Online Identity on Facebook becoming more and more complex

On: September 26, 2010
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About Mathijs Voordenberg
I’m Mathijs, a student New Media at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). In 2009 I finished my bachelor Media and Culture at the University of Amsterdam with a thesis about the public sphere of Youtube. In 2009-2010 I worked as vice-president of the Amsterdam student union (ASVA), As vice-president I was responsible for the human resource, the promotion and a couple of projects among which the election of the teacher of the year at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (the Amsterdam university of applied science). Next to my study I work as freelance photographer and filmmaker.


‘Sharing information about ones Identity on the net is a process of self-portrayal’ (Baier et al. 2003: p. 3).

A couple of years ago the world of social network sites was quite clear. There was facebook for students, linkedIn for professionals and your parents didn’t have any interest in social network sites. Things have changed, especially facebook. facebook is no longer just a site for students, my family members now have a facebook profile and I have professional contacts in my friend list. My list of friends became more and more diverse. And with becoming more heterogeneous, your facebook identity becomes more complex.

Our online identity became a part of our lives. danah boyd writes in ‘Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life’ about youth and their online identity on MySpace. ‘A MySpace profile can be seen as a form of digital body where individuals must write themselves into being’ (boyd 2007: p. 13). She regards that users create their MySpace identity by writing; when we look at facebook we see that users create their identity by posting and sharing. Baier et al. also wrote about this in their article ‘Digital identity: how to be someone on the net’.

Your facebook wall and your photos determine your identity. The question what you post depends on the way you want to present yourself. This is what Erving Goffman calls ‘impression management: the arts, basic in social life, though which the individual experts strategic control over the image of himself and his products that others glean from him’ (Goffman 1986: 130).

Of course the way you present yourself depends on the group you’re in. You’re constantly adopting group values, and acting toward those values. When we look at facebook we see that those values are quite explicit. When you write something, the group is able to like and comment on your post. Popular postings that get a lot of comments show up at the “top news” pages, while postings without any group interest end at the “most recent” page between all the maffia wars and farmville updates.

In a homogeneous group it’s clear what the values of the group are and how you have to present yourself. With facebook becoming more and more diverse, the group values become more opaque/ambiguous. It’s no longer possible to conform yourself to the values of the group, because there is no longer one group. The way you present yourself in a professional setting is totally different than in a personal setting, but with facebook those different world become mixed up. ‘As the user composition of facebook becomes more diverse, it will become more challenging for individuals to manage their personal identity within a website originally designed for the college years, but increasingly open to the post-college and professional years’ (Dimicco 2007: 384).

What does the transformation of facebook from homogeneous to heterogeneous mean for your online identity?

Baier, Toby, Christian Zirpins und Winfried Lamersdorf. ‘Digital Identity: How to be Someone on the Net.’ In: Proceedings of the IADIS International Conference of e-Society, 2003.

boyd, danah. ‘Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life.’ MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning – Youth, Identity, and Digital Media Volumee. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.

DiMicco, J.M. and Millen, D.R. ‘Identity management: multiple presentations of self in facebook.’ Conference on Supporting Group Work, Sanibel Island, 2007.

Goffman, Erving. Stigma : notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York: Touchstone, 1986.

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