Socializing and Self-Representation online: Exploring Facebook

Gunn Sara Enli, Nancy Thumim


Blurring boundaries between producers and audiences are widely acknowledged (Bruns, 2005; Jenkins, 2007) Troubling of the distinction between producers and audiences is particularly striking in new media forms, such as social networking sites on the Internet. The role of the audience is no longer solely that of spectator, but now includes producing, spectating and socializing. The social network site Facebook has fast become a popular arena for socializing, and reached a ‘critical mass’ in Europe and, in the process of socializing participants must construct self-representations. The paper will analyze how the social network institution and the technological features shape the possibilities for socializing and self-representation. The paper will be in three parts, the first part exploring the socialization aspect, the second part exploring the self-representation aspect and the conclusion drawing out some implications of the combined analysis of socializing and self-representation.
The media industry has increasingly recognized the potential in institutionalizing people’s desire to be included in communities and to socialize in mediated spaces (Enli and Syvertsen, 2007). Online communities can be placed in a historical line of ideals of a more democratic media production (Brecht, 1979; Enzenberger, 1979; Corner 1994). New media are likewise expected to include more people in the process as producers and not just consumers of the product, through meaning production and digital storytelling. Social network sites such as Facebook have institutionalized and mediatized personal processes of socializing and display of identity, which traditionally have belonged to the private and non-mediated spheres. These online communities combine features from mass media with features from personal media. The paper will explore the concept of digital friendship, and discuss the arena for socializing and self-represenation. How do the users negotiate the hybrid position between being private and being public, with what implications?
In the process of socializing online in Facebook, people construct textual representations. Representations are always mediated by what they consist of; texts, photographs, moving image, pencil drawing, for example, and how they are framed; in a gallery, on a website, on a cinema screen, for example. Of course mediation begins before, and continues well beyond the production and display of ‘texts’ (Silverstone, 1999; Couldry, 2006; Martin-Barbero, 1993). This paper will address one dimension of the mediation process: the ‘processes of textual mediation’ (Thumim, 2009) in order to explore self-representations in Facebook. Self-representation as it is used here points to members of the public representing themselves and thereby affecting an intervention into ‘old’ media practices whereby the public are represented by media professionals.
Boyd (2007) argues that the cost of the social convergence occurring in social networking sites is a sense of exposure and invasion. The combination of exploring socializing and self-representation allows us to speculate as to possibilities and limitations for self-representation in the infrastructure in Facebook, and how these intersect with users’ negotiation of their hybrid position between being in private and being in public.


Self-Representation, Socializing, Facebook, Social media

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