As Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, said, “privacy is dead and social media hold the smoking gun.” Indeed, social media are present in our professional life, and in our personal life, and this growing importance has changed the way we interact with friends, colleagues and relations. It affected our involvement and participation, our personal communication, but more importantly it affected our privacy. The old adage “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” became “what happens in Vegas stays on YouTube” and Jure Klepic, famous blogger and social media innovator, would even add, “what happens on Twitter, stay on Google forever”. The purpose of this research is to critically analyse how it affected our participation and communication and more importantly what are the key privacy issues related to our virtual presence on these social media. All the social media components have definitely changed the way we involve ourselves on the virtual and social world but also the way we communicate. We traditionally can identify three different communication models. The one-to-one model, the one-to-many model and the many-to-many model or peer-to-peer. The traditional media communication model was widely the one-to-many, however, the new horizon brought by social media tend to me based on many-to-many. We now have a “horizontal flow, citizen-to-citizen [that] is as real and consequential as the vertical one” (Rosen, 2012, p14). Of course traditional one-way top-down media consumption still exist, but it generated new media items. Blog comes from printed press, podcast from radio or YouTube from television. There is now a new balance of power between the media and the people previously known as the audience. This “audience” no longer look for the news, the news, instead, find us. We passed from a passive audience to active participant. For Mark Thompson (2012) director general of the BBC, the active audience “doesn’t want just to sit there but to take part, debate, create, communicate, share.” (p14). The audience now wants control over the media they receive instead of being controlled (Murdoch, 2012). Our use of social media, the way we get involve and communicate, raises the issue of our privacy. How much do we expose ourselves, what do we have to protect our
personal information and ourselves. The first fact that we can notice, underlined in the Pew Research Centre’s Internet and American Life Project (2011), is that male have the tendency to keep their profile on social media more public or semi public than women. Women, on the contrary, tend to keep their profile private, which means, for friends only. For Boyd (2007), the social media are the newest creation of “mediated publics”. Unlike unmediated publics (parks, mall…), the mediated public, brought together through technology, have four unique intrinsic properties (Boyd, 2007). First of all the “persistence”, means the content posted remains available online. Something you might have said when you were sixteen will still be accessible when you are twenty-five, and will be interpreted out of context. Secondly, the “searchability. He adds a third element, which is the “replicability” of the information we post. It is easy to copy a conversation and past it somewhere else, out of context, and therefore it is difficult to know if the information provided have been altered. Last but not least, we mentioned it about the location apps, the “invisible audience”. We cannot know or see who is able to “overhear” us, plus the three first factors add layers of audience that were not originally present. Katz and Rice (2002) define the Internet as a “panopticon” where “parasocietal mechanisms influence behaviour because of the possibility of being observed”. In this context, where social media are more and more important in our lives, we can wonder, as Oscar Gandy (1993) did, if “in an age of digital media, do we really have any privacy?” For Etzioni (1999), the first step we should undertake it to identify whither or not there is presence of a problem. “Do we have a problem with the sharing of private information on social networking sites?” Experts agree that there are indeed issues to be raised, especially problem regarding teens revealing too much information, children exposed to paedophiles, teens being rape by stranger they meet online, and less important but much more frequent, the collection of our personal data by companies for marketing purposes. Electronic Frontier Foundation (2005) reports that the United States Department of Defence proposed and instated a recruitment database collecting data and information about students including their ethnicity, phone numbers, email addresses, intended field of study, extra curricular activities and even the attitude of their parents
toward military recruitment. For Tom Glocer (2012) the participation is the key to attract audience, if you don’t give them the opportunity to participate, the public won’t get attracted by what you have to offer. This new participative-communication applies as well to marketing. Indeed companies understood very well the power of social media over the audience. But “a brand is no longer what we tell the customer it is, it is was consumers tell each other it is” (Cook, 2012). Users get involved, for example, Expedia website where feedback are given by travellers. People now have their say in the information, and business can lose big from an online negative word-of-mouth. Doug Frisbie (2012), Toyota national marketing manager, summarize very well the new participation of the audience, indeed for him, once news is available online it becomes a conversation, and what really matter is what volume will this conversation become. Horton (2012) shows us how our privacy is already violated through the targeted marketing available on Facebook or YouTube. As seen, the primary concern among specialists is the safety of younger users (George, 2006; Kornblum and Marklein, 2006) as they are the main user of social networking platforms, according to Pingdom Staff (2012), the majority of users (51%) are between twenty-five