The Looking Glass Lens: Self-concept Changes Due to Social Media Practices


  • Julie M. Jones University of Oklahoma, Gaylord College


YouTube, self-concept, looking glass self, self-presentation, vlogs, vloggers, selfies


This study brought an enduring social psychology theory into the era of mass self-communication. Cooley’s (1902) looking glass self posits that the self-concept is built, in part, by how a person sees him- or herself and, in part, by the reaction of others. For social media producers, neither the reflection nor others’ judgment needs to be imagined. Digital media can serve as a mediated mirror and social media sites provide the space where others’ judgments are clearly posted. YouTube producers were asked if they had come to see themselves differently since posting to the mega-media site and, if so, how. Forty-six participants reported self-concept changes ranging from being more accepting of their physical appearance to gaining confidence from overcoming the sting of negative comments to being empowerment due to a new role within a global, digital environment. The combination of media and media sharing platforms can serve as a digital looking glass lens.


Author Biography

Julie M. Jones, University of Oklahoma, Gaylord College

Associate Professor, Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication


Baumeister, R. F. (1987). How the self became a problem: A psychological review of historical research. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(1), 163-176.

Baumeister, R. F. (1997). Identity, self-concept, and self-esteem: The self lost and found. Handbook of personality psychology (pp. 681-710). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Burgess, J., & Green, J. (2009). YouTube: Online video and participatory culture. Cambridge, England; Malden, MA: Polity.

Castells, M. (2001). The Internet galaxy : reflections on the Internet, business, and society. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Castells, M. (2009). Communication power. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Cooley, C. H. (1902). Human nature and the social order. New York: C. Scribner's Sons.

Cranford, R. (2005). Facts, Lies, and Videotapes: The Permanent Vegetative State and the Sad Case of Terri Schiavo. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 33(2), 363-371. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-720X.2005.tb00501.x

Franks, D. D., & Gecas, V. (1992). Autonomy and Conformity in Cooley's Self-Theory: The Looking-Glass Self and Beyond. Symbolic Interaction, 15(1), 49-68. doi: 10.1525/si.1992.15.1.49

Gillmor, D. (2004). We the media : grassroots journalism by the people, for the people. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly.

Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. . New York: Doubleday.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture : where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.

Jones, E. E., & Pittman, T. S. (Eds.). (1982). Toward a general theory of strategic self-presentation. (Vol. 1). Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum Associates.

Lessig, L. (2008). Remix : making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. New York: Penguin Press.

Maia, M., Almeida, J., & Almeida, V. (2008). Identifying user behavior in online social networks. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 1st Workshop on Social Network Systems, Glasgow, Scotland.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. . Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396.

McMillan, D. W., & Chavis, D. M. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14(1), 6-23. doi: 10.1002/1520-6629(198601)14:1<6::aid-jcop2290140103>;2-i

Messaris, P. (1997). Visual persuasion : the role of images in advertising. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Metz, C. (1974). Film language; a semiotics of the cinema. New York,: Oxford University Press.

Rotman, D., Golbeck, J., & Preece, J. (2009). The community is where the rapport is -- on sense and structure in the youtube community. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the fourth international conference on Communities and technologies, University Park, PA, USA.

Secord, P. F., & Backman, C. W. (Eds.). (1965). An interpersonal approach to personality. (Vol. 2 ). New York: Academic Press.

Self-portraits and social media: The rise of the 'selfie'. (2013, 5/1/2014). News Magazine. Retrieved from

Siersdorfer, S., Chelaru, S., Nejdl, W., & Pedro, J. S. (2010). How useful are your comments?: analyzing and predicting youtube comments and comment ratings. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 19th international conference on World wide web, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.

Tice, D. M. (1992). Self-concept change and self-presentation: The looking glass self is also a magnifying glass. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(3 ), 435-451. doi:

Yusuf, H. (2009). Old and New Media: Converging During the Pakistan Emergency (March 2007–February 2008). Center for Future Civic Media (MIT), January, 12.

Zhao, S. (2005). The Digital Self: Through the Looking Glass of Telecopresent Others. Symbolic Interaction, 28(3), 387-405. doi: 10.1525/si.2005.28.3.387