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Why using Facebook doesn’t mean you don’t value privacy


Microsoft Research Group researchers Danah Boyd and Alice Marwick have posted a draft paper entitled “Social Privacy in Networked Publics: Teens’ Attitudes, Practices, and Strategies” that reports on fieldwork interviewing teenagers about how they view privacy. It rebuts the cynical, easy dismissal of online privacy issues that says that kids don’t care about privacy because they put their lives on Facebook;Facebook instead, it provides compelling testament from everyday kids that their use of Facebook and other social networks is governed by privacy norms because kids can’t influence privacy laws or privacy code or privacy markets. In other words, kids have definite ideas about privacy, but limited power to put those ideas into practice.

Another dynamic that teens must navigate is the commonplace collapsing of social contexts. While countless movies have been made about situations where contexts collide in everyday life – e.g. running into your ex when out on a date – these are considered exceptional moments. Yet, in networked publics, it is exceptionally difficult to separate contexts. The flattening of diverse social relationships into a monolithic group of “Friends” makes it difficult for users to negotiate the normal variances of self-­?presentation that occur in day-­?to-­?day life. Social media participants regularly lament moments where worlds collide.27A third dynamic brought on by the technological affordances common to networked publics has to do with the blurring of what is public and what is private. As social constructs, privacy and publicity are affected by what is structurally feasible and socially appropriate. In recent history, privacy was often taken for granted because structural conditions made it easier to not share than to share. Social media has changed the equation.

In unmediated interactions, we assume a certain amount of privacy simply because it takes effort to publicize interactions. When we share updates about our lives over coffee, we don’t expect our interlocutors to share them widely, because 1) we don’t believe that said information is interesting enough to be spread widely; 2) it’s difficult to disseminate social information to a large audience in face-­?to-­?face contexts; and 3) recording a conversation or sharing every detail of an interaction would violate both social norms and the trust assumed in a relationship. If we do believe that our interlocutor might be interested in sharing what we said, we explicitly state that the interaction is private and expect the social norms around the conversation to triumph.28 And if our interlocutor wants to publicize every detail, it is assumed that this intention will be announced (e.g., a journalist interviewing an expert). Furthermore, people who are likely to share as much as they can remember are often labeled as “gossips” – often because they initially violated the social norms around sharing and are no longer trusted.


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