in Online Education
Chapter 19
Petros Lameras, Iraklis Paraskakis, Philipa Levy
This chapter focuses on discussing the use of social software from a social constructivist perspective. In particular, the chapter explains how... Sample PDF
Using Social Software for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
Chapter 20
Dimitris Bibikas, Iraklis Paraskakis, Alexandros G. Psychogios, Ana C. Vasconcelos
The aim of this chapter is to investigate the potential role of social software inside business settings in integrating knowledge exploitation and... Sample PDF
The Potential of Enterprise Social Software in Integrating Exploitative and Explorative Knowledge Strategies
Chapter 21
M. C. Pettenati, M. E. Cigognini, E. M.C. Guerin, G. R. Mangione
In this chapter the authors identify the Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) pre-dispositions, skills and competences of the current effective... Sample PDF
Personal Knowledge Management Skills for Lifelong-Learners 2.0
Chapter 22
Sharon Markless, David Streatfield
This chapter questions whether the shift from the Web as a vehicle for storing and transmitting information to the new Web as a series of social... Sample PDF
Reconceptualising Information Literacy for the Web 2.0 Environment?
Chapter 23
Catherine McLoughlin, Mark J.W. Lee
Learning management systems (LMS’s) that cater for geographically dispersed learners have been widely available for a number of years, but many... Sample PDF
Pedagogical Responses to Social Software in Universities
Chapter 24
Alexandra Okada, Simon Buckingham Shum, Michelle Bachler, Eleftheria Tomadaki, Peter Scott, Alex Little, Marc Eisenstadt
The aim of this chapter is to overview the ways in which knowledge media technologies create opportunities for social learning. The Open Content... Sample PDF
Knowledge Media Tools to Foster Social Learning
Chapter 25
Luc Pauwels, Patricia Hellriegel
This chapter looks into YouTube as one of the most popular Social Software platforms, challenging the dominant discourse with its focus on community... Sample PDF
A Critical Cultural Reading of "YouTube"
Chapter 26
Ismael Peña-López
The author of this chapter proposes the concept of the Personal Research Portal (PRP) – a mesh of social software applications to manage knowledge... Sample PDF
The Personal Research Portal
Chapter 27
Andrew Ravenscroft, Musbah Sagar, Enzian Baur, Peter Oriogun
This chapter will present a new approach to designing learning interactions and experiences that reconciles relatively stable learning processes... Sample PDF
Ambient Pedagogies, Meaningful Learning and Social Software
Chapter 28
V. Sachdev, S. Nerur, J. T.C. Teng
With the trend towards social interaction over the Internet and the mushrooming of Web sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube in the social... Sample PDF
Interactivity Redefined for the Social Web
Chapter 29
Sue Thomas, Chris Joseph, Jess Laccetti, Bruce Mason, Simon Perril, Kate Pullinger
Transliteracy might provide a unifying perspective on what it means to be literate in the 21st Century. It is not a new behaviour but has been... Sample PDF
Transliteracy as a Unifying Perspective
Chapter 30
Martin Weller, James Dalziel
This chapter looks at some of the areas of tension between the new social networking, Web 2.0 communities and the values of higher education. It... Sample PDF
Bridging the Gap Between Web 2.0 and Higher Education
Chapter 31
Steve Wheeler
The use of group oriented software, or groupware, encourages students to generate their own content (McGill et al, 2005) and can foster supportive... Sample PDF
Destructive Creativity on the Social Web: Learning through Wikis in Higher Education
Chapter 32
Scott Wilson
This chapter describes the mechanisms of presence in social networks and presents an ontology that frames the purpose, content, methods of... Sample PDF
Presence in Social Networks
About the Editors
About the Contributors