This study of Digital Identity investigates how particular groups of adults over the age of 30 use Facebook and Twitter to share personal information online. The research explores whether individuals construct their identity in the same way in a digital context as they do in the ‘real world’. The study examines voluntary sharing of information rather than information collected and collated by third parties, approaching the research from an individual’s point of view to create, not just a footprint, but a Digital Identity.

This study explores the notion of Identity, and establishes the common characteristics and differences between the concepts of Identity Theory (Burke & Stets 2009), Social Identity Theory (Tajfel 1959, 1963, 1969) and Impression Management (Goffman 1956); and how they relate to the digital self. There are overlapping elements of identity formation that influence the way individuals create themselves through Role, the self, Audience, and Symbols. The importance of role, emphasized in all theories of identity, is used as the context for this study. The participants came from three different groups: Academics, Stay-at-home Parents and Business Executives.

The phenomenon of identity is personal and needs to be conducted at a close and subjective level. Interpretivism is crucial to understand our individual differences as social actors and to allow us to interpret the everyday social roles in accordance with the meaning given to those roles (Saunders et al. 2009). The strategy of the study is ethnographic, taking the researcher close to the ‘reality’ of people’s lives (Becker and Greer 1960) using interviews and observations. By investigating people’s use of Facebook and Twitter the research interprets how individuals formed their Digital Identity. The analysis framework for this investigation is guided by the work of Klein and Myers (1999, p. 72) with their principles of the hermeneutic circle; contextualization; interaction between the researchers and the subjects; abstraction and generalization; dialogical reasoning; multiple interpretations and suspicion steering the analysis.

The three groups, Academics, Stay-at-home Parents and Business Executives, have very different ways of approaching how they presented themselves online. The findings of this research illustrate that individuals form a Digital Identity in a similar way to Identity Theory with the self, Audience, Role and Symbols all being important. Individuals claim that they are presenting their ‘real’ selves online although they create specific social rules. The audience is no longer definable and mediated but is one block of known and unknown people. Individuals create their identity in the same way as they do in the real world but there are external factors that influence their presentation of self. The fundamental difference in the way that Digital Identity is formed is the interaction with the technology. This difference forms the basis of the beginnings of a Theory of Digital Identity which states that while the elements of role, self, symbols and audience are all used to create Digital Identity they do so in the context of smart technology that interacts and distorts Identity. So while individuals create their identity in the same way as they do in the ‘real world’ they have the addition of external factors that influence their presentation of self.

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