The Paradox of Computer-Mediated Communication and Identity: Peril, Promise and Second Life

The Paradox of Computer-Mediated Communication and Identity: Peril, Promise and Second Life

Lynnette G. Leonard (University of Nebraska at Omaha, USA), Lesley A. Withers (Central Michigan University, USA) and John C. Sherblom (University of Maine, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-827-2.ch001
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Past research on the effects of computer-mediated communication (CMC) on identity has focused either on the inherent risks or opportunities it provides. The authors argue that the paradox within the nature of CMC has led to paradoxical predictions about the effects of CMC on identity. Rather than adopting a naïve perspective focusing on only one side of the paradox, the authors take a view of technological realism in which the paradox is embraced. Guided by these views, the authors analyze 59 students’ papers reflecting on their identity choices in the creation and development of a Second Life avatar. Second Life is a three-dimensional (3D) multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) in which users create avatars (called “residents”) to explore, interact with other residents, learn, recreate, and shop with the local currency (i.e., Linden Dollars; Using the constant comparative method for thematic content, themes supporting a paradox of CMC effects on identity are identified from the student papers. The implications of a view of technological realism are offered.
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The Paradoxical Nature Of Cmc Characteristics

The many advantages and disadvantages characteristic of the CMC process create the unique paradoxical nature of the Internet (Joinson, 2005). The same CMC characteristics that comprise CMC’s advantages – the perception of anonymity, the ability to communicate efficiently across time and geographical distance, the chance to experiment with self-presentation and identity – also pose the greatest risks to CMC users.

One key feature that distinguishes CMC from FtF is anonymity, or the inability to confirm through visual cues the identity of the person(s) with whom users communicate via CMC (Gurak, 2001). The paradox lies in the fact that the perception of anonymity can free users to share their honest opinions without the fear of retribution (Joinson, 1999, 2001; McKenna, Green, & Gleason, 2002), but can also allow users to deceive (Joinson & Dietz-Uhler, 2002), harass (Barak, 2005), or mistreat others without fearing reprisal. For online predators, the anonymity of CMC offers a new, expansive hunting ground (Denegri-Knott & Taylor, 2005), leading to aversive interpersonal behaviors such as cybercheating (Joinson, 2005; Whitty, 2005), cyberstalking (Joseph, 2003), cyberteasing (Madlock & Westerman, 2009), and cyberbullying (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008; Li, 2006; Patchin & Hinduja, 2006; Smith, et al., 2008).

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