Online Self-Identities, Social Norms, and the Performance of Self in Real-Life

Online Self-Identities, Social Norms, and the Performance of Self in Real-Life

Jessica Lynn Campbell
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/IJVCSN.2018040102
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Social networking sites (SNSs) first emerged as online public spaces where individuals could share user-generated content, communicate, and connect. As individuals became more and more invested in online sociality, SNSs diverged into niche platforms that largely govern online sociality, shape social norms, and control user agency. SNSs' impact on individuals' self-identity and performance in both online and real-life settings has been researched and contested. However, this research reveals the affordances of SNSs, which allow users to both experiment with different self-representations and learn the social norms of real-life social situations by being able to mimic the actions and behaviors performed in corresponding SNSs. Because online networking is pervasive in society today, the advantages for connectivity and engagement must be revealed. This research aims to begin this conversation by analyzing two popular SNSs: Facebook and LinkedIn.
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Since the launch of the World Wide Web, in 1991 (World Wide Web Foundation, 2015), individuals have been able to communicate and connect across virtual spaces, from different locations, and within multiple networks. The evolution of social networking sites (SNSs)—Facebook and Twitter being two of the most popular—has created a digital landscape with multiple communication platforms where individuals’ create online profiles and personas in order to socialize virtually within the digital space. From 2000 to 2006, SNSs first emerged as public spaces where user generated content (UGC) was welcomed and facilitated users’ creativity and the cultural content on the site (van Dijck, 2013a). However, as platform owners harnessed the popularity of these social interfaces, they began to implement coding technologies that governed users’ profile creation, interface display, and what type of actions users could perform. The standardization of user-generated content became dependent upon the platform owner’s ideologies and purpose of the SNS. SNSs, today, are contexts for online sociality, performativity, and social learning.

Critics—both scholarly and SNS users themselves—have commented on the influence of SNSs on sociality, identity construction, and social norms. Turkle (2011) regards online networking spaces in which individuals assume many identities each expressed differently on multiple SNSs. Because one’s virtual life now represents much of individuals’ social activity, it is a space for individuals to learn about themselves and from each other. For instance, “fraping” is the term describing the behavior of an individual carrying out the opportunistic crime of disrupting or changing an individual’s online representation of self (Moncur, Orzech & Neville, 2016). Because implicit social norms seem to govern fraping, it can be perceived as accepted or illicit behavior, and thus demonstrates the power of online sociality and performativity. These implicit rules are understood as individuals observe one another and assume the social norms of the platform. Fraping is a performative behavior enacted for a specific audience (Moncor et al., 2016). SNSs afford multiple spaces on which individuals can enact multiple self-representations.

Yet, some researchers voice concern about online sociality, the ability to create online profiles, and the impact these various factors have on individuals’ real-life self-identity. One’s self-identity is influenced by one’s social environment in which one observes and learns from others as she or he negotiates her or his own behaviors and sense of self (Bandura, 1977; Gergen, 1999). Boyd (2014) recalls one of the challenges people face when navigating SNSs is the ability to perform appropriately according to the social norms in different contexts and in front of different audiences. For instance, fraping, if performed in front of an unfamiliar audience, could be misinterpreted as inappropriate and negative (Moncor et al., 2016). When performing in online contexts, the intended audience matters, and it can be difficult to know who is actually engaging in an online space.

Although several scholars have approached the impact of SNSs on one’s construction of self-identity as problematic, this article focuses on the value proposition of SNSs: What affordances do SNSs offer individuals’ self-identity construction and performance as it relates to their real-life self-identity construction, their performance in real-life social situations, and social norms. The argument presented specifies what affordances SNSs offer individuals: a digital space to work out one’s sense of self and a model for users to learn and rehearse the appropriate behaviors, social norms, and conduct in corresponding real-life social situations.

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