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Abstract

Before Facebook, Twitter, and most of the digital media platforms that now form routine parts of our online lives, Jay Bolter (2000) anticipated that online activities would reshape how we understand and produce identity: a ‘networked self’, he noted, ‘is displacing Cartesian printed self as a cultural paradigm’ (2000, p. 26). The twenty-first century has not only produced a proliferation and mass popularisation of platforms for the production of public digital identities, but also an explosion of scholarship investigating the relationship between such identities and technology. These approaches have mainly focussed on the relations between humans and their networks of other human connections, often neglecting the broader implications of what personas are and might be, and ignoring the rise of the non-human as part of social networks. In this introductory essay, we seek to both trace the work done so far to explore subjectivity and the public presentation of the self via networked technologies, and contribute to these expanding accounts by providing a brief overview of what we consider to be five important dimensions of an online persona. In the following, we identify and explicate the five dimensions of persona as public, mediatised, performative, collective and having intentional value and, while we acknowledge that these dimensions are not exhaustive or complete, they are certainly primary.
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FIVE DIMENSIONS OF ONLINE PERSONA
CHR IS TO PH ER MO OR E, KI M BAR BO UR , A ND KATJA LEE
Before Facebook, Twitter, and most of the digital media platforms that now form routine
parts of our online lives, Jay Bolter (2000) anticipated that online activities would reshape how
we understand and produce identity: a ‘networked self’, he noted, ‘is displacing Cartesian
printed self as a cultural paradigm’ (2000, p. 26). The twenty-first century has not only
produced a proliferation and mass popularisation of platforms for the production of public
digital identities, but also an explosion of scholarship investigating the relationship between
such identities and technology. These approaches have mainly focussed on the relations
between humans and their networks of other human connections, often neglecting the broader
implications of what personas are and might be, and ignoring the rise of the non-human as part
of social networks. In this introductory essay, we seek to both trace the work done so far to
explore subjectivity and the public presentation of the self via networked technologies, and
contribute to these expanding accounts by providing a brief overview of what we consider to be
five important dimensions of an online persona. In the following, we identify and explicate the
five dimensions of persona as public, mediatised, performative, collective and having intentional
value and, while we acknowledge that these dimensions are not exhaustive or complete, they
are certainly primary.
KEY NODES OF RESEARCH
The scope of research in this field is wide and varied, fruitfully informed by multiple
disciplinary perspectives. Here we trace only a handful of scholars and concepts, focusing in
particular on work that is foundational or influential in our formulations of the dimensions of
online persona. Harrison Rainie and Barry Wellman (2012), for example, advance the notion of
‘networked individualism’, which helps to acknowledge and account for the connections
between online activity and the formation of subjectivity. They remind us that communication
technologies, media platforms, and digital services are not isolated objects or discrete entities,
but are voraciously incorporated into the lives of individuals as part of the extant identity
assemblage that is undergoing continuous revision, updates, and patching as we form
connections and exchange information with other people and other systems. Zizi Papacharissi’s
(2010) media and communication perspective presents us with another elaboration of the
‘networked self’, a term which she uses to indicate the construction of a subjective performance
across multiple and simultaneous streams of social awareness that expands autonomy,
potentially reduces agency, and which requires constant self-surveillance and monitoring.
Philosophers Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker (2007), have expressed a
‘nostalgia’ for a time when there was no need to produce quantitative data about the self but,
drawing on the work of Alfred North Whitehead, Mark Hansen (2015) argues that within any
performance of subjectivityhuman or nonhumanthere is a generalised subjectivity that
inheres within quantitative data; a “dispersal of agency across networks” (2015, p. 3) that is a
marker of the elemental character of contemporary media. According to Hansen, Whitehead’s
speculative philosophy, along with his insistence on the universality of subjectivity as the basis
for a re-anchoring of human experience within media networks that have become substantially
decoupled from direct human perception, helps us to appreciate the irreducible sensory
dimension of the “data-fied” experience:
...subjectivity acquires its power not because it incorporates and processes
what is outside, but rather through its direct co-participation or sharing in the
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polyvalent agency of myriad subjectivities. Our distinctly human
subjectivity is the result of a complex assemblage of overlapping, scale-
variant microsubjectivities functioning distinctly and autonomously” (Hansen
2015, p. 12).
Hansen draws on Whitehead’s speculative approach and metaphysical scheme to substantiate
the understanding of the neutrality of subjective qualities as being powerfully valuable in
theorising the everyday experience of digital, networked and social media.
Other key researchers, such as Nancy Baym, have examined how interpersonal media
forms of communication accelerate new constitutions of “personal connection” (2010, p. 1).
Baym’s work on digital identity draws on Donath’s (2007) useful notion of signalling, which
works to locate social position within an information-saturated society. Using Facebook and it’s
templates as a case study, Laurie McNeill’s work (2012) has explored the collaboration between
non-human and human components in producing online autobiographical acts. Anna Poletti and
Julie Rak (2014) offer a similar orientation of a networked identity within biographical and
autobiographical studies in Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self online, an edited
collection that argues such technologies are a fundamental part of the online world in the
contemporary era. These writers and thinkers, among others, have advocated novel means for
considering the construction of identity within a technologically diverse social order. They have
begun to examine how the individual is intimately connected to the presentation of their public
selves within online culture, through digital connections to social institutions, and via the
networked organisations of everyday life that are fundamentally different to what has come
before.
Absent from these discussions, however, is persona and yet persona is both the product
of and interface for the movement of the individual into online activities. As the first editorial for
this journal noted (Marshall and Barbour 2015), it is these very activities that have yielded the
contemporary ‘proliferation of personas for both presentation and strategic purposes’ on a
massive scale (2015, p. 1): ‘persona-making as a practice’, we noted, has become ‘pandemic’
(2015, p.9). Across the various contributions to this journal since then contributors have readily
taken up persona as a critical lens through which to understand identity practices and
performances in online contexts. The five dimensions of online persona explored herethe
public, the mediatised, the performative, the collective, and intentional valuebuild upon that
work and, we contend, form a productive means for understanding the configuration of online
identity in the contemporary era.
The Public Dimension of Online Persona
Publicness is the first dimension of contemporary online personas. While there still
exists a lingering sense of early-to-mid 1990s utopian ‘net’ philosophy with its libertarian
discourse about anonymity and freedom afforded by early internet technologies like multi-user
experiences and web forums, much of the obscurity between a user’s online presentation and
offline selves has been obliterated over the past decade. The eradication of anonymity has been
achieved by the ‘real name’ requirements and end user license agreements of online game
services, social media terms of service contracts, and the ubiquitous presence of browser-based
tracking cookies. This trend has been strengthened with government-sanctioned and metadata
enabled state surveillance, resulting in an online experience that is almost always public in
some way. The user of a web-enabled servicefrom wearable technologies like a Fitbit, or an
app-based experience which incorporates a Google search query, or public API interactionis
almost always an extension into a wider public. Rainie and Wellman (2012) describe networked
individuals at the centre of what Marshall (2013), and Barbour et al. (2014) have labelled as
micro-publics’, the extended social network of the individual that includes personal friends,
professional associates, plus their networks, and the systems and platforms that connect them
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all. This approach advocates for taking into consideration all the technologies, devices, apps,
API’s and the physical as well as digital infrastructure that encapsulates contemporary public
networked identity.
This first dimension of an online persona is comprised of a particularly wide-ranging
spectrum of ‘publicness’ and at each point along its traversal exists the very real potential to go
from a small public of close and intimate friends to a massive and global public audience,
enabled by the act of sharing. This potentiality parallels the historical notion of the production
of the public self such as when celebrities and stars start out performing to small public
audience, but later attain a larger audience as they become more popular and well known. This
trajectory gives us insights into the dynamics of online persona creation, which always
anticipates this shift from small to larger scale publics.
In this industrial model of the individual, the public self is the ‘official’ version that the
celebrity offers up to the world, a highly polished, scheduled and controlled version that is
produced and performed for launches, premieres, speaking engagements, and other live and
mediated promotions, appearances, and events. High-profile celebrities and public figures have
teams of publicity assistants and staff that work to maintain consistency in this public persona
because, as Turner, Bonner, and Marshall (2000) note, the celebrities (and their personas, we
would add) are “commodities, produced to be marketed in their own right or to be used to
market other commodities. The celebrity’s ultimate power is to sell the commodity that is
themselves” (2000, p. 12). Organisations, brands, institutions and commercial entities similarly
have this public-facing dimension of their online persona with teams of social management
operatives conducting licensed online persona management, and a range of employees with
quasi-official public selves connected to these identities. Celebrities, brands, and organisations
are all especially important public figures because of their pedagogical functions, as they help us
to identify new aspects of agency and risk. In the past, the media gatekeeping of celebrity would
have relegated figures like Kim Kardashian to tabloid notoriety, but the degree of agency
provided by control over the public presentation of the self online has meant a global celebrity
built on careful management from her initial public notice (through the leaking of her ‘sex tape’)
into a fashion, music, marketing, and promotional career. As Marshall (2014) suggests
celebrities act as pedagogical markers providing replicable frameworks for the conduct of the
public presentation of the self. This mediatised identity is organised through multiple
commercial applications, networks and platforms, which is not only shared to a personal public
by the individual, but becomes a source for information harvesting, advertising, and massive
commercial sharing (Marshall 2015).
Mediatised Dimension of Persona
The mediatised dimension of persona follows on from the first dimension of publicness,
as an expression of the self. This is not a new phenomenon: individuals have been mediatising
themselves via communication technologies in perpetuity from rock painting, portraits, journals
and letters, to ham radio call signs, autobiographies, and social media profiles. The
contemporary assemblage of persona now combines multiple media technologies: even a simple
selfie requires mobile screens, cameras, digital image compression algorithms, and
communication across wireless or telecommunication carrier signals, APIs, and hashtags.
Billions of daily social media users, across Facebook, WeChat, Twitter, and Instagram
demonstrate an unparalleled scope of skills and degree of comfortability with public
mediatisation and express unprecedented levels of actual and potential public exposure (see
Marshall 2015; 2016; 2017). Mediated persona operates under the modulation of commercial
interest and corporately governed structures that individuals have become acclimatised to,
many in the hope of sharing in the benefits of a widely proliferating self-image that was once
only the province of individuals in film, television, print, and radio. The codes of conduct and the
practices of the mediated public often conflict, but they also mirror the conservative values of
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the once dominant ‘press, such as Facebook and Instagram’s ban on the female nipple. What is
new in this mediatisation of the self, however, is the naturalisation of platform censorship and
the negotiation between the personal, corporate, and institutional agency.
Celebrity is an important pedagogical firmament in the relationship of individuals to
their extra-textual dimensions of mediatised public identity, which is, as Marshall (2017)
reflects, part of the primary work of the actor. Whether stage actress, radio performer,
television presenter, news anchor, or Hollywood A-lister, actors undergo an incessant and
structured construction and presentation of the self for the purpose of promotion well beyond
that of the theatre, show, or movie text being offered for consumption. For many actors, the
work of professional performance and the products of marketing and advertising become
paratextual components to their public identity (see Naremore 1991, Dyer 2004). The many
iconic roles of actors like Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Scarlett Johansson, or Charlize Theron, for
example, are also paratextual components of their star celebrity persona. Developed from the
narratological theory of Gerard Genette (1997), paratexts are liminal devices or conventions
(like red-carpet poses, characteristic facial attributes, Instagram habits, or Facebook pages) that
form a threshold of meaning between text and audience. Genette describes paratexts as
heterogeneous practices and discourses acting as thresholds between author, publisher, and
audience. The mediatised identities of online persona are formed by the accumulation of
paratexts over time; appearances at film festivals and award ceremonies, for example, are an
important paratextual mediatisation of celebrity identity. These paratexts circulate as
performers use their identities to proselytise themselves and the productions they are part of,
becoming visible as a mediatised figure, via traditional media distribution channels and newer
and more personal social media platforms. Affect is naturalised in this mediatisation of the self
through individualised platform paratexts including likes, favourites, shares and retweets.
Furthermore we are witness to the massive proliferation of dedicated channels for the
remediation of traditional broadcast media paratexts (editing methods, generic conventions,
and other mise-en-scene) that are formed through meta-mediatisation via platforms such as
YouTube and TwitchTV.
Performative Dimension of Persona
Just as the mediatisation follows on from the public elements of online persona,
performativity, the third dimension is also essential requirement and extension of the first two.
To present a publicly mediated persona, we must perform our identity, our profession, our
gender, and effectuate our tastes, interests, and networks of connection, through activities like
commenting on posts, liking other’s contributions or framing a selfie. This performative identity
does not make claims about the real’, or a self that is somehow less produced or implemented,
or more complete in some underlying way. The public performance of the self is neither entirely
‘real’ nor entirely ‘fictional’. The accomplishment of performativity means that a persona
connects together and meshes all the various characteristics that are staged and presented in
the everyday and intended to interact with others.
Erving Goffman (1959, 1971) documented what can be understood as the recurring
patterns of performativity and accounted for the methods of impression formation and
management within a dramaturgical model of the presentation of the self that differentiated
between the public ‘front stage’ and the private ‘backstage’. Goffman conveyed an
understanding of the degree to which we all present ‘faces’ and act outwardly depending on any
given situation and its expectations. The performance of self varies between the identifiable
roles, from parent to employee, friend to a colleague, teacher to student, and none are any more
‘real’ or ‘fictional’ than the others. As Papacharissi (2010) observed, any interactions between a
performed self and the performed self of others, can quickly become a pattern of action which
then becomes routine, creating and then normalising a narrative of expected behaviour in any
given situation: in an earlier editorial Lee (2015) explored this pattern for persona performance
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in work contexts. We come to rely on this patterning of interaction, both offline and online, in
order to help regulate and make predictable our networks of interactions: we understand that
images of family shared via Facebook are going to be liked by the extended networks of friends
and familiar relations, while news stories relevant to our given professions will be liked by
colleagues and peers, and that there may be some overlap occurring between the two groups
depending on proximity, familiarity, and so on. Social media and mobile technologies are now
old enough for us to understand that different generations of users have developed different
approaches to the performativity of the self that may appear to blur the front and back stages,
but this merely reminds us that the methods of performing the self are not fixed (see danah
boyd 2010).
Judith Butler’s (1999) approach to gender extended the notion of identity
performativity and our understanding of the degree to which core elements of our public self
are constructed for and by us. Butler’s model contests the idea that gender is ‘natural’, ‘real’ or
‘innate’ to a fiction or a projection that is applied to and by individuals who are fundamentally
negotiating their public selves through an articulation of power. She argued that the
presentational quality of (gendered) identity is neither biologically determined nor individually
produced, but rather both enabled and constrained by the institutions, technologies, networks,
and cultures in which the public self is assembled and performed. Performativity has also been
considered in Speech Act theory (see Austin 1975, Berns 2014 (whose earlier work influenced
Bulter), Marshall 2017), which considers speaking as a component of identity formation. The
performance of speechwhether verbal, physical, textual or otherwiseis a part of the
movement of identity in action and interpretation, and this theoretical framework has been
featured in ethnographic and anthropological discussions of identity (Berns 2014.).
The Habermasian interpretation of the ‘lifeworld’ (1987) is also productive as a means
of understanding the performance of the public self online. For Habermas, the lifeworld
embodies the symbolic reproduction of society, thus the lifeworld of an online identity is one
comprised of media platforms, mobile technologies, multiple communication channels, and
modes of behaviour. To perform the lifeworld is to wrangle these elements together, to manage
the self across a diverse range of structures, institutions, technical performances, frames, and
stages. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a complicated exercise of online habitus: Ken Hillis
points to the simplified performance and naturalised ideology of the “pull-down menu” (2009,
p. 29), which has become so normalised in our everyday performances of the self when we sign
up to a new app, social media service, or online video game world. Hillis reminds us the
performance of gender, height, age, profession, location, attitude, and relationship to others is
purely ritualised as result of the limited options available to users in the system (Hillis 2009).
The performative dimension of persona marks a high degree of agency in the public
presentation of the self online, but this agency is inevitably contested. As Marshall notes, it is
through the performativity of presentational media that individuals are encouraged, invoked,
and even “seduced into more elaborate constructions of public presentation”, and they are
“drawn into a performativity that operates as a continuous marketing of the self’s value”
(Marshall, 2010, np). The acts of performing the self online are so diverse that an individual may
pick and choose the aspects of the role that best suits their intended performance (Barbour
2015), but this performance is a balancing act between multiple registers ranging from the
personal and intimate to the public and professional, and must be carefully articulated to
remain sincere and authentic.
Collective Dimension of Persona
The fourth dimension of persona is one that works to produce, seek out, and move
between connections, resulting in a collective. This dimension is observed across all forms of
social media (see boyd & Ellison 2007) as persona is mediated and then publicly distributed
across the connections and networks that users manage via services and platforms.
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Participation in these online networks results in multiple publics that are significantly different
from the public associated with traditional broadcast media or political association. No longer is
the individual 'part' of a collective, but rather the individual is connected to multiple publics,
making the collective dimension of persona a meta-collective complex. In each public, the
individual is a node, but they are also simultaneously orbiting nodes in other networks. The
complex overlapping of networks, however, can still be thought of as having a central point,
which is the user's persona.
This networking of activity from friends and followers across all these
intercommunicating networks can be described as a micro-public (Marshall 2014; Barbour et
al. 2014). Similar to the notion of a personal public (Schmidt 2013), the concept of a micro-
public is one that takes into account the practices of social media such as sharing, tagging, and
mediated expression in the forms of personal images, memes, likes, and dislikes. The
intercommunication between micro-public activities occur as part of the interpersonal
communication of the self, where self-mediations are linked to self-promotional activity across
multiple platforms, sites, and services (Marshall 2015). Take, for example, the eponymous selfie,
which is framed using an internet-connected device and distributed via multiple platforms each
with their own, possibly overlapping audience. Instagram is designed with this purpose in mind,
offering the user the capacity to send the image to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and other services
at the point of self-publication. Micro-publics have a tremendous porousness, connecting to
other networks effortlessly and with often unpredictable and unforeseen consequences.
The concept of micro-public is crucial to persona studies as a core means for describing
the collective dimensions of online persona and the ways that groups, associations, and
networks have become central to contemporary cultures. Micro-public formations are explored
in various other interactions by researchers including Theresa Senft (2008), Alice Marwick
(2013) and Alice Marwick and danah boyd (2011), where the term serves as a means to
highlight a new duality. Personas can tap into a potentially massive audience and can feature
tens, hundreds, thousands and even millions of individual followers, who are all nodes in a
massively personal network. Micro-publics are micro, not in terms of scale, but with regards to
the nature of the network that is regularly and privately updated by a central identity. A micro-
public is attached to a unique persona that is personally producing, responding, and
broadcasting in the tradition of previously dominant media institutions, which makes the micro-
public a quasi-public network. To grapple fully with the emergence of the online persona, we
look closely at the strong connections between individuals and the multiple overlapping micro-
publics to which they are central. Twitter is an important platform for micro-public formation.
For example, Twitter is heavily relied on by journalists to develop followings and build affective
connections to listeners, viewers, and readers who may never visit or consume their home
publications. Similarly, the public personas of such journalists are not like the standardised
cutouts of representational culture, but living and breathing presentational figures who have
direct and often unfiltered connections their audiences. The dynamic of the audience is
complicated by the friending and following relationship that amplifies the affective bond
between author and audience (or celebrity and fan, politician and voter, and so on) that has
contributed new interpersonal dimensions to cultural expression, governance, and
consumption. We can see this emerge in what Marshall (2014) describes as the
intercommunication industries which service micro-publics, both massively large ones achieved
by popular artists and those smaller but equally vibrant and successful ones set up by more
independent operators who are still central to their own networks and maintain modest,
vibrant, and active followings. Professional social media sites such as LinkedIn and
Academia.edu are examples of platforms which service the operation of micro-public formation
and management. Public persona emerges from and across these presentational media forms
and their micro-publics intercommunicatively, forcing a renewed focus on the management of
reputation (Barbour & Marshall 2012). The very complex construction of publics as micro-
publics intersects with larger and well-established media and communication systems that
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produce powerful cultural tropes, which contribute to a new orientation of value and agency
which can be seen in the last dimension of online persona.
Value Dimension of Persona
The final dimension of persona that we discuss here relates to the idea of value, and how
that value is dependent on agency, reputation, and prestige. Collectively known as VARP
(Marshall 2016), this dimension recognises that personas are created with a particular
intention. The intent to create personas can vary from the personal or intimate (designed to
facilitate personal or familial relationships) to the professional (more associated with work), or
the public (produced by those who wish to claim a level of fame or notoriety). Personas are not
fixed to the original intention which led to their creation, but rather slip between registers of
performance (Barbour 2014), a process that is facilitated by the mediated, collective nature of
persona production.
