Social networks are awesome. They’re interesting; they’re time consuming; they’re confusing; they’re frustrating; they’re…a whole lotta cool. My guess is that you probably spend about 27 hours a day online participating in some sort of social networking. Perhaps you are even multi-tasking, like me, and networking while cooking, singing, cutting your toenails, and doing other important life tasks. WELL GUESS WHAT?!!? Online social networks are a topic of rising interest among academics too!! Scholars are asking what implications social networking and online living might have for social interactions, capacity for memory, empathy, self presentation, and friendship performance (Keller 2011, Boyd and Ellison 2007).
One popular topic for highfalutin investigation is impression management—the conscious construction of an online persona or identity through networked connections and public displays of personal information, true or false (Donath and Boyd 2004). To avoid falsity or inauthenticity, most platforms encourage authentic representations of self by encouraging users to send messages to other users, comment on posts by other users, and use real photographs of themselves to create a sense of personal connection (Boyd and Ellison 2007). Erving Goffman’s theory of impression management explains that we monitor the behaviors and actions of people we encounter and attempt to see through what we perceive as false while simultaneously trying to project a constructed identity that fits others’ expectations of us and our desires for self-perception (Goffman 1959). Social media theorists have adopted Goffman’s system of “front stage” and “back stage” regions in face-to-face interactions to describe online identity formation (Ytreberg 2002).
You know when you finally work up the courage to send a fanmail message to somebody cute on Tumblr and say something like–“So, um, your blog is really cool and stuff. I have hairy pits too. We should be friends.”–that’s front stage. And the rest of the time when you’re just scrolling endlessly drooling over sexy queers and wondering if you might be able to pull off gold lame short shorts? That’s back stage.
In “The Social Media Bible,” author Sakfo describes how social networks develop trust among group of people with a share interest. He explains how the internet has become a trusted, reliable, friend, providing advice and housing confidential information (Safko and Brake 2009). I don’t know about you all, but my relationship with the internet is more nuanced than at least one or two of my offline relationships. The only person who knows more of my secrets is my dog, and she may or may not be telling.
In an article on the creation of online communities of gay and lesbian folks, Robin Queen discusses the importance of language in creating queer space. She writes:
“The social differentiation of gender differs significantly between queer and non-queer speakers in that the social categories masculine and feminine map on to queer experiences differently than on to non-queer experiences (if they can be said to map on to queer experiences at all). Queer people alternatively appropriate or distance themselves from the stereotypes associated with men and women generally. However, they may also do the same with stereotypes associated with queer people specifically (Queen 1998).
Stereotypes related to gender and sexuality are largely constructed through the use of specific language and, in the vast world of online communication, it’s possible to carefully choose language that disrupts binary constructs–or dichotomous arrangements that pit identities against one another in a seemingly dualistic arrangement. Members of queer online communities generally share a base knowledge of stereotypical—I would argue binary—language that allows them the freedom to experiment with alternative usages.
In my humble opinion, some similarities can be drawn between the formation of an online identity and the formation of gender identity. Check out my next post where I talk about genderqueerness in all its glory.
Boyd, Danah M and Nicole B Ellison. 2007. “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.” Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication 13 (1): 210-230.
Boyd, Danah. 2011.“Why Youth ♥ Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life.” The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning: 119-142.
Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in EverydayLife. New York: Doubleday.
Keller, Bill. “The Twitter Trap.” New York Times Magazine. The New York Times, 18 May 2011. Web. 24 Sept. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/22/magazine/the-twitter-trap.html?_r=4>.
Lewis, Kevin, Jason Kaufman, and Nicholas Christakis. “The Taste for Privacy: An Analysis of College Student Privacy Settings in an Online Social Network.”Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14.1 (2008): 79-100.
Safko, Lon, and David K. Brake. The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.
Queen, Robin M. 1998. “‘Stay queer!’‘Never fear!’: building queer social networks.” World Englishes 17 (2): 203-214.
Ytreberg, Espen. 2002. “Erving Goffman as a theorist of the mass media.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 19(4):481-497.
Nail Biter: http://bit.ly/HU9QIg
Stella: Personal photo