Impression Formation in Cyberspace: Online Expectations and Offline Experiences in Text-based Virtual Communities

It is not uncommon for people who meet in the text-based environments of cyberspace–asynchronous news groups and bulletin boards and synchronous chat rooms and virtual communities–to be mistaken, and sometimes wildly so, when they imagine one another’s offline appearances. For example, in an article about online dating (A. Hamilton 1999), one man complains “It’s draining when you realize how different people are from what they project online,” and another story (J. Hamilton 1999) about the mainstreaming of online romances describes a pathway to disappointment: “The correspondents finally meet, but the chemistry crashes like a warped hard drive. Her extra five pounds is actually 50. His definition of a full head of hair proves to be a bit thin.” The discrepancy between image and reality is also captured in cartoons. One depicts a sophisticated, thirty-something woman, sitting at a table for two in an upscale restaurant, saying “I loved your E-mail, but I thought you’d be older.” Her dinner companion is a little boy (Weber 1998).

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