In that recognition of the intent behind persona production is encoded an understanding
of the agency involved. Although working within the affordances and constraints of technology,
power structures, and social and cultural norms, those producing personas are still making
active and important decisions in how they perform that persona to their micro-publics. The
mask of persona is adopted through its performance, and the persona can then become a thing
through which other things can be achieved. The production of networks happens through the
actions of the producer(s) of the persona, and members of those networks might equally
contribute to that persona through their choices and actions. Para-textual actions such as
‘liking’, or sharing particular content, are active contributions to a public or quasi-public
identity, and demonstrate the importance of the choices we make when engaging online.
How we understand the value of the personas we produce can influence how we
understand the significance of the reputation those personas maintain. Specific characteristics
may be emphasised in online spaces to produce a particular type of reputation, and research
conducted into the aspirational nature of online identity performances (Yurchison,
Watchravesringkan & McCabe 2005; Zhao, Grasmuck & Martin 2008; Whittkower 2014)
appears to support the idea that aspirational characteristics are often eventually subsumed and
incorporated into an offline persona, even if they were initially exaggerated online. Although we
do not see online personas as necessarily ‘fake’, this could be understood through the adage of
‘fake it ‘til you make it’.
The prestige associated with the persona is significant in that it draws together, and is
reliant on, the previous elements of this dimension (value, agency, reputation), as well as all the
other dimensions of persona explicated above. The prestige associated with personas - as
understood by those who create them - is bestowed by the persona’s micro-public, and the fact
that prestige itself relies on widespread positive affirmation means that, in this case, having a
larger micro-public to provide that affirmation would certainly influence how prestigious a
persona could be considered to be (or consider themselves to be). However, as with all elements
of online persona creation, size of micro-public is relative: producing an active, engaging
persona for an admiring extended family group may be felt as prestigious for one person, while
another may be dissatisfied with an enthusiastic Twitter following numbering in the hundreds
of thousands. Here, we return to ideas of agency and intent: when the intent is to connect with
certain others through a persona, the value of that persona will be measured by its ability to
achieve that aim.
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IN THIS ISSUE
Through this journal, we have continued our original project to engage with
“comprehending, analysing, and critiquing persona” (Marshall & Barbour 2015), and in this
open issue, the papers attend to this project in distinct and fascinating ways.
In ‘”Get Off My Internets”: How Anti-Fans Deconstruct Lifestyle Bloggers’ Authenticity
Work,’ Sarah McRae examines how communities of ‘anti-fans’ coalesce in online forums around
different lifestyle bloggers. These communities, McRae’s research demonstrates, are particularly
attentive to the persona performances of the bloggers, and actively monitor and evaluate how
authenticity is performed according to ever shifting constructions of legitimacy.
In ‘The persona in autobiographical game-making as a playful performance of the self,’
Stefan Werning introduces us to the niche but growing genre of autobiographical video games.
These games, his work suggests, make quite literal the playful possibilities of persona
construction and performance within the constraints and affordances of the technologies and
platforms. Such playfulness extends to both game-makers, who design an iteration of self that
can be occupied, amended, and played, and for gamers who take up and play or inhabit these
personas.
Patrick Osborne’s ‘Constructing the Antichrist as Superstar: Marilyn Manson and the
Mechanics of Eschatological Narrative’ focuses on construction of Manson’s controversial
persona as an ‘Antichrist’ in the 1990s and the crucial role that Christian organisations and
ideological frameworks played in not only crafting that persona, but infusing it with meaning
and value. The persuasiveness and popularity of Manson’s persona, Osbourne suggests, owes
much to that backlash.
In ‘The Hyphenated Persona: Aidan Quinn’s Irish-American Performances,’ Loretta Goff
guides us through how ‘Irish-Americanness’ has been performed across the twentieth century,
and how it continues to be performed in American contexts today. Using Aidan Quinn as a case
study, Goff’s work emphases not only the flexibility and the multiplicity of persona
performances, but also their strategic commercial and affective value when redeployed in the
appropriate venues to certain publics.
The creative practice contribution to this issue comes from Anastasia Salter and Bridget
Blodgett. Their work of hypertext literature part social media experience, part game, part
choose your own adventure embeds the reader/player in the US Twittersphere during the
final months of 2016 and January 2017. The work explores the everyday struggles of a Twitter
user in this time, challenging and discomforting the reader/player as choices in how to engage
with the online space trigger responses in the form of changing follower counts as well as
interactions with colleagues and strangers. In inhabiting the persona of a Twitter user at this
specific moment in recent history, the artists challenge us to think about how social media
persona creation impacts on, and is impacted by, other embodied presentational practices.
