Situating Social Identity through Language Convergence in Online Groups

Situating Social Identity through Language Convergence in Online Groups

Scott L. Crabill (Oakland University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-368-5.ch028
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According to social identity theory, individuals create and maintain their social identity through group membership. During face-to-face interactions within a group, people assess various verbal and nonverbal cues to influence the perceptions of themselves by others. However, in the context of online communication these cues are not as readily available. A screen name can be viewed as part of an individual’s “social identity creation”; a message that members of online discussion boards interpret and react to while trying to situate themselves within the group. This chapter explores how language convergence can function as a cue that facilitates situating social identity within online in-groups. Results of a content analysis of 400 screen names suggest that the screen names of discussion board members serve as an organizing variable for participants to situate themselves socially within the context of online interaction.
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The Internet is a truly powerful technology that enables numerous opportunities for identity construction. It allows us to think about our identity, and if desired, change ourselves to who we want to be (Chandler, 1998) and construct images of ourselves through various types of self disclosure. Research has argued that the Internet technology is limited to impersonal and task-oriented interactions. Referring to a “cues-filtered out model”, Kiesler, Siegel, and McGuire (1984) state: “In traditional forms of communication, head nods, smiles, eye contact, distance, tone of voice, and other nonverbal behavior give speakers and listeners information they can use to regulate, modify, and control exchanges” (p. 1125). Such a “reduced cues” perspective suggests that CMC lacks nonverbal cues necessary to substantiate interpersonal communication amongst CMC interactants (Connolly, Jessup, & Valacich, 1990; Hiltz, 1975, 1981; Hiltz, Johnson, & Agle, 1978; Hiltz, Johnson, & Turoff, 1986; Hiltz, Turoff, Johnson, 1989). Within this perspective, CMC is viewed as somewhat inadequate, with the capacity to harm and to keep people from “real” relationships (Thurlow, Lengel, & Tomic, 2004). This stands in contrast to the optimistic claims that the Internet can foster new relationships across social and geographical boundaries and create friendships and communities rooted in common interest and concerns (Thurlow et. al., 2004).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Identity Theory: A theory originally conceived and formulated by Henri Tajfel, a British social psychologist, in his early research of social perception.

White Supremacy: Broadly generalized, the term “white supremacy” can refer to a number of ideologies. The term itself is often used as a blanket label to identify individuals with perceived prejudiced or racial bias toward minorities.

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): Any form of human interaction across networked computers. Although the term has traditionally referred to those communications that occur via computer-mediated formats (i.e., instant messages, e-mails, chat rooms), it has also been applied to other forms of text-based interactions.

Reduced Cues: The “reduced cues” perspective suggests that CMC lacks nonverbal cues necessary to substantiate interpersonal communication amongst interactants.

Screen Name: A pseudonym constructed for the use of participation in an online discussion group or chat.

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