Identi-scope: Multiple identities as a resource for understanding and impacting behaviours in the digital world

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Psychology

Abstract

The recent student protests in London and the pro-democracy protests across the Arab world show the importance of understanding synchronised (political) actions driven by online interactions. Individuals with a range of different personal and social identities, distributed across a number of different social network or chat mediums, interact in both online and offline worlds in ways that transform self and society. This merging of the online and offline worlds into a digital world, requires a study of how online and offline identities relate.

Drawing on evidence from computer security, technology and privacy researchers about the importance of multiple identities in online environments, and research from social psychologists about the role of multiple identities for understanding and changing behaviour, in this 12-month scoping study we will address three interrelated questions:

1) The first question is the issue of identity salience: if people have multiple identities, how do we know what identity is salient for an individual at any given time?
2) The second question is the issue of identity continuity/ identity change: in a landscape of multiple identities, what allows particular identities to be sustained - and what leads to change?
3) The third question is the issue of identity as a resilience agent: does constraining or enhancing the number of identities available to an individual have effects on their ability to withstand stressful life events?

To explore the dynamic nature of identity salience, we will conduct a series of laboratory experiments which utilise online environments to explore dynamic shifts in the salience of personal and social identities. Given the rapid shifts that are possible between online identity environments (i.e. the click of a button) compared to offline identity interactions - or the fact that several online identities can be active at the same time (rather than sequentially) - we aim to use the properties (or possibilities) of online engagements to identify the key features in determining identity salience.

To examine the question of identity continuity/change we will conduct a series of experiments in which participants are required to act together (to become entrained) and to do so as group members or as isolated individuals. We will then test the degree to which actions undertaken in the group are more long-lasting when performed as members of a social group or as isolated individuals. To be able to conduct these experiments in online settings, we will develop an online collaborative platform that allows participants to contribute simultaneous behaviours (in order to entrain) rather than make sequential contributions. Synchronous behaviours are largely unexplored in online worlds (as entrainment is a key feature of interactions when individuals can be co-present, but much harder in virtual or distributed interactions on the internet). The establishment of such a platform to "entrain" specific identities has not only profound implications for future online social media but also for security strategies and mechanisms to counter threats emerging from specific groups or individuals.

To examine the impact of identity as a resilience agent, we will conduct a series of experiments using the cold-pressor task - a well-known psychological method for inducing physical discomfort. In the cold-pressor task participants are asked to submerge their hand, up to their wrist, into a bucket of ice water. The time (in seconds) that participants keep their hand in the water is recorded and serves as a measure of endurance/ resilience. By conducting identity manipulations in online worlds, but looking at resilience behaviour in offline worlds, we bridge the digital divide that is of particular interest in how online-engagement shapes offline action.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from the research?
The main beneficiary of knowledge arising from this research is anticipated to be the stakeholders from the Sandpit "Who do you think you are". They are particularly keen to hear how the social sciences, and in particular social psychology, theories on multiple identities can enhance and change understanding of behaviour in online and offline environments. Throughout the sandpit it became clear that the stakeholders are keen to develop an understanding away from identity as a problem towards identity as a resource.
Other potential beneficiaries include practitioners such as the Police Forces, Internet Watch Foundation, NSPCC, or CEOP, which also have an interest in identity in the online world and will be informed about regulatory practice. The generated knowledge is anticipated to benefit and interest the wider public as well. We will raise public awareness about identity in the digital world and how it impacts on public life. This will be done through media reports and online interaction media to generate discussion and encourage wider participation of the project.
The knowledge arising from this project is also likely to be of importance for researchers and the academics from different disciplines such as Psychology, Computer Science, and Security Science, who are interested in research on identity in the digital world. Thus, we aim to enhance scientific knowledge about identity in the digital world through publication in international peer review journal and presentations at relevant conferences (see Academic Beneficiaries for details).

How will they benefit from the research?
Throughout the period of the grant, stakeholders will be involved in the discussions within the project that aim at transforming perception from identity as a problem to identity as a resource. We will schedule early visits to stakeholder sites and relevant practitioners (such as Police Forces, Internet Watch Foundation) during the start-up phase of the project for discussions about the barriers they face on the topic of multiple identities and how to overcome them. The purpose of the exchange will be to maintain links with the stakeholders to understand their requirements if the data is to inform and regulate best practise. It further aims to define users' main questions and how to integrate them in the research. Later meetings are to formulate ways of monitoring the ecological validity of our research and to ensure the quality and applicability of research and its relevance for the stakeholders. An end-of-project workshop will bring the key stakeholders, practitioners and researches together to disseminate the final findings of the project. In addition, we will present stakeholders (and especially the government agencies) with white papers on the outcomes of the three working packages. The research outcomes are likely to bring about a paradigm shift in how identity is perceived and draw attention to the fact that multiple identities in any environment are inevitable and could be perceived as a resource rather than a problem. This has strong potential to have a major impact on policy and practice on identity establishment and identity tracing systems.
 
