Identity Ecologies

It’s rare for someone to only have an account on one social media website; people create accounts across all sorts of social media sites, ranging from the more commonly used, like Facebook or Twitter, to more niche sites that cater to specific interests. What’s more, people often create multiple accounts within a single site, even when the site itself explicitly prohibits this type of behavior. Across all of these sites and accounts, people create identities that their audiences subsequently see, interpret, and react to.

Sometimes, these constructed identities align perfectly across an individual’s online presence. However, it is more common that each account on each site is tailored with a specific audience in mind. Where a Facebook profile might contain more tightly curated posts and pictures to account for the wider audience that can see those posts, a F(riend)Instagram might contain posts that are less curated, because the audience that can see those posts is much more controlled.

In this project, we investigate the concept of identity ecologies – how people create identity in different online spaces and for (and maybe in reaction to) different audiences. In doing so, we tackle several overarching questions-How do identities and audiences cross between different platform boundaries? How do people navigate these complex networks during identity shifts? What causes them to engage or disengage from a platform, effectively creating a new identity or deleting a previous one from their identity ecology?

This project is supported by the CU Beverly Sears Small Grant and the CU UROP programs.