Negotiating social roles in semi-public online contexts

Tagg, Caroline and Seargeant, Philip (2016). Negotiating social roles in semi-public online contexts. In: Leppänen, Sirpa; Westinen, Elina and Kytölä, Samu eds. Social Media Discourse, (Dis)identifications and Diversities. Routledge Studies in Sociolinguistics (13). London: Routledge, pp. 211–234.



Processes of (dis)identification on social media take place in an environment generally described in terms of ‘context collapse’, whereby various offline audiences (e.g. family members, work colleagues, friends) are brought together into one online space. Linguists working in this area have explored the complex audience design strategies that users of social network sites adopt in targeting their posts at certain users and excluding others, and the diverse array of online resources they exploit in doing so. In this chapter, we extend this research through informant-based data which reveals the extent of people’s awareness regarding the likely trajectories and potential accessibility of their postings, and the ways in which this awareness shapes identity constructions and expressions of commonality and/or exclusion.

The sociolinguistics research presented in the chapter draws upon questionnaire data from Facebook users combined with textual analysis of their status updates. It shows that people are highly sensitive to the expectations that they perceive others to have regarding their behaviour online; and that the people they worry about most are those with whom they share relationships offline – in other words, that they continue to negotiate and manage offline social roles online. For example, a father is likely to be restrained in what he posts on a social network site by the knowledge that his children may have access to his posts (even if he is not addressing them directly) and thus he needs to conform to certain expectations of his own parental role. Such practices show how, in contemporary contexts of diversity, social identities – and claims to authenticity – are interactively co-constructed online through responses to perceived social categories and conventions which may at times run counter to traditional perceptions of identity categories such as age and gender. People’s various ideas about their social roles, and their perceptions of what they see as emerging social norms about what is appropriate on Facebook, shape people’s behaviour and language use online as they seek to negotiate and construct personal and professional identities in this semi-public context.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions