Thesis

"It's complicated": actual, ideal, ought and socially desirable self-presentation on Facebook

This study set out to understand, by way of examining the theoretical frameworks of identity theory and impression management, the ways in which people do self-presentation online. Specifically, I looked to see whether offline self-presentation affects online self-presentation, and whether the "selves" people present on Facebook are actual, ideal, ought, or socially desirable. Data were collected from a nationwide sample of 820 Facebook users by means of an online survey and analyzed through path analysis. The study results reveal that people tend to portray their actual selves on Facebook, rather than their ideal, ought or socially desirable selves. These results reflected those of an earlier study about self-presentation on Facebook (Back et al. 2010), which found that respondents presented their actual selves rather than their ideal selves online. However, I assumed, following the impression management literature, that Facebook presentations would reflect a mix of actual and ideal selves, as I thought people would want to create profiles that appeared authentic but also impressed their friends and others. It seems, however, that self-presentation on Facebook reflects more of an identity-theory concept of self, which suggests that people invoke the identity that is most salient for their situation. Due to Facebook relationships being, for the most part, formed offline and maintained online, people may feel less pressure to impress their social networks and more pressure to portray their selves in a way that their Facebook friends would recognize and validate.

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