The visual rhetoric of icons plays a major role in the establishment of online identity. In many cases of online discourse, particularly social networking, the icon provides a first impression of a rhetor online. By examining the theories of identity and of (visual) rhetoric, I establish the ways the icon can be used in the establishment of online identity, on the creation of that first impression. Once that theory is laid as groundwork, I investigate several sets of specific examples on Facebook where icons have been chosen in order to better explain the rhetorical decisions behind those icons. The icons that are chosen with no knowledge of the audience who will form that first impression help to highlight the decisions behind the icon, behind the intended message sent by the rhetor. Icons that are chosen to create secondary identities, such as those of performers, help to highlight the intentional role of icons in establishing online identity. In this study, I investigated how identity online changes over time and the way icons always act as a first impression, even when an identity has been established for a long period of time. Finally, looking at the icons chosen for a different social network site, gendersociety.com, has allowed me to examine the icon selection process when the rhetor has a very clear and specific understanding of the audience who will be interacting with and receiving the first impression of that icon in social networking.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation.February 2014. Major: Rhetoric and Scientific and Technical Communication. Advisor: Donald Ross Jr. 1 computer file (PDF); iii, 199 pages.
Weinberg, Joseph M..
The rhetoric of Facebook icons: general principles and examples of how icons impact and form identity in social networking.
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