Impression management on Facebook

In his book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), Erving Goffman argues that people attempt to manage their impression before the people they’re surrounded by, as if one is performing on a stage in front of an audience. His theory distinguishes between two topics, namely ‘’frontstage representation’’ and ‘’backstage representation’’, wherein front stage representation refers to our costumes, the roles we play and how we behave in the presence of others in order to create a positive image of ourselves, so that others like and respect us. In opposite of this, back stage representation refers to how we are when we let our guard down, not preoccupied with how others perceive us.

When Goffman invented this theory it was used to analyse real-life situations, but in today’s society this theory is also applicable for online spaces such as social networks like Facebook. Steve Wheeler (2011), who is an Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at Plymouth University, for instance, asked his students whether they think of Facebook as a backstage or frontstage area. The conclusion was that most of his students thought of Facebook as a backstage area, thus, a place where one let’s his guards down and can be completely him or herself. Honestly, this surprised me. I’m also a Facebook user and in my experience it is more of a frontstage area, because people in my surroundings use it to show happy pictures of themselves and share moments of joy. Off course in some cases people are sad and share their sadness when they lost a loved one or broke up with their boy/girlfriends. But I have the idea that these emotions are always a bit regulated. By this I mean I never see pictures of people crying or post things like ‘’I am so depressed and unhappy about my life right now’’. So, I don’t think you can see Facebook as a backstage area (for a 100%). What do you think of this?


Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor Books.

Wheeler, S. (2011). Back stage front stage. Accessed at:


2 thoughts on “Impression management on Facebook

  1. Nice to see that you used the frontstage and backstage concept as I did in an earlier blogpost on celebrity practice and brand engagement on Twitter. Thanks for answering to my ‘invitation’ to write on this! To answer your question I think it depends per user if the platform can be seen as front stage or back stage representation. I’m not as surprised, as you are, that Facebook is considered as a backstage area by many, because it is quite personal and a lot of people who are connected to you on the site are people who you know personally, like your friends and family or people who you knew like old classmates/colleagues or acquaintances. This gives people the sense that they can be themselves completely on the platform and makes that a lot of people use the platform frequently to vent their thoughts and opinions on all kinds of matters. And, although you say that people in your own environment only selectively share moments of joy in their lives, this not the case with everyone. According to Choudhury, Gamon, Counts & Horvitz (2013) a platform as Facebook could even be used as a tool to detect depression amongst individuals, because so much people use the site as an outlet for what they feel. This shows that a lot of users, indeed, use Facebook as a backstage area. Yes people, there is a lot to say about this concept! (The online) life as a theatre!

    Choudhury, M. D., Gamon, M., Counts, S. & Horvitz, E. (2013). Predicting Depression via Social Media.. In E. Kiciman, N. B. Ellison, B. Hogan, P. Resnick & I. Soboroff (eds.), ICWSM, : The AAAI Press. ISBN: 978-1-57735-610-3

  2. Interesting idea. I think that Facebook is a back stage, because mostly people share true feeling online through Facebook. But it’s not a complete one.

    As Facebook is a open online community, people use facebook not only to remain in touch with their friends and family, but also to make acquainted with their friends’ new friends or stranger, so there’s a part of using Facebook to build up a good impression. What’s more, people choose to share and post what they want to on social media, or just like you said, it’s a bit regulated, so the part they post online doesn’t mean everything around him or she, thus what’s on one’s facebook page doesn’t always mean that he or she has get the guard down.

    Maybe we can think of what people choose to post online or share only with their friends as a back stage for them, but for other parts, I don’t quite think so.

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