to forty-three years old, the main exposed target, but the main concern for researchers are the teenagers and how do they protect their privacy. Gross and Acquisti (2005) conducted one of the first academic research in which they analysed the threats linked to the information posted on Facebook, and they concluded that, for example, it is possible to reconstruct a social security number from information such as the hometown, the date of birth and so on, that users post of their profile. Acquisti and Gross (2006) identify the gap between the students desire to protect their privacy and their actual behaviour. Idea also present in the survey of Facebook users conducted by Stutzman (2006). For Barne (2006), this can be explained by what she calls the “privacy paradox”. She maintains that teens are not aware of the public position or nature of the Internet, teenagers gives away information on the web and then are offended and surprised when their parents find out about it. Dwyer, Hiltz, and Passerini (2006) mitigate this statement, for them, the trust users have in the platform itself influence the quantity and veracity of the information they post, they noticed, for example, that users trust Facebook more than Myspace, so they tend to post more information. However, Lenhart
(2005); Lenhart, et al. (2005); Lenhart and Madden (2005) published the result of a study, showing that in the United States of America, nineteen per cent of the 12 – 17 admit having a blog or maintaining a personal page where they post not only too much personal information but also their personal diary including emotions and places they went or intend to go. For Huffacker and Calvert (2005), this big amount of personal information such as phone numbers, email address and so on, makes it easy for stranger to communicate with us, and generates also what they call “cyberstaking”. Undeniably some apps such as Whoshere, Grindr, to mention but a few, give you the possibility to search around you people who have the same application and give you the ability to see their profile and communicate with them. Application like Foursquares gives you the opportunity to see comments left by other user about a place, you can then digitally follow this person by checking his/her profile. People (un?)knowingly give the opportunity to other to follow there each and every move, which can be dangerous as they have access to profile information, usually a picture as well, and locations. All these give an open door to one of the important concern we mention earlier, indeed, sexual predators can easily locate their victim from the information found on social networks and platforms, noted Antone (2006) and Reuters (2006a.). Jagatic, Johnson, Jakobsson, and Menczer (2007), however, tend to nuance this pessimistic vision of the candid teenagers and bring an optimistic perspective to the debate by a survey conducted that shows that teens are aware of the threats on posting data on internet, and are proactive to protect themselves. They even noted that young, who admit having an open profile, confess that part of the data posted isn’t true. Preibusch, Hosner, Gürses, and Berendt (2007) tend to blame the social media platforms for not providing the necessary flexibility to users regarding their privacy settings. We can for example notice Facebook that regularly update its privacy setting without noticing their user, and that usually the modification are made toward a more reduced privacy. For example, after introducing the timeline version of the platform, it is impossible to post a cover picture private, they are necessarily public, as well as the default setting for profile picture is public, if the user does not change it every time, his privacy is reduced unknowingly. Swire (2004) identifies the “security through obscurity”, we believe no one
would care about our profile, we are lambda citizen, no one would check, so we keep our privacy setting low; but if only one decide to check he has access to everything. Barnes (2006) tries to identify what solution could be established to reduce this “privacy paradox”. The solutions that could be found are of three levels: social solutions, technical solutions and legal solutions. On the social level, experts agree that the role of the parents is essential and that they should try to get involved in the way their kids use the computer say Sullivan (2005). Some schools report to the parents of students posting too much information, other ban blogs and ask student to take off their information from the Internet, in some cases it is also impossible to register to a social media network with a school email, reported Kornblum (2005). On the technical aspect of the solution, Reuters (2006b.) relates that MySpace uses software to automatically detect users under 14 of age, but that the use is hard due to fraudulent information provided. The add of a button “report inappropriate content” can be considered as a technical improvement as once the button is hit, more employee will review the content reported and measure will be taken. Finally on the legal level of solution, the United States of America, implemented the Deleting Online Predator Act (DOPA) which is an Internet filter aiming to protect teens from sexual predators, however the filter can protect them only while the access the internet in public spaces (libraries, schools…) and not at home. Hence the role of parents in educating and monitoring their children use of the computer once they are at home. However the legal aspect of a solution generate a new debate, a new dilemma. For example universities of the United States have conducted investigation about their athlete for picture posted on Facebook with an “inappropriate” behaviour, but once outside the university, does the athlete have any behavioural obligation toward the university? On another scale, Hodge (2006) explain that the fourth amendment of the American constitution does not apply to Facebook, so, does that mean a police officer can access data of a suspect (or anyone) online without a warrant?
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