Thursday, January 23, 2014

Social Media - Be Who You Want To Be - or, using communication privacy management in an online enviornment

profile pic vs tagged pic

Who would you like to be today?

Today's social media gives people the ability to present whatever image they would like.  To be academic about it, we can call that self presentation of identity.  Our identity is that image we have of ourselves that we project to others as well as how they actually perceive us.  We project this image through the process of self presentation, (or so say scholars Wood and Smith).  It is my contention that people use privacy management techniques to present that identity.

In sharing information online we chose what pieces of information to make public and which to keep private.  This control of private information is the backbone of privacy management.  Who you are in the real world and who you are online don't need to be the same. Is your weight problematic for you?  Online you can keep that information from others by not sharing it, and not sharing photographs that show your weight.  How about a disability?  No mention of your wheelchair on your Facebook page.  How about the security code for your debit card or the results for your last HIV test?  You can choose to tell information that even your doctor can not.  This is because some things are private information and you get to chose what you share and what you don't (we can call this private boundaries).  In an online environment it is even more apparent because you don't even have to tell the truth about your physical appearance!

It is important to note that we want and expected our privacy to be respected.   There is a privacy rule and when that rule is violated  people generally experience boundary turbulence. places we perceive as private, where our privacy is nearly assured, such as Reddit, we can unload our reality (and those pieces of private information we need to speak of that may be taboo in the real world) in a stranger on the train type of way.  Reddit allows the user(s) to create accounts and post online in forums with other users.  The accounts need not be traceable back to a person.  Thus private information can be shared without fear of social reprisals.  However, what happens when you get outed?  Boundary turbulence can make a person sweat, as notorious internet troll Violentacrez can attest to.  The man behind the user name (pronounced Violent Acres) posted some of the most offensive content on the "front page of the internet" and when his privacy expectation was violated and his reddit activities spilled over into his real life he had to make adjustments to his public and private image/identity to manage the privacy violations.

The Wrap Up:

What is private information to you?  It isn't necessarily the same as private information for me however odds are we both manage our private information both in our real lives and our cyber lives.  If our privacy expectations  are violated we feel uncomfortable until we find a way to resolve it.  Online we can be as private or as open as we like...  we can be 6'3" tall or we can provide our banking information to a Nigerian prince, whatever we decide to do, it is all a part of communication privacy management and our self presentation of our identity.  

Just remember, what we share online stays online. 

Images copied without remorse from locations around the internet that include:

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