Exploring the Impact of Social Networking Sites on the Construction and Performance of Identity Online
Hildebrand, Vanessa 1989-
Social networking sites (SNSs) provide an internet based platform for individuals to develop an online identity whereby their identity construction expresses and explores different aspects of the self. The individual SNS user, the internet site and the audience of the user’s online profile all participate in the formation of the user’s identity. There is a disagreement, however, within the literature about the extent to which online identity differs from offline identity. While existing studies have examined identity performance and SNSs, few studies have focused on the SNS users’ own perspectives of their online identities. This research aims to fill this gap and asks: what is the impact of SNSs on the construction and performance of identity online? A qualitative research design and an interpretive-constructivist approach informed the research. Qualitative data (through one-on-one interviews) was collected through in-depth interviews with adult SNS users. This research was informed by the combination of two primary theoretical frameworks: Erving Goffman’s conception of the self and Michel Foucault’s notion of the panopticon and governmentality. These frameworks come together to provide an understanding of the performance of identity online and the ways in which that performance is influenced by other users and the online environment. The findings indicate: SNS users’ online behaviour is highly influenced by their online audience; SNS users construct an ideal online identity that is a reflection of the audience and the embedded values of the sites themselves; and SNS users in this study report feelings of envy and inadequacy compared to the lives of their online peers. An SNS user engages in a reflexive process whereby they portray certain aspects of themselves, while concealing others. This research indicates that social networking sites act as a front stage (Goffman) for users to perform their ideal selves. In addition, users are aware that they are being watched at all times by their online audience and the awareness of this surveillance has resulted in the users becoming responsibilized, constructed citizens (Foucault).
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
SupervisorBrooks, Carolyn; Poudrier, Jennifer
CommitteeWright, Laura; Swanson, Lee; Elabor-Idemudia, Patience
Copyright DateMay 2017
Social Networking, Identity