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Managing Your Online Identity

In this day and age, with everyone on social networks utilizing social media, what are you portraying to your audience? Do you like to party? Are you interested in certain topics? What have you been doing for the past few months? All these questions become easy to answer once you take a look at someone’s social networking sites, and their use of social media.

This weeks reading is all about online identity management, and I am going to provide a recap about a few of the things we had to read for my social media class. Sorry it got kind of long. There is just so much I want to cover after reading these.

All the World Wide Web’s a stage: The performance of identity in online social networks by Erika Pearson

Are you the person you want to be? In real life? Online? Well now, you can’t really control who you are in real person, but online is a different story. Pearson makes the point that anyone can be anyone they want to be online. Actors is the term she used for it. People can create an identity based on the rest of the population they are around. This can sometimes follow closely with reality, but in other cases it drastically differs.

Pearson talks about a front-stage and back-stage of the web. The front-stage is where “individuals play their parts.” They act like the person they want to be, not who they are. On the front-stage their performances are constructed and displayed for all to see; well I guess not really all now that we have “privacy” settings. Alternatively, the back-stage is the private part of your online identity. These two stages are starting to mix as people are starting to trade inadvertent disclosure for better management of networks, ties and social bonds. This is interesting to me. People would give up their privacy to have a better online identity. I would never do that. My “friends” know who I am, where I live (mostly), what I do in my spare time, and that’s it. They don’t know about how I feel about current events, my views on political issues, and the list goes on and on. Why would anyone ever put that kind of stuff out there? I guess it really depends on the person.

In reality, there are physical barriers barring you from seeing others and portraying your identity across the masses. Not true for online identities. They can span the globe, or they already do if you think about it. This makes it easier to portray yourself, as an individual. Is it a good thing? It depends on how you “identify” yourself. People will perform roles using code and signs from online culture to create an identity that can cross social networking sites. This is kind of funny to me as people also create an identity based on the platform they are using. How can you develop an identity from various social networking sites (SNS) when they are all so different? It’s tricky and I am not going to go into it here, but it is possible.

This article offered great insight into how people “act” online when they know others are watching, even if they don’t know those others (key point I forgot to mention). People are careful, well most at least, about what they put online because the internet is a “public space” where anyone can see anything. Great article overall, I would recommend it for anyone interested in online identity.

The Presentation of Self in the Age of Social Media: Distinguishing Performances and Exhibitions Online

This paper seems to build on the previously reviewed one, using Goffman to help prove their points.

Actor. Are you one? I would tend to say yes. Most people are very different online compared to real life. Actors do things in real-time. They interact with you, look at your content, as well as many other things. If you are an actor, then what is an artifact.

An artifact is something that results from part of your past performances, thus they are representations not performances. What is a performance then? A performance is classified as how actors behave with each other. So basically everything you do online, where you interact with another person, is considered a performance, according to this paper. Sounds about right, how else would someone classify performance.

This paper also goes into front-stage and back-stage like the previous paper. The front-stage is used to present an idealized version of yourself according to a specific goal. This ties into the fact that online behavior is determined by social norms and goals of the specific settings (environments) you are engaging with. The back-stage is a “place where impression fostered by performance is knowingly contradicted as a matter of course.” The back-stage is what creates the front, and is the real work necessary to keep up appearances. This article explained in more detail that the back-stage is not necessarily private. People can view everything but get an overall impression from the front-stage.

They talked also about the lowest common denominator; “A theory of lowest common denominator culture is more appropriate to exhibition spaces replete with persistent content than single context performances. It offers a potential an explanation for three aspects of social network sites.” I put the three aspects they are talking about below, but I just wanted to explain this a little more. Lowest common denominator refers to how you are represented in relation to the audience around you. In one arena a person may have a clean-cut professional profile, and then in another place the same person may have something totally different.

  1. Why individuals effectively participate in these sites? “An individual assesses whether his identity can be effectively represented by the lowest common denominator of the people who view his content in his absence”
  2. Explain how in an age of profound surveillance (both from authorities and peers), individuals still submit content that is unambiguously questionable
  3. How exactly individuals interpret this particular context?

Ethno-Racial Identity Displays on Facebook

Yes I put the abstract below, not because I didn’t read it, but because it’s a great overview of what this article does. After you read that part, I put a few more ideas/comment after about the rest of the paper.


The present study investigates self-presentation in anonymous setting and explores differences in self-presentation by distinct ethno-racial groups. Based on content analysis of 83 Facebook profiles of African Americans, Latino, Indian and Vietnamese ancestry students, supplemented by 63 in-person interviews, we found that ethno-racial identities are salient and highly elaborated. The intensive investments of minorities in presenting highly social, culturally explicit and elaborated narratives of self reflect a certain resistance to the racial silencing of minorities by dominant color-blind ideologies of broader society. In the nonymous environment of Facebook, various dimensions of identity claims appear to be grounded in offline realities as revealed in interviews and observations of campus social dynamics.


