Creating an Online Self: Developing Virtual Identity in Online Group Interaction Spaces
King’ara, George N.
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Online groups have pervasively become platforms for association and interaction. Hence, it is important to study how interactions on these virtual groups affect the selves of individual group members, and whether communication activities in these groups lead to formation of virtual identities of active members which is distinguishable from their non-mediated identity. To analyze the development of virtual identity, four focus group discussions of ten youthful participants each, who were members of various online groups, were conducted and eight social media experts were interviewed. Concepts of Communication Theory of Identity (CTI) and Uses and Gratification Theory were employed to analyze collected data in assessing how online group interactions that involve fashioning identity, impression management, anonymity and pro-social behavior lead to formation of online group members virtual identity. We first interrogate how these online groups shape behavior online by interrogating the individual group member’s conversations and actions online and paralleling them with their conversations and actions offline. Second, using the threedimensional identity formation model (Crocetti, Rubini, & Meeus, 2008), we crystalize how these online interactions and behavior cause individual group member’s to feel, think and understand themselves in ways that promote a unique online-self, which we refer to as the virtual identity.