Privacy, Publicity, and Accountability of Self-Presentation in an On-Line Discussion Group
Although the anonymous condition of on-line interaction seems to provide space for the experiment of decentered, fluid, and multiple forms of identity, the disembodied on-line identity often entails the fallout of accountability of self-presentation. This article explores the nature of self-presentation in cyberspace by conducting a case study of an on-line discussion group. Specifically, it deals with the issue of disembodiment and accountability of on-line identity in a close connection to the feature of the obliteration of the public/private boundary in the group. This study inquires into the following questions: “What techniques, if any, do members of the group employ to conceal their identity information?”; “Under what circumstances do members voluntarily disclose their identity information?”; “How do participants probe others' identity cues and thus construct pattern knowledge about them?”; and “How should differences/similarities between on-line self-presentation and face-to-face identity styles be addressed?” In doing so, this article, on the one hand, tries to integrate the dynamics of participants' active “identity probing” as an important interaction dimension to the study of on-line self-presentation that has so far heavily worked on the processes of identity concealment and self-disclosure. On the other, referring to literatures on identity styles in off-line settings, it addresses similarities of and differences between patterns of on-line/off-line self-presentation.