Across this issue, we can trace a recurring interest in the role of networked publics in
the construction of the persona. While not all of these contributions are concerned specifically
with the formation and function of such networks and connections in online contexts, all are
attentive to the thresholds marking persona, performance, and publics, and, importantly, the
dynamic interplay between these constituents. Such play is quite literal in both Werning’s work
and Salter and Blodgett’s creative work which highlight how publics are, in certain digital
platforms, not only encouraged to interact with personas but play constitutive roles in persona
production and performance. We are reminded by these works of the potential porousness of
the thresholds that mark and distinguish personas and publics, and the richness of experience
and play that is possible on such platforms. Goff’s work on the mobility of hyphenated personas
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and the multiplicity of publics that make and take meaning from such persona performances is a
useful reminder as well that publics are not just porous but overlapping. Moreover, the persona
that transverses such publics is a dynamic, mobile, and inherently flexible construction capable
of performing and signalling differently as needed.
Such mobility is, in Quinn’s case, an asset with clear commercial value but in the case of
lifestyle bloggers, McRae’s work points out, such flexibility and inconsistency can be a liability.
The community of ‘anti-fans’ that McRae investigates are highly critical of contradiction and
code inconsistent performances as hypocrisy and inauthenticity. Yet, because the mechanisms
for signalling authenticity are always on the move, the lifestyle blogger must continually adapt
and shift their performances. As with the Christian publics who took issue with Manson, the
performative nature of persona and its capacity to operate as neither ‘real’ nor ‘fiction,’ is oft-
times flattened out by critical publics oriented by an agenda to evaluate and oppose. In
Manson’s case to make his persona performance ‘real’ gives life to these publics, and a tangible,
measurable, stable ‘threat’ against which they can work; in the case of lifestyle bloggers, the
anti-fans arbitrate what are real and what are faked performances. At the heart of both, is not
only a desire for a correspondence between performance and ‘real world’ identity, but also
accountability. To hold Manson or lifestyle bloggers accountable for their performances is to
acknowledge their agency and strategy, but it is also a practice that, at least in these cases, is
predicated upon publics marking firm thresholds between persona and public, assuming an
oppositional stance in that network, and presuming an authority that is often moral or
moralising in its execution. As both Osborne and McRae demonstrate, such practices might
easily overlook the complexities of the networks that bind personas and publics, and, in
particular, the capacity of the publics to play roles in persona production and performances.
When we are mindful of these collectives and networks and the play that happens
within and through them, and attentive to the performances, the mediations, and the
mechanisms of acquiring and distributing value through persona, as the articles in this issue are,
it is inevitable that we consider as well the structural and structuring components that
condition and constrain the person production and performance. In his examination of
autobiographical games, Werning is attentive to how the technological constraints of the game
platforms and game-maker designed limitations (in behaviour, discourse, and so on) give
structure to the play. McRae’s work looks to the structuring role of genre in not only persona
performance but also, crucially, how publics orient themselves and respond to such
performances. In both Goff and Osborne’s work, the structures are ideological and are not only
capable of summoning publics into networks of relations with personas, but, in some cases,
providing particular and rigid scripts that condition the interplay between them.
The structures that condition persona are crucial considerations but they can, if we are
not careful, rapidly overwhelm or overdetermine how we make sense of personas. We are now,
perhaps, habituated to discussions of the constraint and affordances of technology and social
media platforms in the production of public digital identities. In this article, we have proposed
five clear dimensions of online persona that can be useful in assisting with the analysis of the
presentation of the public self. While we acknowledge these dimensions are not exhaustive, we
argue for their usefulness as a way of considering relationships between technology and public
digital identities.
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Fame Games uncovers the manufacturing process that is behind the array of personalities we see in Australian media. It investigates the changed public sphere and the altered mediascape that publicity and public relations have generated around the circulation of celebrities connected to the various cultural commodities produced by the entertainment industries. Key figures from the emergent Australian celebrity industry--from managers and agents to publicists, promoters and mass market magazine editors--were interviewed to provide a nuanced reading of how personalities are developed and are essential elements of how news and entertainment is conveyed to us.