Building identity online at #ASIST2017: A poster presentation

I am leaving for Washington, DC tomorrow morning to attend the 80th Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIST), where I will be presenting some of my research in the form of an academic poster. The presentation will be held during the President’s Reception on 30th October (6.30-8.00 pm) at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City (Independence Level, Center A).

The poster is titled “Building identity in online environments: an Information Science perspective” and was co-authored with my PhD supervisorsPeter CruickshankProfessor Hazel Hall, and Alistair Lawson. The research draws from some of the findings from my doctoral investigation on the use of online information in the management of personal reputation. Specifically, this work concerns an aspect of information behaviour and use related to the creation of online identity, which is addressed in one of my four research questions: How do individuals use information to build identities for themselves online?

This qualitative study used participant diaries and in-depth, semi-structured interviews as data collection tools. It involved 45 UK-based participants, and data collection took place between October 2015 and January 2016.

The content of the poster shares findings related to three areas of identity building. These are:

  • The creation and use of online “personas” and identities
  • The use of anonymity and pseudonyms through information sharing – or concealment – practices
  • The ways in which private and professional selves blur or merge together in online environments

The main finding presented in this work is that individuals present elements of their offline lives using online information to showcase different “personas”. However, they do not do this with the intention of building identity. The findings explored in this presentation are contextualised with reference to identity building in the more formal setting of academic reputation management, i.e. through the use of citations.

Please stop by the poster session to learn more about this research and my doctoral studies as a whole. You can also find me during the coffee breaks or other social activities.

Not in attendance? Don’t worry! As part of my “professional persona” I like to share information online. The links below will allow you to engage with my presentation from afar!

⇒  Poster download (low-res for online viewing)

⇒  Poster handout with further information

⇒  Full abstract from Edinburgh Napier University’s repository

If you have any questions about this research or the doctoral study as a whole, please contact me.

If you wish to interact in real-time, you can ask me questions on Twitter (@FrancesRyanPhD) or follow along with the conference using the hashtag #ASIST2017.

Accepted for conference: “Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online”

My conference paper, Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online, has been accepted for Information: Interactions and Impact Conference (i3) in Aberdeen, Scotland. The paper is co-authored by my PhD supervisors and is based on some of the findings from one of the four research questions being investigated for my doctoral thesis (How do individuals use online information to build and manage their reputations?).

The conference will take place 27-30 June at Robert Gordon University. I will present the paper the morning of the 29th (full programme here). I have 45 minutes (including time for questions) to discuss the paper and share some of the key findings, which I’ve highlighted below.

Blurred reputations: A pre-conference teaser:

The subset of findings to be shared at the conference are concerned with the ways in which private and professional lives blur online. The data analysed is relevant to information behaviours and literacies revealed four primary behaviours deployed by participants. These are: (1) portraying only parts of their personas for different audiences, (2) managing the type of information that is shared on different platforms, (3) managing the means by which they connect with others, and (4) undertaking various levels of self-censorship. For example:

Portrayal of persona parts for different audiences
Showcasing different aspects of a personality or different ‘personas’ is a tactic used to help build or manage professional and private reputations online. Personas may be deployed to minimise the levels of blurring between professional and private lives, with some participants actively and intentionally splitting out parts of their personas to ensure that they were maintaining an acceptable ‘professional’ reputation. This online presentation of personas aligns with Goffman’s seminal work about showcasing different aspects of one’s ‘self’ based on the situation.

Management of different types of information for different platforms
Similarly, participants interviewed for this study noted different information behaviours based on perceived audiences for their social networking sites and their understandings of a platform’s primary use. Whilst these behaviours are similar those related to personas, there is a nuanced difference in how the information shared across different platforms is limited. These behaviours are designed to create or manage a professional ‘reputation’ through the use of intentional strategies for the different types of information and vary based on individuals’ understanding of a platform’s primary purpose. For example, LinkedIn is seen as a professional platform whereas Facebook is seen as ‘private’.

Connections with others
The determination of a platform’s primary use also impacts how participants determine who to connect with. For example, as a professional platform, LinkedIn predominantly a space for professional connections, Facebook is viewed as a largely private networking platform, and Twitter falls somewhere in between. These determinations help to determine who participants will connect with on the different platforms, sometimes as a way of creating a public connection for the express purpose of reputation building. However, decisions on who to connect with on which platform can also be made to keep different groups of contacts away from each other.

Self-censorship
Self-censorship also plays a part in the management of this private/professional blur. These self-censorship behaviours are even more obvious when participants have professional connections on the platform in questions or when a colleague or employer might be able to gain access to the information. Indeed, some types of information might not be shared online in any form (for example, controversial views) whilst other types of information might be shared in a more controlled manner, such as with a subset of friends in a private group (for example, inappropriate photos). This is more important when an individual’s professional reputation is in question.

After the conference, I have the opportunity to submit the full paper for publication in a special issue of the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. If (when!) it is accepted and published, I will share a link to the publication. In the meantime, you can find a list of my current publications here on my website.

Determining examiners: A happy milestone

One of the vital elements of a PhD in the UK is the Viva, or “viva voce”. (Or, if you’re an American, the thesis defense!) It is an oral examination of the PhD research. It is an opportunity to discuss your research with an expert in your field. And, importantly, it is an opportunity to prove your worth in the Academy.

Before you get to the viva, you have to make sure that you have a qualified, knowledgeable examination team. The structure of that team might vary from one institution to the next, and even between disciplines. But one thing they’ll have in common is that the examiners will know their stuff!

At my university, the viva includes both an external and internal examiner with your panel chair acting as the chair and moderator. Supervisors are only allowed if the student says it’s OK, but they are not allowed to speak during the examination. (I am inviting my supervisors. They’re a wonderful support to me and I would be happy to have them there… if they dare!)

The examiners are generally identified by the supervision team (with potential input from the student) and are confirmed by the Research Degrees Committee. That confirmation is based on the relevant experience of the team and is determined based on a thesis abstract and the examiners’ CVs, relevant publications, and previous examination experience.

And confirming your examiners is a big deal! It means you’re getting a bit closer to your viva, which means you’re getting pretty darn near to submitting your thesis.

As for me, I submitted the relevant form (RD12) and accompanying information for approval today. Which means I’m close to being ready for my viva. Or, at least, it means I should be close! I still have a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, of writing to do. But I’m getting there. Slowly. Very slowly.

I don’t know if I’m able to share my abstract or the names of my chosen examiners yet. And I don’t know when the committee will formally accept my suggested people. So… I won’t share that information here today. But I did want to share this important milestone.

But for now… it’s back to that thesis writing thing that I should be working on…