Self-disclosure—the communication of information about oneself to another—is fundamental to the construction of a personal online presence. In many online venues (e.g., MySpace, Facebook) users self-disclose themselves into being. This study examined who said what about themselves on MySpace and how consistently they did so in comparison to their offline disclosures. The study assessed overall self-disclosure and religious self-disclosure because little is known about how individuals communicate about religion with their peers.
Public, active MySpace profiles (N = 573) belonging to emerging adults (18–23 years old) in a nationally representative U.S. sample were examined. Each online self-disclosure was coded into a content category (e.g., media preferences, relationships, religion/spirituality, etc.). Self-disclosure was assessed on four dimensions (quantity, breadth, depth, consistency). The online data were then analyzed in relation to the profile owners‘ survey responses.
Overall, profile owners self-disclosed broadly and consistently, but superficially. The average profile contained 109 self-disclosures; some contained as many as 800. Self-disclosures about media preferences were most frequent; current events were least frequent. Women self-disclosed more, and with more depth than men. Risk-takers self-disclosed in more depth than non-risk-takers. Being satisfied with life was associated negatively with frequency and positively with consistency of self-disclosure. Young people who scored high on purpose in life self-disclosed more, but were less consistent between their online and survey disclosures.
Looking specifically at religion, a majority (70%) of the profiles contained at least one religious self-disclosure, although most profile owners did not communicate about their religious or spiritual identities beyond the predetermined affiliation labels of the "Religion" field (e.g., "Christian-other," "Catholic"). Religiosity was associated with more and with consistent religious self-disclosure. Having religious friends was associated with more and deeper religious self-disclosure. Religious individuals who believed that religion was a private matter, or who held negative perceptions of organized religion or religious people, self-disclosed less about religion.
In sum, young people tend to present themselves online as well-rounded, although they tend not to engage in deep self-disclosures. Nondisclosure is more common than inconsistent disclosure. Individual differences and attitudes predict how extensively, broadly, deeply, and consistently young people self-disclose online.