Description Identiscope explored insights from the social psychology of identity in the context of online and offline influence. It provided clear evidence of the role social identities play in the perseverance of both offline and online social influence. This finding has significant potential impact for companies and agencies interested in knowing not only how influence might be achieved, but also how to make that influence last beyond the conditions of its creation.

At the same time, Identiscope also provided proof of concept that psychological identity shifts in the same person could be detected through an analysis of naturally occurring language. We analysed blog posts in different forums on the same site and showed that each subforum had a different linguistic signature. We were then able to show that the same person (or username) who posted in the different forums produced a different pattern in each forum - and that pattern corresponded to the forum signature. Having developed this approach we were then able to use it to detect which forums posts were generated in with a high degree of accuracy. We went on to conduct several experiments to ensure that this effect was not dues to factors like forum type or learning/accommodation effects. This suggests the that it may indeed be possible to create an online social identity detection tool.
Exploitation Route Future work, perhaps in collaboration with the military or with health service providers, should help to leverage the potential impact of this kind of tool for understanding and predicting online and offline behaviours.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Healthcare

 
Description Identiscope was a 1-year scoping study which emerged from the WDYTYA sandpit. It was designed to explore proof of concept of a social identity approach to understanding and detecting identities online. As such its key impact comes in the form of the interdisciplinary groundwork done by the team of social psychologists and computer scientists to develop methods and tools to detect shifts in identity salience in online environments - and to trace the long term impact of influence in online and offline encounters. This work is only just beginning to revel its potential economic and societal impact. The work has informed submissions to the 2013 Foresight Report on Future Identities. It has also been a part of discussions with online forums like Mumsnet and Netmums over understanding identities online. The potential benefits of the work in exploring the relationship between identity and health in these online environments is one potential application which is being developed in ongoing work
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Psychological identity in a digital world: Detecting and understanding digital traces of our psychological self
Amount £542,410 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S001409/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2018 
End 06/2021
 
Description Psychological identity in a digital world: Detecting and understanding digital traces of our psychological self
Amount £542,409 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S001409/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2018 
End 06/2021
 
Description Blog post on the importance of informed consent in social media research, for the London School of Economics 'Impact of Social Science' blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gleibs, I.H. wrote a blog post on the importance of informed consent in social media research, for the London School of Economics 'Impact of Social Science' blog.
This was in response to the controversial Facebook experiment and raised important questions of appropriate ethics in Social Media research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2015/03/27/the-importance-of-informed-consent-in-socia...
 
Description Commentator on Sky News 'Swipe' (Technology News) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gleib, I.H. appeared on Sky News' 'Swipe' (Technology News), on 9th August 2013, as commentator regarding the importance of Social Identity processes in understanding aggression Online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Featured in Time Magazine and Aspen Institute's 'Five Best Ideas of the Day' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gleibs, I.H.'s blog post on 'the importance of informed consent in social media research' (for the London School of Economics 'Impact of Social Science') was featured in Time Magazine's 'Five Best Ideas of the Day' (March 25th 2015).
The blog post was written in response to the controversial Facebook experiment and raised important questions of appropriate ethics in Social Media research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://time.com/3757984/five-best-ideas-of-the-day-march-25/
 
Description Featured in an article in USA Today 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gleibs, I.H. was quoted in the article 'Social media research raises privacy and ethics issues' in USA Today (12th March 2014).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/08/data-online-behavior-research/5781447/
 
Description Invited speaker at 'Heymans Colloquium' series (University of Groningen, Netherlands) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gleibs, I.H. was invited to speak at the 'Heymans Colloquium' series, held at the University of Groningen (Netherlands) in April 2014.
Gleibs gave a talk there on 'Group dynamics in imitation - how the situation shapes whom we imitate - an experimental approach' about
understanding how groups shape influence.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Invited speaker at a workshop on 'Social Media Analysis and mental health' (University of Nottingham, UK) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gleibs, I.H. was invited to speak at a workshop on 'Social Media Analysis and mental health', part of ' Putting people at the centre of human data, Institute of Mental Health' at the University of Nottingham (UK), January 2015.
Gleibs gave a talk there on 'Turning Virtual Public Spaces into Laboratories: Thoughts on Conducting Online Field Studies Using Social Network Site' - addressing the importance of Social Identity for the ethics of research in a health context using Social Media sites.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Storify.com blog about the Being There week-long project lab'. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Storify.com blog about the Being There public Showcase event - this EPSRC funded project brings together five teams of researchers from the Universities of Exeter, Bath, Oxford, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory. In addition the researchers are working with a diverse range of creative practitioners to add nuance and a disruptive element to the project. A range of artists, designers and game makers all of whom work with technology are collaborating throughout the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://storify.com/BeingThere/being-there-lab-at-watershed
 
Description Transforming Digital Methods. A University of Exeter Winter School, supported by the ESRC. 11-12/12/2014, Exeter UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact As a result of the presentation a discussion followed with ... Susan Banducci? Heather O'Mahen? Did this lead to the CLES strategic development funding that will employ ?? the placement student from the University of Bath in May 2015?

Impacts - did you win the grant above?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.exeter.ac.uk/digitalmethods/about/