School of Culture and Communication - Theses

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    The Age of Icons: Digitising the Self in Profile Images
    Antonellos, Madeleine Kayla ( 2018)
    In the “Age of Icons”, a digital echo of the self emerges in an online ecology where representations of the self and others are signified in virtual, globally networked profiles. In digital spaces, real and online friends, followers and connections collide. Social media platforms have evolved into dynamic and malleable communicative spaces, that guide an individual’s construction of a ‘profile’ on their network. The ‘profile image’, provides options for a user to express a visualisation of themselves, alongside multimodal presentations of personal content. This technologically-mediated icon of self, can portray a user’s actual or desired physical appearance, an identity that translates from the “real world” into online expressions of cultural, social and emotional values. Through developing an online presence, in singular, or interconnecting, social accounts or platforms, this thesis asks the question: how do we construct representations of ourselves online, using our social media profile pictures? Building on recent literature surrounding online image production, dissemination, and identity formation on social media, I have collected and coded extensive, qualitative data – gathered through semi-structured interviews – with a small study group of 21-35-year-old social media users. This thesis presents a thematic analysis of the process of creating an online identity and explores the adaptation of this online marker of identity to technological features of social media accounts. Finally, it examines impacts of profile pictures in the daily lives of social media users, where online and offline realities can intersect. The chosen case study is ‘profile images’: the literal, or figurative, public face a user wears when interacting in online, social media platforms. The thesis considers the interplay between varied forms of self-expression, and conceptions of identity in a user, as they live offline and online through their use of social media profiles.