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On Twitter, all the men and women are merely players

May 13, 2010 |  1:55 pm


Just because the more 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 reviewed the 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 personality traits are filtered through the Web, especially the new breed of short-message online broadcast networks, 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 they act 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 during a recent phone interview. "There has not been anything like Twitter or Facebook status updates before."

Online, people tend to exaggerate their persona. Because they have much more time to revise and calculate the content presented than in spontaneous face-to-face interactions, amateur broadcasters tend to over-think each post.

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

Twitter is, in many ways, a broadcast medium -- even from its inception. The ability to easily communicate through the convention of "at replies" (putting an @ sign before someone's username in order to publicly address them) was added after the service was built.

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

Wait, you're telling us Tila Tequila doesn't always act as extravagant and ridiculous as she does on TV?

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

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

You know, @latimestech wouldn't mind a shot of confidence, if you please.

-- Mark Milian

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images