Just Frances

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PhD Dreams: The Research

Below is an excerpt of my proposed research. This is the framework I'm using as I conduct my literature review, but I fully realise that it may alter based as I continue reading existing literature and through discussions with my PhD supervisors. When/if that happens, I will update this page. However, please rest assured that my overall research will remain the same: Online reputation management. (Really, I'm not going to switch fields and research the pop-culture impact of Erwin Schrödinger's thought experiments instead. Though that would be an interesting study!) 

The Questions
This research will answer two questions regarding personal reputation management online:

  1. How do people evaluate the reputations of others from the online evidence available to them?
  2. How do people manage their own reputation through their online activities?

Reputation, identity, and information are linked with individuals in online environments. This research will investigate the relationship between these three concepts. The work’s main focus is how reputations are generated, conceived and managed. It will consider the impact of reputation in the online and offline worlds of individuals.

The Research
The research investigates issues of reputation management online from a social informatics perspective. It focuses on how people determine which information to share with (or obscure from) others in order to protect their reputation, in both on- and off-line environments. The findings of the work will apply to those who actively maintain an online presence, and those who do not*.

The study will investigate methods of online reputation management. These include self-censorship, setting privacy levels, and the deployment of alias profiles. Individuals’ understandings of the networks and tools available will also be explored. The work will consider whether awareness of, and concerns related to, online reputation changes as the availability of publicly accessible online tools increases.

Further, this research will uncover how individuals evaluate the reputations of others based on the evidence available to them online at a given time. It is anticipated that this aspect of the study will determine the level of importance online information holds in the assessment of an individual’s overall reputation.

* It should be recognised that it is possible to find information online for even those who have actively elected not to maintain an online presence.

The methodology for this research has yet to be fixed. However, it is anticipated that a mixed-methods approach will be taken, using a combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques.

A scoping survey will be conducted to help further frame the main study in Year Two. If determined appropriate, a small pilot study will be conducted at the beginning of Year Two to test that the methods chosen are appropriate for this investigation.