Despite being more likely to present the actual self during Internet-based communication, presenting the ideal self can allow aspects of the ideal self to be incorporated into the actual self. An important part of a person’s actual self is what the person perceives other people’s concepts of that person to be (Higgins, 1987). An individual can provide information about concepts from the ideal self during Internet-based communication, and will likely believe that the conversational partner includes this information in his/her concept of the individual, which makes it part of the actual self (McKenna, et al., 2002). Presenting information about the ideal self can make it part of the actual self if other people believe that the information is accurate. A feature of Internet-based communication allows users to present the ideal self because they are given more time to respond during a conversation. An Internet user can “craft” the response because an immediate reply is not necessary (McKenna & Bargh, 2000). An Internet user has more time to think of a response to a statement, comment, or question during Internet-based communication than in face-to-face interaction. Although the actual self is more cognitively accessible than the ideal self during Internet-based communication, the time-delay for an expected response during Internet-based communication allows the user to retrieve information from the ideal self and present this information to the conversational partner. In addition to presenting the both the ideal self and the actual self during Internet-based communication, Internet users must provide information about nonverbal features that are easily accessed during face-to-face interaction.
Internet-based communication requires different methods of information disclosure than traditional face-to-face interaction does because Internet-based communication lacks much of the nonverbal information found in face-to-face interaction (Walther, 1994). Nonverbal information that appears in face-to-face interaction but not most methods of Internet-based communication includes body language, physical appearance, tone of voice, and eye contact. Researchers studying Internet-based communications in the 1990s and earlier hypothesized that the friendships formed through Internet-based communication would be of poorer quality, less intimate, and shorter-lasting because of this “lost” nonverbal information (Kraut, et al., 1998; Walther, 1994). However, some studies have revealed that the lack of nonverbal information in Internet-based communication is “made up” over time: when researchers allow participants to have open-ended interaction, they have intimate and satisfying relationships similar to ones that occur through face-to-face interaction (Parks & Floyd, 1996). Additionally, without visual access to the dress, physical attractiveness, and mannerisms of the other person, a person will project ideal or desired characteristics of a potential friend onto one’s conversational partner when the initial conversation has been enjoyable (Bargh, et al., 2002). Although this projection does not rely on information disclosure, it suggests that people are willing to fill in the gaps in their concept of the other person with positive information rather than negative information. Information about physical appearance may also be transmitted by providing one’s conversational partner with a picture of oneself, but it is possible that a person will provide an outdated, particularly flattering, altered picture, or a picture of someone else. Many people believe that nonverbal information is very reliable during face-to-face interaction (Fiske, 2004, p. 90), but the nonverbal information disclosed during Internet-based communication may be less than accurate. Information about nonverbal features is important during friendship formation, but it is malleable by both parties because of the anonymity of Internet-based communication.
Effects of Anonymity: Deindividuation and Nonconforming Behavior
Information Disclosure on Social Networking Websites
Information disclosure occurs on social networking websites, although the information provided has malleable accuracy. Name and academic classification (freshman, senior, graduate student, etc.) are disclosed most often: 87% of a sample of college students (Stutzman, 2006) and 82% of a sample of teens report including this information in their user profiles on social networking websites (Lenhart & Madden, 2007). More than three-quarters of both samples report including a picture of themselves (77% of college students, 79% of teens). Less than two-thirds of the samples include the name of the city in which they live (62% of college students, 61% of teens). More than half of college students include information about their political views and membership in certain clubs (55%). Less than two-fifths of the college student sample include information about their sexual orientation and a brief biography of themselves (37% of college students) and provide a link to their personal website or web blog (18% of college students, 39% of teens). Although these samples of college students and teenagers revealed that they disclose information about themselves in their profiles on social networking websites, this information may not be accurate because users want to remain somewhat anonymous. Providing more information that is accurate about oneself leads to increased identifiably. A sample of more than 1,000 college students reported that the participants agree that their social networking profile is accurate (M = 4.16 on a Likert scale where 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree; Lampe, Ellison, & Steinfeld, 2006). However, a survey of teenagers almost 1,000 teenagers revealed that 46% of those teens included at least some false information in their social networking profiles (Lenhart & Madden, 2007). The same survey found that the amount of reported false information in social networking profiles decreases with age: younger teens reported including more false information than older teens. It is possible that younger people are more concerned with being identified than older people, which would explain why the college students believe their profiles are accurate and the younger teens reported including false information. College students report that it is important to protect their identity information online (M = 4.21 on a Likert scale of 1 to 5, where 5 = strongly agree), are somewhat concerned about the consequences of sharing identity information (M = 3.29), somewhat likely to share their identity information online in the future (M = 3.34), and less likely to believe that their identity information is well protected online (M = 2.66) (Stutzman, 2006). Both of these samples of people with social networking profiles report being concerned with the identifiability of their profiles, but younger people are more likely to provide false information than older people. Regardless of the amount of false information in social networking profiles, these profiles play a role in the maintenance of friendships.
Many researchers have reported that participants establish interpersonal relationships through online communication. Another survey of 600 Internet users found that 50% of those respondents had formed a relationship with another person online that resulted in a face-to-face meeting, and 20% had developed a long-term romantic relationship through online communication (McKenna, 1998). Nearly two-thirds of respondents to a survey (60.7%) reported that they had established at least one personal relationship through participation in online newsgroups (Parks, 1996). In a national sample of adolescents, 25% of the participants reported having a friendship with someone that they knew online but had never met in person (Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2002). However, these friendships were formed through participation in newsgroups/forums, direct emails, and instant messaging, not through social networking profiles. It is possible that users use social networking websites to meet new people who they do not know from offline contact (face-to-face interaction). Some research has suggested that social networking websites are fundamentally different than Internet-based communication because social networking websites are used more often for discovering information about people that the user knows from face-to-face interaction. A study by Lampe, et al. (2006) found that students with social networking profiles do not look for new friends online. Instead, they use social networking websites to find out more about people they know offline. Although many studies have found that Internet users have formed friendships over the Internet, these studies primarily examined newsgroups and computer-mediated communication between two individuals. It is possible that newsgroups/forums, instant messaging, chat rooms, and direct emails are useful when the conversational partners do not have access to each other in the online world, but social networking profiles are useful when the two parties know each other from face-to-face interaction. It seems probable that social networking websites are fundamentally different than communications method previously research in studies of computer-mediated communication and newsgroups because these methods are used during different stages of friendship formation.
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 Computer-mediated communication is a process by which two individuals converse through an Internet connection. This includes instant messages, email, and experimental/laboratory settings in which two individuals sit in adjacent rooms and discuss a topic via written text messages to the other person on one of two computers.