Identity and Online Groups
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Questions related to identity have been central to discussions about online communication since the dawn of the Internet. One of the positions advocated by early Internet pioneers and scholars of computer-mediated communication has been that online communication would differ from face-to-face communication in the way traditional markers of identity (such as gender, age, etc.) would be visible to interlocutors. It was theorized that these differences would manifest as reduced social cues and provide greater control in the way we present ourselves to others. This position was linked to ideas about fluid identities and identity play inherent to post-modern thinking. Lately, the technological and societal developments related to online communication have prompted questions related to, for example, authenticity and traceability of identity.
In addition to the individual level, scholars have been interested in issues of social identity formation and identification in the context of online groups and communities. It has been shown, for example, how the apparent anonymity in initial interactions can lead to heightened identification/de-individuation on the group level. A key question related to this is how group identity and identification with the group relates to intergroup contact in online settings. How do people perceive the identities of others, as well as their own, when in such contact situations? To what extent is intergroup contact still intergroup contact, if the parties involved do not perceive it as such? As online communication continues to offer a key platform for contact between various types of social groups, questions of identity and identification remain at the forefront of scholarship into human communication behavior in technology-mediated settings.