What Has Gone Before: Research Into Self-Presentation Online

Literature on self-presentation online all agrees on one particularly salient point; an online environment offers a level of control over the self that one shows previously unheard of. As far back as 1959, Erving Goffman addressed the presentation of self in everyday life, writing at length about how personal presentation was enacted throughout daily life, whether unconscious or conscious, in order to create a particular portrayal of oneself towards observers. He addressed the fact that this was not a flawless method of attitude management, as there will always be subtle cues that can’t be controlled without great difficulty by the ‘actor’. This is, of course, not the case any more. With the rise of computer-mediated communication, a persona can be micro-managed to the point of complete control. Internet scholar Sherry Turkle wrote in her 1995 study Identity In The Age Of The Internet ‘you can completely redefine yourself if you want. You don’t have to worry about the slots other people put you in as much’, and this exemplifies how personality works online. Much literature on the subject of blogging has addressed the balance between presenting the self as truthfully as possible whilst presenting the self as positively as possible and Twitter, with it’s emphasis on the idea of ‘what are you thinking’ micro-blogging, walks the line between the two like a tightrope. The need to highlight positive attributes of a self online is mitigated versus the desire to present a true, authentic self to others is apparent for any person in an online community, and this extends – perhaps even more meaningfully – to celebrity self-presentation – Nicole Ellison et al. saw the contradiction of honesty/appeal as inherent to computer-mediated communication on dating sites; this can be applied to celebrity self-presentation by seeing this online dating as a form of online marketing.
Celebrities are by their very nature ‘created’ personas in many ways; for whatever reason they are celebrities, this prejudice from the public will colour any view of them. How they then present themselves through Twitter was seen in research by David Marshall to have to address a number of different subjects and facets of their personalities; their presentation of their personality is interspersed with self-promotion, marketing tweets and other information we would not expect to see from ordinary members of the public.
The fact remains that celebrities are not anonymous – anything but, in fact – outside of their self-presentation. Qian & Scott discuss at the beginning of their investigation into anonymity and self-disclosure how ‘self disclosure can be risky because it may invite ridicule or even rejection’ but I must take into account that, whilst this might be true, typically the most embarrassing moments of disclosure for celebrities occur in the media outside of their influence. Might it be the case then that celebrities will use Twitter for (what they might consider) their honest self-presentation, free of media spin, or is it simply another medium for marketing themselves in a completely self-controlled style? Kaye Trammell believes it to be a combination of the two, differing between celebrities. I feel this is probably the most reasonable judgement, and so will be using this as my primary inspiration for judging how celebrity self-presentation on Twitter works and what it hopes to achieve.


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