You can leave your hat on-line: Multiple Context-Dependent Identities on Social Networking Sites

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Spyros Angelopoulos

    Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute - University of Nottingham

  2. 2. Michael Brown

    Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute - University of Nottingham

  3. 3. Dominic Price

    Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute - University of Nottingham

  4. 4. Richard Mortier

    Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute - University of Nottingham

  5. 5. Derek McAuley

    University of Nottingham

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

You can leave your hat on-line: Multiple Context-Dependent Identities on Social Networking Sites


Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom


Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom


Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom


Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom


Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom


Paul Arthur, University of Western Sidney

Locked Bag 1797
Penrith NSW 2751
Paul Arthur

Converted from a Word document



Long Paper

Computer-Mediated Communication
Multiple Identities
Empirical Methods
Quantitative Prototyping User-Centered Design / Human-Centered Design

software design and development
user studies / user needs
internet / world wide web
social media

In this paper we seek to elucidate understandings of the self-management of multiple context-dependent identities of Social Networking Sites (SNS) users. Online social networking is now in its second decade and has become a central activity to a large proportion of the global population. This shift is not surprising, as humans are social animals with a need to connect and communicate with each other. SNS augment our existing offline networks, allowing us to keep in touch with people over great distances, share our experiences and associated content, organize our social lives, and discover new contacts beyond physical reach. As previous researchers have noted, many users maintain multiple online identities through which they actively manage their social interactions on the various SNS (Golbeck and Rothstein, 2008).
Most SNS, however, suffer from a common problem that prevents them from capturing the true richness of our offline social networks. As social beings, we tend to participate in different, overlapping social groups, and we adjust our identities to match the contexts, as well as our use to match the constraints imposed by the various SNS. The reasons why people choose to explicitly manage the overlap among social networks, even keeping some networks completely distinct from others, are commonplace and usually not clandestine—for example, teenagers wishing to discuss sensitive health matters in online forums (van der Velden and El Emam, 2013), employees complaining about treatment at work (O’Brien, 2014), or those engaged in political commentary in uncomfortable or dangerous situations (Attia et al., 2011).
The self-management of multiple context-dependent identities represents a topic that deserves greater attention within digital humanities and needs to be further explored and elucidated, since it incorporates the entanglement of online and offline interactivity within and around computer mediated environments (Angelopoulos and Merali, 2013) which can have significant implications for the overall sociability of SNS users (Angelopoulos and Merali, 2015). The self-management of multiple context-dependent identities implies a process in which the users control how the other users with whom they are socially connected perceive them (Baumeister and Leary, 1995; Leary et al., 1995). The extant computer-mediated communication literature highlights the needs of a diverse range of groups to incorporate and maintain multiple identities on a plethora of media, such as hobbyists like cigar smokers (Angelopoulos and Merali, 2013; 2015) and bodybuilders (Ploderer et al., 2008), as well as professionals who need to separate their professional from personal lives (Peluchette et al., 2013). Although the need for users’ multiple context-dependent identities to be further explored and elucidated is highlighted in the literature (Karl and Peluchette, 2011; Peluchette et al., 2013; Talamo and Ligorio, 2001), to date there are very few studies exploring the issue directly (Talamo and Ligorio, 2001).
We adopt a quantitative approach and explore the concept through a survey. We designed the questionnaire based on extensive literature analysis on online/offline identities as well as the environment analysis and the survey planning (Duffy et al., 2000; Karl and Peluchette, 2011; Kodjamanis and Angelopoulos, 2013; Koh and Kim, 2003; Kuhn and McPartland, 1954; Peluchette et al., 2013), and our findings are drawn from a sample of
n=272 participants and guided by a previous pilot study of 60 participants.

Our findings demonstrate that, compared to other SNS, use of multiple accounts is more common within Facebook and Twitter, and considerably less common within LinkedIn. This finding is surprising given the fact that both Facebook and Twitter provide the users with features to manage multiple groups of contacts within a single account, unlike LinkedIn.
Moreover, our findings reveal that behavior between the use of different SNS suggest that different SNS are used to manage different aspects of people’s lives despite the fact that most SNS provide tools for this, yet such tools to manage groups of contacts within SNS are rarely used, as reported by the participants of our study. Such a finding reveals that the tools that are already available and provided by the SNS for the management of multiple context-dependent identities are insufficient and neglected by the users, and thus there is a need for better tools to be implemented by either the SNS or by third parties that take into account the real needs of the users. Exploring the differences between users of multiple accounts and users of single accounts has revealed that those who use more than one account on one or more SNS generally share more personal information with those accounts and tend to engage in more audience management behavior both online and offline. These findings suggest that users of multiple accounts use both control of information and targeted sharing of personal information to manage their identities, highlighting the need for networking activities that can support both behaviors. The combination of these two tendencies also highlights the importance of security and privacy between SNS for these individuals as they reveal a lot of personal information online but want strict control of what information is revealed to whom (boyd, 2010; Edwards and McAuley, 2013; Livingstone, 2008). Practically, the findings of our survey demonstrate the need of users for better tools for the self-management of multiple context-dependent identities, as the current tools provided especially from Facebook and Twitter are insufficient.
The self-management of multiple context-dependent identities is still an issue to be pursued by the organizations behind SNS platforms, and there is a profound need for better tools to be implemented either by them or by third parties. We call, thus, for future research to focus on applied approaches trying to solve this real and practical problem. Our findings are drawn from a sample, which, although adequate for the needs of the study, remains too small to enable us to reflect on a larger scale. Whilst the following step in our future research plans is to expand our scope and explore the concept further, we suggest that future studies should explore the issue on online communities in general, as well as on online communities of hard-to-reach populations (Angelopoulos and Merali, 2013; 2015; Ploderer et al., 2008).


Angelopoulos, S. and Merali, Y. (2013). Offline Interactions on Online Communities: The Entanglement of Social and Material. 29th
European Group for Organizational Studies, Montreal, Canada, 4–6 July 2013.

Angelopoulos, S. and Merali, Y. (2015). Bridging the Divide between Virtual and Embodied Spaces: Exploring the Effect of Offline Interactions on the Sociability of Participants of Topic-Specific Online Communities. 48th
Hawaii International Conference on System Studies, Kauai, HI, USA, 5–8 January 2015.

Attia, A. M., Aziz, N., Friedman, B. and Elhusseiny, M. F. (2011). Commentary: The Impact of Social Networking Tools on Political Change in Egypt’s ‘Revolution 2.0’.
Electronic Commerce Research and Applications,
10(4): 369–74.

Baumeister, R. F. and Leary, M. R. (1995). The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation.
Psychological Bulletin,
117(3): 497.

boyd, d. (2010). Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications. In Papacharissi, Z. (ed.),
Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites. New York: Routledge, pp. 39–58.

Duffy, M. K., Shaw, J. D. and Stark, E. M. (2000). Performance and Satisfaction in Conflicted Interdependent Groups: When and How Does Self-Esteem Make a Difference?
Academy of Management Journal,
43(4): 722–83.

Edwards, L. and McAuley, D. (2013). What’s in a Name? Real Name Policies and Social Networks.
Proceedings of 1st International Workshop on Internet Science and Web Science Synergies, Paris, 1 May 2013.

Golbeck, J. and Rothstein, M. (2008). Linking Social Networks on the Web with FOAF: A Semantic Web Case Study.
8: 1138–43.

Karl, K. A. and Peluchette, J. V. E. (2011). Friending Professors, Parents and Bosses: A Facebook Connection Conundrum.
Journal of Education for Business,
86(4): 214–22.

Kodjamanis, A. and Angelopoulos, S. (2013). Consumer Perception and Attitude Towards Advertising on Social Networking Sites: The Case of Facebook.
International Conference of Communication, Media Studies and Design, Famagusta, North Cyprus, 2–4 May 2013.

Koh, J. and Kim. Y. G. (2003). Sense of Virtual Community: Determinants and the Moderating Role of the Virtual Community Origin.
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
8(2): 75–93.

Kuhn, M. H. and McPartland, T. S. (1954). An Empirical Investigation of Self-Attitudes.
American Sociological Review,
19(1): 68–76.

Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K. and Downs, D. L. (1995). Self-Esteem as an Interpersonal Monitor: The Sociometer Hypothesis.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
68(3): 518.

Livingstone, S. (2008). Taking Risky Opportunities in Youthful Content Creation: Teenagers' Use of Social Networking Sites for Intimacy, Privacy and Self-Expression.
New Media & Society,
10(3): 393–411.

O’Brien, C. N. (2014). The Top Ten NLRB Cases on Facebook Firings and Employer Social Media Policies.
Oregon Law Review,

Peluchette, J. V. E., Karl, K. and Fertig, J. (2013). A Facebook ‘Friend’ Request from the Boss: Too Close for Comfort?
Business Horizons,
56: 291–300.

Ploderer, B., Howard, S., Thomas, P. and Reitberger, W. (2008). ‘Hey World, Take a Look at Me!’: Appreciating the Human Body on Social Network Sites. In
Persuasive Technology. Berlin: Springer, pp. 245–48.

Talamo, A. and Ligorio, B. (2001). Strategic Identities in Cyberspace.
CyberPsychology and Behavior,
4(1): 109–22.

van der Velden, M. and El Emam, K. (2013). ‘Not All My Friends Need to Know’: A Qualitative Study of Teenage Patients, Privacy, and Social Media.
Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association,
20(1): 16–24.

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.