The Digital Self

When it comes to the presentation of self, the framework called dramaturgical analysis coined by Erving Goffman is worth a mention. Goffman employed the theatre as an analogy to illustrate the different facets of the self, which can be considered as an aggregation of roles that we playout for the different audiences in certain situations. In Goffman’s analogy we are ‘actors’ who ‘perform’ the self on the ‘front stage’ of social interaction, hoping to guide how our ‘audience’ (the other people in an interaction) see us through ‘impression management’ (Goffman, 1990). Goffman (1990) argues that a person consciously and unconsciously performs the self while at the same time evaluating the meaning of their performance. He refers to Park (1950) who understands the person firstly as a mask. Park states: “It is rather a recognition of the fact that everyone is always and everywhere, more or less consciously, playing a role (. . .) It is in these roles that we know each other; it is in these roles that we know ourselves”(Park, 1950, p.249).

Zhao (2005) discusses digital self-construction and emphasises the role of online interactions. She argues that the digital self is formed without the influence of non-verbal feedback and traditional environmental factors. The existence of a “digital self” does not mean that the self is divided into physical and digital parts, but the emphasis is on the “E-Audience”. This “E-Audience” witnesses us on the ‘Front stage’ of the internet, like in the form of social media profiles, when we post and interact (Zhao, 2005).

Indeed, Bullingham & Vasconcelos (2013) find that we recreate our “offline” selves online, but that we ‘edit’ them. One form of this ‘editing’ is an embellishment by which users can dissimulate images or exaggerate events based on the existing situation, rather than construct a new identity (Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013). Another form is selectively choosing specific aspects of multiple offline selves and showcasing it to other audiences online. For example, on Instagram, we often only post the photos which make ourselves and our lifestyles look the best. It is a form of omission, and exaggeration when filters are used. With regards to Goffman’s dramaturgical analogy, this ‘editing’ of our online presentations could be seen as part of impression management for our “E-audience”. The strategies used to manage impressions, hence our interactions, are essential as they determine whether or not a relationship is established (Derlega, et al., 1987).

Additionally, personae adoption and external influences affect users to decide whether they fit a community or anonymizing identity (Boellstorff, 2008).  In contrast to personae adoption, another manifestation of presenting selves is recreating the offline selves online. Bullingham & Vasconcelos (2013) argue that we recreate our offline self online. For example, users may design their avatars as similar to their faces or use nicknames as their pseudonyms (Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013). Moreover, both phenomena can exist at the same time, presenting one’s ‘real self’ while creating new self on other platforms (Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013).

In this uncertain environment, users may come across dilemmas on how to accord authenticity and positive self (Greene, et al., 2006). As Suvi Uski argued, a successful self-presentation online requires elaboration to reduce conflict between the presentation of online self and offline self to reach uniformity as a single and consistent narrative (Uski, 2015).


Boellstorff, T., 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bullingham, L. & Vasconcelos, A. C., 2013. ‘The presentation of self in the online world’: Goffman and the study of online identities, Journal of Information Science, 39(1), pp. 101-112.

Derlega, V., Winstead, B., Wong, P. & Greenspan, M., 1987. Self-disclosure and relationship development: An attributional analysis. Interpersonal processes: New directions in communication research, 14(1987), pp. 172-187.

Goffman, I. (1990) The Presentation of the Self in Everyday LIfe. Penguin Books.

Goffman, E., 1982. ‘The Interaction Order: American Sociological Association’, American Sociological Review, 48(1983), pp. 1-17.

Greene, K., Derlega, V. & Mathews , A., 2006. Self-disclosure in personal relationships. Cambridge Handbook of Personal Relationships, Issue 2006, pp. 409-427.

Park, R. E. (1950) Race and Culture (Glencoe.|lll.: The Free Press), p. 249.

Uski, S., 2015. Self-presentation in social network services. Helsinki: Publications of the Department of Social Research.

Waggoner, Z., 2009. My avatar, my self: identity in video role-playing games. McFarland: Jefferson.

Zhao, Shanyang. (2005) “The Digital Self: Through the Looking Glass of Telecopresent Others”, Symbolic Interaction, 28(3), pp. 387-405.


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