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Social Networking Sites and Social Theory

The internet, specifically social networking tools like Twitter, assaults the boundary between our private and public selves. The many representations of “George” – father, son, brother, employee, friend – move toward one on Facebook. Social networking and social theory explores this blurring of identities through Erving Goffman’s (a connection to Manitoba!) work: “front stage” and “back stage” concepts have been a useful way to understand social life. Goffman wrote in 1959 of how we keep certain information private, part of the process of impression management.”
Impression management is not solely under our control. If you have presented at a conference, commented on a blog, or had someone take an image of you and post (and tag) on Flickr, you exist online. Others participate in defining and broadcasting who we are.


  1. Bron Stuckey wrote:

    I agree George there is a greater opportunity now to manufacture a public personae; to work on that front stage. When I blog or tweet or comment on FB, while it is part of a stream of activity, I am still choosing to project aspects of my day or thinking and leave behind others. Impressions are gained from that are no more the whole me – just what I elect to expose. OK it’s not all under our control but a darned lot of purposive identity sculpting is happening.

    Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 8:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Christine wrote:

    It’s about a two way communication thou. Sure we are all busy posting our thoughts and what we are doing, but the real interesting about Twitter is where you start to engage. There is a space to make connections with people who are directly involved with your field. This could be your hobbies, your job, studies, anything.

    That is where I think the real value in it is. You can get far better responses then if you were to Google something for information because you are getting back, real experiences and opinions.

    (also YEAH to the Manitoba mention, I’m from there and always makes me happy to see)

    Monday, March 23, 2009 at 4:28 am | Permalink
  3. Mollybob wrote:

    I agree that we lose an element of control because by interacting with others, we are giving them a part of ourselves in a sense. Perhaps there’s a greater pressure to always be “front stage” now? I think the boundaries between the two are certainly blurring, and sometimes the results can be uncomfortable, and sometimes, surprisingly supportive. You’ve certainly prompted some thought here – thank you.

    Monday, March 23, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  4. Nicola wrote:

    This may or may not be surprising but I really really struggle with this (what to be open and public about, what is useful to keep private – if anything or just acceptance that everything will be public so care – less?) But how to do that? A lot of the online world appears to be perfectly happy with Facebook and get huge benefits from both Facebook, Twitter etc
    Also find it incredibly hard to define relationships and myself online, even though I’ve been online for years – I just don’t like defining them but I can’t give a sensible answer why not – maybe because I don’t think of defining relationships offline, just talk with people and sometimes it may be enjoyable / useful so will talk with them more than once without thinking too much about what it is we’re doing or how / in what way we are connected ? I don’t have to define a time limit – or level of permanence which is required for following / unfollowing and need to explain both.

    Some of it may have to do with design / usability features as per an Adam Greenfield post

    Quite liked a recent post from Louis Gray where he spoke about what he shares in relation to what value he thinks it provides to both himself and potential readers

    That doesn’t cover the bit you mentioned in your post about existing online as a result of things like presentations, mobile phone cameras though

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  5. You know, I think a pre-internet version of this is just people taking pictures of you without you wanting to be in them. That establishes something of how you’re known by others, and how you’ll be remembered. But then … this could also be said of people including us in stories or articles and back in the day, just people talking over the fence.

    Like money, technology is an amplified. It takes something that was already happens and in this case just makes it much more obvious.

    People are increasingly worried about privacy these days. My opinion: get your act in order. Technologies not going to let you have a private life much longer. Ok … maybe another generation or so. It won’t just be Big Brother watching you. It’ll be everyone, if they care to. It will be fun to see how privacy defenses rise up against privacy invasions. :)

    Saturday, July 24, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
  6. Social science tells us that social problems come from too many people in a limited space.

    I remember having a home in upstate NY, 30 years ago. When we moved to the big city, we wanted to rent our home and discovered that we did not even have keys to our house. That pervasive attitude that we were safe in our small town was certainly lost when we lived in a city.

    Imagine how that metaphor translates to social networks online. Many of us have been surprised at the extent that our private lives have become public as we have entered in social networks. I appreciate the safeguards that are in place. But, many of us are not aware of, or are not concerned about how much we are in the public eye now.

    Monday, October 4, 2010 at 6:21 am | Permalink

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