Drawing on work from Altman, Tufekci believes that the manner in which teenagers approach online interactions can best be understood as a process of optimisation. By this it is meant that individuals in fact want to be seen and use information about themselves as a way to be noticed but also being mindful of the pitfalls of extending too much information. He notes that doing so in an online environment poses significant increased threats thanks to the collapsing of many temporal boundaries that exist in the real world.
He makes the point that an online environment captures data by default. This is done via cookies, ISP’s, databases, RSS feeds, etc, etc. and makes for a prime environment for surveillance. On the other hand, the real world requires a conscious decision PRIOR to a conversation to record the conversation eg a wire tap, or some other form of surveillance. Unlike a real world conversation that, unless recorded, disappears immediately as it occurs, a digital conversation is recorded and can be retrieved months and years later. This is a significant difference in that the default positions are at polar ends of the surveillance spectrum.
Tufekci claims the Internet can be divided into the instrumental Internet and the expressive Internet. By this he means that the former is where we go online to achieve an outcome and uses the purchase of airline tickets as an example. The latter, he contends, refers to the creation of self trough identity expression and impression management through the release of personal information.
He suggests that Altman’s model of privacy, where boundaries are actively negotiated, is a more accurate reflection of what occurs in an online environment then early conceptions of privacy as “the right to be let alone”. He suggests that people don’t necessarily seek more seclusion, but rather, at times, seek more self-disclosure as a way of self-creation.
For me, this rings true. As an active participant on FB, I’m aware that the most interesting profiles and relationships are with those participants who “open up” or show some form of vulnerability or express an outrageous opinion. Others who treat FB as a personal brochure have little interaction and therefore an unexciting presence. Interesting people are usually interesting both on and offline.
He draws on the findings of Pallin and Dourish who suggest that an online environment creates special problems for privacy. We have no idea of who is watching and where and therefore have no control over our spatial boundaries and, because conversations are recorded, virtually forever, we have no control over our temporal boundaries. Our audience can exist far into the the future. Finally there is the problem of the management of context. What is posted on MySpace may well not be appropriate in a job interview, however, because of the nature of the digital environment, these two contexts can (and often do) intersect with often unintended consequences.
Tufecki’s research indicated that a staggering 94.9% of Facebook users used their real names on their profiles. There was some tendency of Facebook users to make their profiles visible only to friends, but the research found there was no correlation between an open profile and the use of a real name. They found there was a general link between concerns about online privacy and making telephone numbers available. Males were more likely to display their phone numbers.
The study showed that participants modified their profiles, particularly the display of telephone numbers in line with their own privacy concerns, but they were generally unconcerned about a future employer reading their profile. Participants showed little concern about the consequences of a potential future partner seeing their profile. On the contrary they saw it as a potential benefit for a potential partner to see their profile.
He concludes by suggesting that disclosure is sought by youth as a way to create the self and as a way to limit access to the self through proactive self-disclosure. Although most concern, he claims is for present issues, youth could be more concerned about future problems that could result from the persistence of data.
Can You See Me Now? Audience and Disclosure
Regulation in Online Social Network Sites (subscription required)
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
2008; 28; 20
Bulletin of Science Technology Society