The biggest qualm I have with this paper is the location of the study. It takes place at a college where it is dominated by organizations who express ethno-racial identities. In fact, 66.2% of all organizations at this school could be considered ethno-racial social spaces devoted to identities of nonwhite students. What if they would have done it at another university? I feel that they are only able to generalize to a small subset of our overall population.

I understand the different cultures portray themselves differently, but I thought different cultures/ethnicity would exhibit almost the same behavior as the majority culture. I guess that’s a bit of narrow-mindedness on my part, but I never really thought about it.

At the end of this study they found that ethno-racial identities are salient and highly elaborated. They have been found to be more social by investing more time into how their online identity, as well as the “About Me” section on most SNS, is portrayed to the masses. It seems that people who are apart of this post more culturally explicit content and elaborate narratives more so than others.

Identity Management: Multiple Presentations of Self in Facebook

The goal of this research paper is to gain a further understanding of how users manage different social networks through one system. They then want to see how users keep in contact with their past social groups (in a few months it will be my college friends) and their current workplace connections. They studied Facebook profiles as well as conducted interviews with employees, more specifically younger employees, from a large software development company.

After conducing their research they found Facebook is permeating the workplace, or spreading throughout the workplace. It is becoming part of young people’s routine in the workday. Weird, I don’t use Facebook at work, oh wait… shit I do, and I do a lot. It’s really not what you’re thinking, I don’t just sit around and scan the online identities of my fellow “friends,” I get to use it for work; integrating Facebook into application and whatnot. I can see how people would want this to become part of the workday.

Companies (this company, they generalize) acknowledge SNS offer many benefits, not only to their bottom line, but to their employee moral and well-being. SNS can be used to increase communication and collaboration among employees, the stated. Current employees can also use SNS to learn about new employees and/or team members. Sounds great, hopefully none of my online identities are offensive, I have been trying to make it this way for a long time.

On to the part about how users manage various profiles, professional and personal. Multiple user profiles help people manage their online identities without unintended leakage between corporate and social personas.

Great, I can have a personal life as well as one at work, but I wonder, are those two personas really different? I would contend that they mix and mash together. If someone searches my name on Google, someone would find my personal site (blog as of now), my social networks, and my company profile/blog posts. Are they really going to differentiate the two? I hope so, but can only hope for so much.

Managing multiple profiles can be a huge burden also, as this article pointed out. Settings and controls on most platforms are either non-existent or extremely complicated. The authors of this paper contend that better authoring tools are necessary for users to do this more efficiently.

Social Media Literacy: Integrating Online Identity Management into Engineering and Technology Education

Wow, this paper was written by my professor and two classmates. Weird to think that in about half a year, people could be reading my papers and actually taking something from it. Now that we’re over that, this paper basically talks about how colleges should be teaching social media literacy, which will help students preparing for entering the job market. It goes on to discuss the impact of online information during the employment process, and it finally argues for the teaching of social media literacy, specific to online identity management, in the undergraduate curriculum.

Their findings, from the school of engineering, emphasized four main things:

  1. Social media usage patterns
  2. Awareness of the need to manage online reputations
  3. Strategies students use to manage their online identity
  4. Education about online identity management

As I would love to write more and go over all of these individually, unfortunately I am not. The part I found most interesting was most people (12/15 from the study) had no clue employers use online information to find out more about you and make judgments. How could someone NOT know this???? Baffling. I know I sound a little harsh, and it may seem apparent to me as I am in the technology field, but with the Internet being so prominent and social networking sites being so big, how do you miss that???

I liked the points made in the article, and most of them do relate to me. Relating them to my research is a whole different story, as I am not studying online identity. I think the only case I could make for investigating it in my research would be how students perceive other students, how teachers perceive students, and vice versa.

EDIT (notes from class)

Stages (front and back) they are social contexts. Anything can be a front or back stage, what matters is perception.

  • front – how you portray yourself in real world
  • control your image related to the rest of your friends
  • Ex) my professional blog where I care about what people see
  • back – really let go of what is going on. Don’t have to control your performance. Relaxed
  • letting go of management process
  • Ex) my Facebook interaction with some of my closest friends, where I have to think about what I’m saying

Adapting to audience = impression management

Quotes (How do you become your “SELF”) – George Herbert Mead

  • “Individuals can acquire identity only by interacting with others”
  • “In the process of acquiring language, individuals learn the common meanings of their culture. This is what it means to acquire a mind”
  • “Humans have the distinctive ability to be both the subjects and the objects of their experience”
  • “We import, or take inside ourselves, the perspectives of others, which become our (for the ME part of us) own perspectives on the world.”


I am a life-long learner, adventure seeker, and front-end developer for @ExactTarget