Social Networking Activity
As with individual characteristics of the perceiver and target, we suggest that characteristics of a target’s ePersona also impact perceivers’ impressions of the target. The ePersona includes all digital information that maybe gathered about an individual via a search engine. This information may be generated by the target, such as personal Web pages and blog entries, or by third parties, as in the case of news articles, public records and others’ Web posting about the target. In this study, the ePersona aspect on which we focus is social networking, due to its popularity among participants (Facebook alone claims to have over 200 million users as of2009) and among organizations looking to vet potential employees (CareerBuilder, 2008) as well as literature, cited above, indicating that gender and social networking effects may be interrelated.
Beyond their wide acceptance, social networking sites also offer unique information about individual targets. Unlike personal Web pages, which consist primarily of target-controlled information, social networking sites combine target and third party-generated information about target individuals. According to Warranting Theory (Walther & Parks, 2002), perceivers value others’ opinions and views of an individual over that individual’s self-evaluation. Applying Warranting Theory to ePerception suggests that the key role that third party-generated content plays in social networking, in the form of friends’ comments, for example, would render those sites more salient to the impression formation process than target-controlled site s and indeed Walther, Van Der Heide, Hamel, and Shulman (2009) found this to be true. Futhermore, Back, Stopfer, Vazire, Gaddis, Schmukle, Egloff, and Gosling (2010) suggests that it is difficult for individuals to misrepresent themselves on social networking sites as any attempts to do so may be viewed and corrected by others and thus social networking sites are perceived as more accurately representing target individuals, a fact that may further increase the impact of social networking activity on Web-based impression formation. Lastly, their own gender may be expected to affect the way perceivers view social networking participation as suggested by Walther, Van Der Heide, Kim, Westerman, and Tong (2008) in a study that analyzed reactions to both the comments and attractiveness of friends in Facebook and found males and females differently impressed.
Combining these prior studies with the theoretical model presented in Figure 1, we begin our investigation of the roles of gender and social networking activity in ePerception with a set of propositions to be assessed experimentally. Propositions, rather than hypotheses, are presented here as overarching conceptual statements, each representing a series of testable statements too numerous to list individually.
First we draw from Warranting Theory to propose that social networking engagement, in and of itself, implies a willingness to be perceived through more credible third-party sources of information and this extends naturally to a range of positive associations, so perceivers of both genders will tend to view ePersonas with social networking more favorably than those without:
P1a: Males will perceive a target ePersona with social networking presence more positively than a target ePersona without social networking presence.
P1b: Females will perceive a target ePersona with social networking presence more positively than a target ePersona without social networking presence.
We then build upon the literature on perception differences between genders to propose that both males and females will assign gender stereotypes to gendered ePersonas and express greater affinity with their own gender group in low-cueing CMC contexts such as search engine results.
P2a: Females will perceive a female target ePersona without social networking presence more positively than a male target ePersona without social networking presence.
P2b: Females will perceive a female target ePersona with social networking presence more positively than a male target ePersona with social networking presence.
P2c: Males will perceive a male target ePer – sona without social networking presence more positively than a female target ePersona without social networking presence.
P2d: Males will perceive a male target ePersona with social networking presence more positively than a female target ePersona with social networking presence.
Based upon prior studies that suggest gender differences in interactions with, and perceptions of, CMC and upon recognized gender-stereotypical responses, we further propose an interaction effect between social networking activity and target gender that will differ for female and male perceivers.
P3a: Females will perceive the value of social networking differently for male targets than for female targets.
P3b: Males will perceive the value of social networking differently for female targets than for male targets.