Social Media and Persona

Purposes of this assignment: to analyze a specific language element (persona/identity) as it exists in terms of global audiences and technology

Background: The concept of “persona” is essential in analyzing traditional literary texts. Our sense of the voice presented by the text–which we inevitably associate with the artist who created the text–is one of the key elements we have to understand a work, and we rely on our sense of that voice more than we often realize. In the subset of new media called “social media,” that sense of persona is extremely strong. We read people’s blogs, status updates, and tweets to gain a sense of the person behind them–even when it’s a person we know well–and the early research on social media, such as that carried out by the Pew Trust–suggests that as early as in our teens, we start to create multiple online personae or identities, embellish and manipulate them, edit them or screen them to withhold or mask information–in other words, rhetorically adjust our own personae in the same ways that many of our favorite authors manipulate literary identities. So the subject of how, rhetorically, persona is created and reshaped in social media is a very interesting one–and it’s a space that offers many opportunities for scholarship. This assignment will ask you to focus on the construction of one specific persona–either a well-known personality’s or your own–in social media.

What to Do:

  1. Choose a prolific user of communication technology. I encourage you to pick someone who has a “global” presence to keep with the focus of this class, but this person should also have a presence that involves some substance.
  2. Study this user’s output over the course of at least two weeks. Examine the way(s) in which this user creates, projects, and modifiers his/her online persona. Document instances where you see particularly interesting things going. I believe you should choose someone who is on several platforms so that you may pick up valuable insights from comparing and contrasting the persona presented in each setting.
  3. Choose secondary research (at least one article or source, preferably two) to support your analysis. You can look for coverage of this user or published research on age group, gender, educational status, etc. The key here is to use outside work you find to help develop your own analysis.
  4. Assemble an argumentative analysis with a thesis about the significant elements you notice. You can talk in rhetorical terms about authenticity, kinds of appeals being made, the difference between a technological environment and a traditional print form.

Due Date: Thursday, March 29.