Month: September 2013

Referring to Livingstone (2008), how do people use social networking services to construct their identities, and how do social connections form part of those identities?

Weinreich (1998), defines the meaning of an individual’s identity as “the totality of one’s self-construal”, where present self-construal is shaped by the continuity between one’s past and how one aspires to be in the future. Here, identity is referred to as a timeline of self-representation.

As social networking sites (SNSs) facilitate self-representation and document user-created identities, an individual is able to establish any online identity they choose. Self-construal through an individual’s choices and motivation whilst using SNSs help construct an identity when considering what information is revealed about oneself, what content is displayed in association with oneself, and how one interacts with others (Livingstone 2008). An online identity is defined by how an individual aims to be perceived by others online.

mage credit: James Rick
Anonymity is an affordance of an online culture, hence individuals may take on any identity they wish.

When representing oneself, according to Livingstone (2008), SNSs create great opportunities for self-expression, creativity and sociability. By constructing a ‘profile’ on a SNS, an individual has varying opportunities to identify their online space through blogging, commenting, updating their ‘status’, ‘liking’, sharing photographs, following, ‘tweeting’ and much more. This collective combination of actions completed in an online sphere presents a certain tone and persona and creates a certain reflection of an individual. For example, Elena, a teenager sampled in market research (Livingstone 2008), communicated that SNS layouts where the user can customise their display helps show who the individual is, and that, for example, something as basic as having a rainbow featured on your page can suggest you are a happy person.

ustralian beauty vlogger, Lauren CurtisInstagram photos convey colours, smiles, makeup and fashion, which portray her as a bright, happy, well-presented individual.

Many SNSs also map identity through social history in the form of timelines, activity history and dated posts. These features display an individual’s past and present, where the user dictates their future activity and identity.

mage credit: Tech2
The Facebook timeline feature lets use
rs ‘tell their life story’.

Identity is also shaped by an individual’s sense of belonging, which is impacted by relationships in the form of social connections and community (see ‘Top Three Reasons We Join Social Networking Sites‘ by Jeff Hurt of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting).

Online social connections can display an individual’s position in a peer network, where the online social practices of peers can shape what content an individual displays and what information is revealed. For example, a peer posting multiple photos of themselves and their friends at a social event, might encourage an individual within the same social circle to do the same, where a concept of identity is established through connection.

Another social practice in the form of stylistic shifts in profiles and SNS preferences amongst peers can also breed a transition in identity development. For example, as Livingstone (2008) explains, the market research study of teenage social network practices found that most participants perceived Facebook as the “clean profile favoured by older teenagers”, therefore, when peers began using Facebook, other peers followed suit. In this case, media platform choices can be a reflection of relative maturity.

How exchanges between peers are established also plays a nominal role in the formation of social identity, as when referencing online relationships, Livingstone (2008) suggests that the prioritisation of values such as authenticity, reciprocity and intimacy are displayed in an open fashion. For example, others may judge the authenticity of an individual’s character if it is apparent they are adding ‘friends’ to their profile for a number count, rather than being actual friends. Much the same as how leaving ten comments per day on someone’s profile can suggest to others that the individual is needy, construed through their need for sustaining constant connection with peers or lust for self-advertising.

 snapshot of the repeat comments left on Kendall Jenner‘s Instagram photo by people looking to gain more ‘followers’.

Finally, social connection in the form of an individual’s chosen community exhibits a form of identity as consumer preferences can bring their own judgements. For example, a strong display of Star Wars references in a profile might communicate ‘nerd’, such as a strong display of expensive handbags might communicate ‘materialistic’, hence people make immediate judgements on an individual’s identity based on their consumer culture.

Overall, the anonymity provided by an online environment and choices made by an individual when showcasing themselves and interacting with others, creates great opportunity for identity creation and manipulation.


  • Livingstone, S 2008, ‘Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression’, New Media & Society, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 393-411.
  • Weinreich, P 1998, ‘Social Exclusion and Multiple Identities’, Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture, vol. 9, pp. 139-144.

How do the affordances of a networked media culture (hyperlinks, multimedia, sharing etc) enhance online communication?

As defined by the Internet Society (2013), the Internet is a “worldwide broadcasting capability, a mechanism for information dissemination, and a medium for collaboration and interaction between individuals and their computers”.

The first part of this definition, the Internet as a broadcasting capability and mechanism for information dissemination, strongly reflects the beginning stages of the Internet, where a basic data transfer protocol called TCP/IP was created in order for connected computers to data share (Hinton & Hjorth 2013). TCP/IP does not decipher data; it only ensures it is transferred to the intended computer in an unaltered format. In addition to TCP/IP are ‘application protocols’ – designed to make sense of the data. The web itself is one of these application protocols, the hypertext transfer protocol called HTTP. HTTP is used by all web browsers to share information across the Internet and is designed to assemble text, images, video and interactive components collectively in a coherent interface (Hinton & Hjorth 2013). As hypertext utilises hyperlinks, it can be said that HTTP relates strongly to the other part of the Internet definition, a worldwide medium for collaboration and interaction between individuals and their computers – suggesting that an online environment is much more than basic data transfer.

Hinton & Hjorth (2013) outline the Internet as facilitating three types of communities. The first being a virtual community, that which identifies and invigorates public discussion and uses the Internet as an empowering medium. The second being a networked community, where the emphasis is on the continuity of offline relationships in an online environment, and the third being networked publics, the collection and intersection of people, practice and technology. It can be said that these online communities can only exist in a collaborative and interactive sphere.

Image is a community of online gamers, facilitating a network of news, videos, albums, files, blogs, groups and forums relating to online games.

Hyperlinks, multimedia and sharing are essential in a collaborative and interactive online environment. Hyperlinks are references that automatically take the user to a particular point in a cited work. In reference to the web, they enable ‘browsing’ or ‘surfing’, where the user is transported through pages of the web by hyperlinks, with focus on a navigational aspect (Halavais 2008). Multimedia relates to many different media formats that can be seen and heard, such as pictures, sound, videos, films, animation and so on.

The sharing of both hyperlinks and multimedia relates to a networked media culture as they are the basic building blocks through which multidimensional, complex and easily editable communication systems are created (Halavais 2008). A networked media culture can provide advertising, a source of further discussion, a path for connecting, a way of demonstrating ownership, a link to other sites by the same author and a link to a group. All of these affordances represent the structures of deep knowledge and social interaction and enhance the online user experience.

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Qualified Australian makeup artist and beauty vlogger, Chloe Morello, is able to share (from her bedroom) her knowledge and passion for makeup and beauty with the world through the video-sharing website giant, YouTube. In not a one-way communication environment, but an online environment where interaction is facilitated and discussion is encouraged. Users can subscribe to her channel to keep updated and are also linked to suggested videos.

Whilst browsing for a particular book on the world’s largest online retailer’s website,, multiple hyperlinks of ‘suggested buys’ are displayed. This serves as a form of advertising, a hyperlink to other books by the same author, as well as an opportunity to link individuals with similar interests.

A networked media culture also enhances online communication by affording new kinds of communities to be created. As per boyd and Ellison’s (2007) definition of network (the maintenance of relationships) and networking (the initiation of new relationships), a networked media culture enables individuals to communicate with people they already know (offline) and strangers, where individuals may be geographically segregated.

Overall, without a networked media culture, online communication would defer back to all the primitiveness of TCP/IP and a basic data transfer, where vast knowledge and deep social interaction with others is extremely limited, communities are not formed and individuals are not empowered.


  • boyd, d & Ellison, N 2007, ‘Social network sites: Definition, history and scholarship’, Journal of Mediated Communication, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 210-230.
  • Halavais, A 2008, The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age, University of Michigan Press, Michigan.
  • Hinton, S & Hjorth, L 2013, Understanding Social Media, SAGE Publications Ltd, London.