Facebook, the social networking site founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, was initially a Harvard-only site, as users were required to have Harvard.edu email addresses to join. The social network later extended its boundaries to include students from other universities, and then to everyone across the globe older than over the age of 13. It currently has just under 850 million users and, due to the sites’ expansion and on-going updates to the interface, issues such as consumer trust and privacy concerns have increasingly captured the attention of the media and academic researchers.
People are attracted to online social networking sites like Facebook because they enable them to converse with friends, share ideas and connect to a vast network of people. Despite these benefits, social networking sites have come under fire in recent years due to media and privacy advocates drawing attention to the privacy risks that users of these sites expose themselves to by disclosing large amounts of information.
The implications that privacy and trust in Facebook have on information sharing go beyond what users’ post about themselves. Individuals may provide, among other things, a photograph of themselves and textual self-descriptions. But other Facebook members and the computer system itself are also a huge source of information. Users of social networks engage in activities such as leaving messages on others’ profiles, as well as ‘tagging’ individuals to photographs, videos and status updates. In this way, users who are tagged to posts are presented on more than one profile. And even if they ‘un-tag’ themselves from a photograph or video, it will nevertheless remain on the profile of the person who posted it.
But despite the furore that often surround changes to website privacy policies, consistently the research has shown that even users that indicate the highest concern regarding the privacy for their information on social network, do not necessarily disclose lower amounts or less accurate information than those who indicate lower concern. One of the explanations cited is that is that there is a significant positive relationship between the level of trust that a user has for an online networking site and their willingness to share information. For instance, findings have shown that Facebook users trust Facebook more than MySpace users trust MySpace; and that this is the reason Facebook users are also more willing to disclose personal information. Another possible explanation is that people have claimed that, even when they disclose large amounts of information, they nevertheless exercise restraint and are conscious of what exactly they are disclosing.
At the end of the day, social networking sites have an intrinsically public nature, which is why privacy on sites like Facebook is often not expected or not defined. If one considers simple consumer behaviour, then the theory of ‘motivational conflict’ would classify social networks in the ‘approach-avoidance’ group. In other words, a desired condition can only be obtained at the cost of an undesirable condition. People make a lot of noise about their privacy on social networking sites, but from their behaviour it’s clear that they believe the disadvantages are outweighed by the advantages. If this were not the case, social networking sites would cease to exist.
Here is a related infographic that might help you understand the Sad State of Social Media Privacy: