Online personas rarely match real-life behavior, observers say

Just because popular social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, encourage members to use their actual identities doesn't mean people are presenting themselves online the way they do in real life.

Some psychologists and sociologists who have studied usage habits on Twitter, Facebook and popular dating sites say there's little correlation between how people act on the Internet and how they are in person.

Research into how are filtered through the Web, especially the new breed of short-message online services, is slim, but digital-health experts have observed numerous transformations when someone ascends the Internet's world stage. Whether a person is overly chatty or arrogant on Twitter doesn't necessarily reflect on how he or she acts in the real world.

"I don't think that you could have any type of accurate or even semi-accurate personality analysis based on what people are writing in their Twitter streams. Probably the same case goes for Facebook statuses as well," said John Grohol, an online mental health expert and founder of

"It could be the opposite. It could be that the shyest person is the person who tweets the most," Grohol said. "There has not been anything like Twitter or status updates before."

Online, people tend to exaggerate their personas because they have much more time to revise and calculate the content they present than in spontaneous face-to-face interactions.

"The persona online may be much more fabulous, much more exciting than the everyday life that they're leading," said Julie Albright, a digital at University of Southern California, "because they see everybody else doing it."

Twitter, in many ways, has become a personal broadcast medium.

"It has turned people into mini-broadcasters," said Albright. "It makes them, in a way, stars of their own reality shows."

Albright points out that actions online can, however, influence real-life behavior. A new batch of followers on could translate into a more positive outlook.

"They can go back to their lives and have a boost of confidence," she said.

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User comments

May 14, 2010
I find that having that extra second to think about what I want to say makes all the difference.

May 14, 2010
Typing things into a keyboard certainly disconnects the thought from the action of expression, making instant expression more the norm.

If anything I'd say online expression is more closely related to how a person actually acts without the conditionals of social interaction in place.

May 14, 2010
I find that having that extra second to think about what I want to say makes all the difference.

I find that, given no time limit, I usually end up not communicating at all. Maybe I'm a perfectionist, or just nihilistic, but I rewrite and think over what I have to say so many times that I often realise there's no point in saying anything.

Then, I either give it up and do something marginally more meaningful, or get myself trapped in a sunken cost fallacy and write something I don't really agree with any more.

May 14, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

May 14, 2010
As if spending almost 20 mins on the initial post wasn't enough, now you made me waste another 10 minutes on this reply!

This is not a self-referential comment and neither was the first one. Ha. I crack myself up. Literally.

Digital-health experts suddenly don't seem so superfluous...

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