Kathryn McLellan

Social Science Research

Writing Sample


“LiveJournal is a Conversation With the World”:

An examination of the effects of

interpersonal communication on

personal blogging.


Kathryn Victoria McLellan

August 2006

A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of

the requirements for the Master of Arts degree in the

Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences

University of Chicago

Faculty Advisor: James Evans

Preceptor: Kim Babon


The objective of this study was to examine the situation created by personal blogging on LiveJournal, a popular blogging platform, specifically how the actions of friending (creating a link between two separate LiveJournals) and commenting (leaving a message on a particular LiveJournal post) affect the presentation of self and creation of community. It was found that traditional assumptions of the dangers of the internet to obscure identity affected the respondents little if any, instead they seemed to prioritize the promise of relationships with other users that mimed traditional off-line friendships.

Literature Review Excerpt

Meyrowitz (1985) argues that we often give multiple presentations of self that are not false, giving the example of telling different accounts of his vacation to different individuals, telling wilder stories to his friends, and ones that focused on education to his parents and teachers. He emphasizes that he did not lie or mislead anyone but merely told them different truths, a factor that may be emphasized online, but that also occurs off-line. The potential problem with multiple presentations is that when different social spheres connect, different social mores are expected at the same time, which he refers to as “situational social geography”. The rules determined by such geography exist somewhere between objectivity and subjectivity: the rules may not make sense logically, but are still real to the people inhabiting that space due to shared social understanding. One of these rules is the expectation of people to be situationally consistent, having a consistent presentation of self in a particular social circumstance, but not the same consistency in different locales.14 Internet communication makes it more likely that one will be in several social locales at the same time.

Social behavior continues to be based on projecting certain impressions and concealing others, behaving one way here and other there. What has changed are the dividing lines between here and there; what is different is the number of distinct social settings…. Many people are “revealing” aspects of themselves which were once concealed because it is now more difficult to keep such backstage information secret (Meyrowitz 1985 320).

In electronic media, physical locale no longer constrains us or fences in different social groups,creating a rhetorical space that is defined socially In such a local, we as a group create the norms, the timing, and nature of how, when, and where we interact.15 Such interaction is characterized by social information, that is: “all that people are capable of knowing about the behavior and actions of themselves and others”. The possibility of the internet is that of a written world, one where the individual has the time to more carefully craft his or her message, in essence, his or herself. The appeal of such messages is the idea that the presenter feels he or she has the control over what is known. For the observer, the appeal is the gain of social information

[We are] fascinated by exposure. Indeed the act of exposure itself now seems to excite us more than the content of the secrets exposed. The steady stripping away of layers of social behavior has made the “scandal” and the revelation of the “deep dark secret” everyday occurrences. Ironically, what is pulled out of the closets that contain seemingly extraordinary secrets is, ultimately, the “ordinariness” of everyone (Meyrowitz 1985: 311).

This can help account for the appeal of reading the blog of a stranger while also explaining why individuals would chose to share the intimate details of their lives online.

Ernest Goffman (1959, 1967) describes human interaction as a type of play acting, in which each individual is trying to gain information about the others in the interaction while simultaneously trying to present him or herself in the best light.16 Meanwhile, others involved will be checking these presentations against what other information they have, such as visual cues or previous history with the individual. Goffman’s ideas can help explain the popularity of such services as LiveJournal and Facebook where individuals have greater control over who can see their profiles and writings. Mark Zuckberg, the founder of Facebook, explained it as:

I mean, one way to look at the goal of the site is to increase people’s understanding of the world

around them, to increase their information supply….The way you do that best is by having people

share as much information as they are comfortable with. The way you make people comfortable is

by giving them control over exactly who can see what (Cassidy 2006 54).

The classic Goffminian encounter exists virtually, although often individuals do not present themselves in the best possible light, which complicates understanding such presentations. Relatedly, Huffaker and Calvert (2005) expected to find teens taking advantage of the anonymity of the internet to hide their emotional presentations of self, but found that many teens gave identifying details such as first and last names and location. They discovered that in their study, teenagers were using blogs as an extension of their real lives, discussing issues that were important off-line, such as relationships, and thus used their real life identities, rather then falsified ones. This leads them to conclude that there is “a certain sense of empowerment in revealing thoughts and feelings without hiding behind a public mask” (2005). I would suggest it is even more simplistic than that; these teenagers probably do not see a divide between the virtual and the non-virtual.17 It makes sense that when the internet is used primarily to socialize with people one already knows, that it would not have the same transmutative qualities as it would have had previously.

Online communication is not an isolated social phenomenon. Considering how it interacts with people’s lives off-line can help explain the formation of community online and highlight the advantage to belonging to such communities. Three major advantages of such online communities are: convenience (I can help you when it is convenient for me), freedom (I can control how close you get to me and what you get to know), and interest (We’re friends because we like the same things, as opposed to other social factors18) (Wellman and Gulia 1999).

One major perceived disadvantage of online communities is a lack of trust. Nissenbaum (2003) examines this question and finds three primary obstacles to achieving trust: missing or obscure identities, with the possibility that a solid online identity has accountability; the disembodiment of physical clues and personal characteristics that we think have certain meaning, which is related to the issue of the difference between strangers on and off-line; and that the internet often has inscrutable contexts, that it can be difficult to tell features such as role definition, background constraints, and social norms (144-146). However, this does not lead Nissenbaum to think that achieving trust online is impossible, instead she concludes that online trust is social capital and vice-versa, and that such trust can come from trusting in one’s own self-presentation and others perception of it (138-9). That is that a solid reputation built up through repeated presentations of self is a form of social capital that one can use to increase trust, especially through other’s opinions of oneself.

13 An estimated 73% of American adults have access to the internet, with 42% having broadband (high-speed) internet access (Madden 2006).

14 Odzer (1997) also emphasizes that different cultures have different definitions of truth and reality.

15 Warschauer (2000) and Bowker (2004) also touch on the idea of multiple identities in multiple locations. Warschauer, unlike Bowker, he finds it less problematic, because individuals regularly experience identity in different ways. Bowker’s argument based on his own experiences as an academic, while Warschauer’s argument is primarily based on the effects of the internet on a underprivileged language group. As previously mentioned, Donath and boyd also share the idea that people would have multiple identities as a natural occurrence of socialization.

16 He defines this presentation in the given occasion as an “encounter” and that generally such encounters follow

particular patterns or cultural scripts known as a “routine”.

17 Also Katz (2000).

18 Also discussed in Warschauer (2000) and Kumar et al (2004).

Download the entire paper (warning large file)

1 Comment


  1. Tweet Ads? « This is my library