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Managing Impressions Online:Self-Presentation Processes in the OnlineDating EnvironmentNicole EllisonDepartment of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and MediaMichigan State UniversityRebecca HeinoMcDonough School of BusinessGeorgetown UniversityJennifer GibbsCommunication DepartmentRutgers UniversityThis study investigates self-presentation strategies among online dating participants,exploring how participants manage their online presentation of self in order to accom-plish the goal of finding a romantic partner. Thirty-four individuals active on a largeonline dating site participated in telephone interviews about their online dating experi-ences and perceptions. Qualitative data analysis suggests that participants attended tosmall cues online, mediated the tension between impression management pressures andthe desire to present an authentic sense of self through tactics such as creating a profilethat reflected their ‘‘ideal self,’’ and attempted to establish the veracity of their identityclaims. This study provides empirical support for Social Information Processing theoryin a naturalistic context while offering insight into the complicated way in which ‘‘hon-esty’’ is enacted online.doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2006.00020.xIntroductionThe online dating arena represents an opportunity to document changing culturalnorms surrounding technology-mediated relationship formation and to gaininsight into important aspects of online behavior, such as impression formationand self-presentation strategies. Mixed-mode relationships, wherein people firstmeet online and then move offline, challenge established theories that focus onJournal of Computer-Mediated CommunicationJournal of Computer-Mediated Communication11(2006) 415–441ª2006 International Communication Association415
exclusively online relationships and provide opportunities for new theory develop-ment (Walther & Parks, 2002). Although previous research has explored relation-ship development and self-presentation online (Bargh, McKenna, & Fitzsimons,2002; McLaughlin, Osbourne, & Ellison, 1997; Parks & Floyd, 1996; Roberts &Parks, 1999; Utz, 2000), the online dating forum is qualitatively different from manyother online settings due to the anticipation of face-to-face interaction inherent inthis context (Gibbs, Ellison, & Heino, 2006) and the fact that social practices are stillnascent.In recent years, the use of online dating or online personals services has evolvedfrom a marginal to a mainstream social practice. In 2003, at least 29 millionAmericans (two out of five singles) used an online dating service (Gershberg,2004); in 2004, on average, there were 40 million unique visitors to online datingsites each month in the U.S. (CBC News, 2004). In fact, the online personals categoryis one of the most lucrative forms of paid content on the web in the United States(Egan, 2003) and the online dating market is expected to reach $642 million in 2008(Greenspan, 2003). Ubiquitous access to the Internet, the diminished social stigma