MSVU Social Media Course Blog

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Online relationships – (at least) two sides to the story

Elizabeth Barrette’s Meetspace made me consider something I hadn’t up until now: the role gender plays in an online setting. Because gender is intrinsically linked with identity, I wondered whether or not social media allows people to more truly be themselves, in terms of expression, than when interacting on a face-to-face basis.

This concept got me thinking. Depending on the medium, when interacting online, people are able to in a way “hide” behind their computers. They are able to say or do whatever they want with less personal accountability, thus fewer social consequences. In some ways, this could be a good thing – I think all people need an outlet it some form or another, and if someone was not comfortable expressing an aspect of their identity, such as gender orientation, on a face-to-face basis, then perhaps online media could provide them with a forum to talk about how they really feel without being judged.

There are (at least) two sides to every story, so I considered the negative aspects of being able to, in a way, “hide” and still interact online. Take online predators, for example, chatting with children and teens in chat rooms or other social media outlets and posing as someone they’re not. Also, the anonymity that online provides can be dangerous in that it allows participants to disseminate messages about and build followings for negative causes – hate sites, for example. 

To bring all of this back to the idea of gender – consider the phenomenon of online dating sites. Is it possible to build a legitimate relationship with a person in the absence of face-to-face contact, when the person could be lying about who they are? Or does online dating work for people who feel they’re more able to be themselves without being judged, and therefore find a compatible partner without the limitations that face-to-face contact can impose?

Any thoughts?


May 22, 2009 - Posted by | Comment on Course Material


  1. Laura, your post raised some interesting points.

    After our discussion in class, I was also left thinking more about relationships online vs. in person.

    I understand how the online relationships give people the freedom to be who they want with out judgments based on physical appearance. I think this is a great way for free speech and thought to be put out to the public without discrimination or boundaries felt if spoken out loud in the public sphere.

    However, I do get nervous about those who live their lives online. Maybe they are more comfortable online, but what other aspects of the real physical world are they missing out on if they spend most of their time portraying who they want to be online.

    Call me old fashion, but nothing beats the feeling of a friend’s hug or lover’s kiss to anything I have experienced online.

    Comment by jenniferspicer01 | May 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. Good post Laura!

    It’s hard to not think about dating sites when thinking about online identity. I admit I have experienced some online dating sites (out of curiously more than anything! I swear!) and I actually found I couldn’t properly represent myself on them. E-Harmony for example, is very much limited in what you can do for free. Maybe other sites are more accessible and give more options, but E-Harmony – not so much.

    I totally agree with Jennifer on this one. I think we have to be sceptical of the idea, but perhaps keep an open mind at the same time. I have a close friend who met her current boyfriend of 1 year online, but I’ve also heard horror stories otherwise.

    When it comes to online identities, I feel like people should be just as much themselves online and offline. Online does provide more of uninhibited environment, but if we get lost in that world we will never build quality relationships offline.

    Comment by sarahmacl | May 25, 2009 | Reply

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