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The role of social media in negotiating identity during the process of acculturation

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The purpose of this paper is to contribute to an understanding of the role of social media in negotiating and managing identity for transient migrants relating to the home and host culture during the acculturation process.


Focussing on international students in the UK, this paper reports on findings from a qualitative study involving interviews with 27 transient migrants about their social media use and the negotiation of their identity online.


This paper highlights the multifaceted role that social media plays in the identity negotiations of transient migrants and it offers three theoretical contributions. First, the authors show that social media serves as a medium, consequence and determinant of identity. Second, provide four strategies for identity management are provided: boundary management, access management, online content management and offline content management. Third, contextualised support is provided for a reciprocal relationship between the different identity-related roles played by social media.

Research limitations/implications

The paper highlights the complex role of social media for identity within the acculturation process for transient migrants. Identity contestation may be salient for young student migrants, especially where there is a large cultural distance between the home and host culture. Identity negotiations and struggles may not be salient with older migrants or migrants who have migrated for different reasons or where there is a small cultural distance between the home and host culture.

Practical implications

This paper offers recommendations for social media site designers for enhancing the users experience during acculturation by guiding the navigation with identity management strategies as well as to highlight the possible predicaments of not managing their identity online.


Based on qualitative research with transient migrants using social media during acculturation, the paper provides a theoretical model of the role and reciprocal relationship of social media for identity, serving the role as a medium, consequence and determinant. The paper incorporates four identity management strategies that migrants can use on social media.
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Keywords: Acculturation; Identity; Interview; Social media; Surveillance; Technology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Marketing and Strategy, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK 2: Business School, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Publication date: August 23, 2019

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