Creating Digital Personas: How Students Leverage Language in Social Media

When it comes to online platforms, users’ social media personas can be quite different from their real selves. This is often showcased in how we write about ourselves online.

In a recent study by Ann Amicucci, Associate Professor of English, she reviewed three college students’ writing practices on Facebook and the ways these students perceived their construction of digital identity, including content that they created online.

“I conducted semi-structured interviews with each participant in which we talked about their history as users of social media, how and why they use Facebook, and what types of content they tend to post,” she said.

As part of the study, Amicucci did interviews with the students and then compared these to the students’ digital identities, including their actual writing.

Amicucci’s research looks at how people construct versions of themselves online and how we play with language on social media. Her goal is to bring more digital technologies as a whole and social media, in particular, into college writing education. The reason for this is that it can provide scholars and writing educators with insights into college students’ thinking processes as digital writers.

“For example, having students discuss and analyze their own social media use in a writing course can enable students to bring the critical ways they think of digital content into their analysis of more traditional forms of writing, as well as give students practice in further shaping their digital persona in terms of their college and career goals,” she said.

This particular study sought to investigate how college students’ perceptions of their identity construction on a social media site aligned with their activity on that site. All of us create different versions of ourselves in our writing, and the affordances and constraints of digital spaces, such as the ways multiple audiences from different communities in our lives (home, school, work), can be conflated on social media and shape the versions of ourselves we choose to present.

The study findings demonstrated that the three participants were savvy social media users who put great care into choosing what, when and how often to post. Two participants perceived their options for digital writing identity in limited terms, but this contrasted with what Amicucci had found in their digital activity, where they were pretty expansive in how they experimented with possibilities for who to be as a writer in a digital space.

Amicucci believes that this research could have a positive impact on universities.

“In our current political climate, college campuses are facing questions of the legitimacy and necessity of higher education, making it all the more important for college faculty to deliver courses that connect with the needs of our students and the workforce,” she said. “Conducting research on social media that in turn teaches writing educators how to draw on students’ digital literacies has the potential to help these educators maintain relevancy in what we teach.”

Ann Amicucci was the main researcher in this study.