Constructing the Self through the Photo selection - Visual Impression Management on Social Networking Websites


This article takes as a point of departure Erving Goffman`s (1959) ideas and the self-discrepancy theory of Higgins (1987) in order to introduce the habits of self-presentation of young people in the online environments. The aim of my article is to examine the reasons for joining SNS and the aspects young people would hope to emphasize on their profile images in social networking sites (SNS). I also focus on the qualities that are considered to be crucial by the 11 to 18-year-olds in order to become popular among their peers in the online community. The analysis is based on the findings of a questionnaire survey carried out in comprehensive schools in Estonia among 11 to 18-year-old pupils (N= 713). The results show that motives with a distinctly social focus dominate among the reasons for creating a profile in SNS. However, visible gender differences occur in the reasons for selecting particular profile images. The findings reveal that girls creating their visual self value both the aesthetic, emotional, self-reflecting as well as aesthetic-symbolical aspects of photographing more than their male counterparts. Furthermore, visual impression management in SNS varies according to the expectations of the reference group at hand, as the profile images of the young are constructed and re-constructed based on the values associated with “the ideal self” or “the ought self”.

Social networking sites; profile images; self-presentation; identity; Estonia
Author biography

Andra Siibak

Andra SiibakAndra Siibak, PhD, is a Senior Research Fellow of Media Studies in the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Tartu. Her present research interests deal with new media audiences, generations and intergenerational relations on social media, mediation of children's ICT use and privacy on social media. Her articles have appeared in Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, Cyberpsychology, Northern Lights, Journal of Nordic Digital Literacies, Young, etc.

Bell, P. (2001). Content analysis of visual images. In T. van Leeuwen & C. Jewitt (Eds.), Handbook of Visual Image (pp. 10–34). London: Sage Publications.

Bourdieu, P. (1992). An invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Boyd, D. (2006). Friends, friendsters, and MySpace top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites. First Monday, 11, 12. Retrieved July 22, 2007, from

Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1). Retrieved March 15, 2008, from

Boyd, D., & Heer, J. (2006). Profiles as conversation: Networked identity performance on friendster. Proceedings of the Hawai'i International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-39), Persistent Conversation Track. Kauai, HI: IEEE Computer Society. January 4 - 7, 2006.

Briggs, G. (2007). White masculinity in the American action film pre and post 9/11. Unpublished Master’s thesis, School of Film and the College of Fine Arts. Retrieved May 26, 2009, from

Bruckman, A. S. (1993). Gender swapping on the Internet . Paper presented at the annual conference of the Internet Society, San Francisco, CA. Retrieved March 15, 2008, from

Clark, L. S. (2005). The constant contact generation. Exploring teen friendship networks online. In S.R. Mazzarella (Ed.), Girl Wide Web. Girls, the Internet, and the Negotiation of Identity (pp. 203- 221). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Cooley, C. H. (1964)/ [1902]. Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Schocken Books.

Cross, S. E., & Madson, L. (1997). Models of the self: Self construals and gender. Psychological Bulletin, 122, 5-37.

Donath, J., & Boyd, D. (2004). Public displays of connection. BT Technology Journal, 22(4), 71-82.

Dwyer, C. (2007). Digital relationships in the 'MySpace' generation: Results from a qualitative study. Proceedings of the fortieth Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Press.

Dwyer, C., Hiltz, S. R., & Passerini, K. (2007). Trust and privacy concern within SNSs: A comparison of Facebook and MySpace . Proceedings of the thirteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Keystone, Colorado August 09-12, 2007. Retrieved February 12, 2008, from

Ellison, N. B., Heino, R., & Gibbs, J. (2006). Managing impressions online: Self-presentation processes in dating environment. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 11(2). Retrieved March 18, 2007, from

Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, G., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook "friends:" Social capital and college students' use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4). Retrieved March 17, 2008, from

Evans, D. C, Gosling, S. L., & Carroll, A. (2008). What elements of an online social networking profile predict target-rater agreement in personality impressions? ICWSM’08, March 31 - April 2, 2008. Seattle, Washington, USA. Retrieved June 6, 2009, from

Fragoso, S. (2006). WTF a crazy Brazilian invasion. In F. Sudweeks & H. Hrachovec (Eds.), Proceedings of CATaC 2006 (pp. 255-274). Murdoch: Murdoch University.

Goffman, E. (1990/1959). The presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Penguin Books.

Gross, R.., & Acquisti, A. (2005). Information revelation and privacy in online social networks (The Facebook case). Retrieved May 15, 2009, from

Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94, 319-340.

Higgins, E. T. (1991). Development of self-regulatory and self-evaluative processes: Costs, benefits, and tradeoffs. In M. R. Gunnar & L. A. Sroufe (Eds.), Self Processes and Development (pp.125-166). The Minnesota symposia on child development. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Hodge, M. J. (2006). The Fourth amendment and privacy issues on the "new" Internet: and Southern Illinois University Law Journal, 31, 95-122.

Hoffman, L. W. (1973). Early childhood experiences and women's achievement motives. School Psychology Digest, Z, 18-23.

Hoffman, L. W. (1977). Changes in family roles, socialization, and sex differences. American Psychologist, 32, 644-657.

Kalmus, V., Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P., Runnel, P., & Siibak, A. (forthcoming 2009) Mapping the terrain of “Generation C”: Places and practices of online content creation among Estonian teenagers. [Special Issue]. Young People, Mediated Discourse and Communication Technologies, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14(4).

Kang, M.-E. (1997). The portrayal of women's Images in magazine advertisements: Goffman's gender analysis revisited. Sex Roles. Retrieved September 27, 2006, from

Kapoor, N., Konstan, J. A., & Terveen, L. G. (2005). How peer photos influence member participation in online communities. Short paper in proceedings of CHI 2005. Retrieved March 14, 2009, from

King, A. (2000). Thinking with Bourdieu against Bourdieu: A 'practical' critique of the habitus. Sociological Theory, 18, 417-433.

Kress, G., & Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading Images. The Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge.

Krämer, N. C., & Winter, S. (2008). Impression management 2.0. The relationship of self-esteem, extraversion, self-efficacy, and self-presentation within social networking sites. Journal of Media Psychology, 20, 106-116.

Lampe, C., Ellison, N., & Steinfield, C., (2006). A Face(book) in the crowd: Social searching vs. social browsing. Proceedings of CSCW-2006 (pp. 167-170). New York: ACM Press.

Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2007). Teens, privacy, & online social networks. Pew Internet and American Life Project Report. Retrieved July 30, 2007, from

Livingstone, S. (2008). Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression. New Media & Society, 10, 393–411.

Liu, H. (2007). Social network profiles as taste performances. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1). Retrieved March 13, 2009, from

Manago, A. M., Graham, M. B., Greenfield, P. M., & Salimkhan, G. (2008). Self-presentation and gender on MySpace. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 446-458.

Marwick, E. (2005). Selling your self: Online identity in the age of commodified Internet. Unpublished MA Thesis. University of Washington, Washington. Retrieved May 26, 2007, from

Mikkola, H., Oinas, M., & Kumpulainen, K. (2008). Net-based identity and body image among young IRC-gallery users. In K. McFerrin et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2008 (pp. 3080-3085). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Park, R. E. (1950). Race and Culture. Glencoe, Ill: The Free Press.

Perkel, D. (in press). Copy and paste literacy? Literacy practices in the production of a MySpace profile. In K. Drotner, H. S. Jensen, & K. Schroeder (Eds.), Informal learning and digital media: Constructions, contexts, consequences. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press.

Petkova, D. (2006). Identity and the human interaction on the Internet – Limitations of current social research and prospects of future analysis. Paper presented at the First European Communication Conference, November 24-26, 2006, Amsterdam. Collection of papers on CD-ROM.

Preibusch, S., Hoser, B., Gürses, S., & Berendt, B. (2007). Ubiquitous social networks—Opportunities and challenges for privacy-aware user modelling. Proceedings of Workshop on Data Mining for User Modeling. Corfu, Greece. Retrieved October 20, 2007, from

Roberts L. D., & Parks M. R. (2001). The social geography of gender-switching in virtual environments on the Internet. In E. Green & A. Adam (Eds). Virtual gender. Technology, consumption and identity (pp. 265-285). Routledge: London.

Scheidt, L. A. (2001). Avatars and nicknames in adolescent chat spaces. Retrieved March 15, 2008, from

Scmitt, D. P., & Buss, D. M. (1996). Strategic self-promotion and competitor derogation: Sex and context effects on the perceived effectiveness of mate attraction tactics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1185-1204. Retrieved March 15, 2008, from from http://homepage.psy.utexas....

Siibak, A. (2006). Romeo and juliet of the virtual world: Visual gender identity of the most remarkable youngsters in Estonian dating website Rate. In F. Sudweeks, H. Hrachovec, & C., Ess (Eds.), Cultural Attitudes towards Technology and Communication (pp. 580-592). Murdoch: Murdoch University.

Siibak, A. (2007a). Sugu virtuaalmaailmas. Ariadne Lõng, 1/2, 36-48.

Siibak, A. (2007b). Reflections of RL in the virtual world. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 1(1). Retrieved March 10, 2008, from

Snyder, J., Carpenter, D., & Slauson, G. J. (2006). A SNS and social contract theory. Proceedings of ISECON 2006. Retrieved March 10, 2008, from

Solomon, M. R. (1999). The value of status and the status of value. In M. B. Holbrook (Ed.), Consumer value: A framework for analysis and research (pp. 63-78). London: Routledge.

Steinfield, C., Ellison, N. B., & Lampe, C. (2008). Social capital, self-esteem, and use of online social network sites: a longitudinal analysis. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 434–445.

Strano, M. M. (2008). User descriptions and interpretations of self-presentation through Facebook profile images. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 2(2). Retrieved March 10, 2008, from

Stutzman, F. (2006). An evaluation of identity-sharing behavior in social network communities. Journal of the International Digital Media and Arts Association, 3(1), 10-18.

Subrahmanyan, K., & Greenfield, P. (2008). Virtual worlds in development: implications of social networking sites. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 417–419.

Sveningsson, M. (2006). Doing gender in a Swedish Internet community. Paper presented at the 9th Nordic Youth Research Information Symposium, Stockholm, Sweden.

Thiel, S. M. (2005). „IM Me” Identity construction and gender negotiation in the world of adolescent girls and instant messaging. In S.R. Mazzarella (Ed.), Girl Wide Web. Girls, the Internet, and the Negotiation of Identity (pp. 179-201). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Vybiral Z., Smahel, D., & Divinova R. (2004). Growing up in virtual reality - Adolescents and the Internet. In P. Mareš (Ed.), In Society, Reproduction and Contemporary Challenges (pp.169-188). Brno: Barrister and Principal Publishing.

Umiker-Sebeok, J. (1981). The seven ages of women: A view from American magazine advertisements. In C. Mayo & H. Henley (Eds.), Gender and Nonverbal Behavior (pp. 209-252). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Walker, M. (2001). Engineering identities. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 22(75), 15-30.

Whitty, M. T. (2008). Revealing the `real` me, searching for the `actual` you: Presentations of self on an internet dating site. Computers in Human Behavior, 24, 1707-1723.

Young, K. (2008). Online social networking: An Australian perspective. Paper presented at the AOIR 0.9 Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Zarghooni, S. (2007). A study of self-presentation in light of Facebook. Retrieved March 12, 2009, from





HTML views