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- Sophie Muthen
Privacy is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the context of social networking sites and social media. Discuss.
Nowadays sharing personal information on social networking sites (SNS) has become a social norm, users feel comfortable about sharing their private life online but the issues of privacy online still remains. Martin Zuckerberg stated himself in 2010 that users of SNS have now become more open, sharing more and more personal information online and with a greater number of people. This may have become a social norm in our modern times but users should keep in mind that those information can be used in harmful ways such as for identity theft or stalking. Therefore a balance should be kept between online disclosure and privacy as tipping the scales may be harmful to the users. Users of SNS should take into consideration what kind of information they share online and to whom it should be divulged to. This is why users of social networking sites should develop technical skills to protect their privacy online. This essay will explore the different privacy issues people may face on SNS and how a balance between online disclosure and privacy should be maintained to successfully function in both the online and offline world.
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A clear understanding of social networking sites and privacy issues online is the key to this issue. In the recent years social networking sites (SNS) have attracted millions of people as on such sites people can communicate in various ways. As Beye et al. (n.d) SNS allow people to create a network that represent their social ties, easily share media content online, provides a communication channel and share the daily aspect of their life with friends. However there are potential threats that are posed to privacy of the users, as due to SNS personal information are exposed to a wider audience and often information about a user are posted by others without the his or her consent. Therefore social media complicates the boundaries of what personal information are rendered public.
Users of SNS have become so comfortable with the sharing of personal information online that they are not aware of the dangers they face online due to privacy issues. Sharing our everyday life with friends and relatives with just a few clicks is indeed nice but people often forget that digital information is “persistent and can arbitrarily be copied, distributed, and repurposed” (Debatin, 2011, p. 57). When creating a profile on SNS you are to provide information such as your age, name and the country where you live. These information can easily be accessed either by the public or hackers and this is what leads to identity thefts. As all your personal information are available on the site anyone can use this information to steal the identity of users. Another problem that arises from privacy issues is stalking. Zheleva and Geetor (2009) explains that while the user may choose to make his profile private the friendship links and group affiliation are often visible to the public. This is how the information leaks occurs, people not in your group of friends can see the posts in which you are tagged in which is how they may be able to access your personal information even though your profile remains private. These information link may allow stalkers to follow your activities online. This may also happen when you befriend people online without knowing their identity. Nowadays it has become a trend to share your everyday activity online, for example, you could post that you are at Bagatelle mall right now. This may allow stalkers to know your every move and schedule daily. The problem of stalkers can also be linked to sexual predators, who looks for younger girls on SNS and add them as friends, they then view the personal information of those girls and stalk them online. Another privacy that users can face is that the information they shared remains online even after four to five years when they have forgotten about it. Companies or the law for investigations of social background. Users should be aware of those various privacy issues and share personal information with caution on SNS.
While discretion should be exercised when sharing personal information online, there are various benefits to online disclosure. In real life when forming social bonds you selectively reveal personal information, to feel closer to the person and get to know each other. Therefore when doing so on social networking sites (SNS) people also create social bonds with each other. They get to know each other and form friendships but in an online environment. So, SNS has given people a network where they can socialize and form social bonds with people without being limited by distance or time. For example, a man from Mauritius could be able to communicate with a woman from France if he wishes to. SNS have therefore removed this barrier of distance in socialization, allowing people from all other the world to communicate with each other. “Benniger (1987) describes how mass media has gradually replaced interpersonal communication as a socializing force” (Barnes, 2006). SNS have also increased the number of people with who we can socialize with as due to those websites users are able to form social bonds with multiple people at the same time. “SNSs have amplified the threshold to the number of social bonds any one human can have” (Papacharissi & Gibson, 2011, p. 82). When using SNS you share personal information about yourself, which in turn allows you to connect with people with similar interests or mind set. This allow people to feel less isolated as they are able to communicate with people which are similar to them and they are even able “mobilize to address the issues that matter to them” (Westlake, 2008, p. 37). The ability to connect with people through social networking sites has made us arguably more social.
A balance between online disclosure and privacy is essential for SNS to have a beneficial effect on people’s life. As Debatin (2011) explains, people don’t often realise the importance of privacy as the impact of disclosure is not immediate whereas the benefits of SNS are tangible and felt immediately. While privacy is a basic human right acknowledged by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, users of SNS have to insist on their privacy rights and acquire the technical skills to be able to protect their privacy online. To do so users must be aware of the privacy issues they face online and develop strategies to solve this issues. Nowadays users of social networking sites can choose the level of privacy on their profile, they are able to manage their online privacy themselves and decide if certain information will be visible to the public or only to their friends. “In order to address users’ privacy concerns, a number of social media and social network websites, such as Facebook, Orkut and Flickr, allow their participants to set the privacy level of their online profiles and to disclose either some or none of the attributes in their profiles” (Zheleva & Getoor, 2009, p. 531). Users must therefore learn how to manage those privacy settings to build a secure environment on SNS which will then prevent them from facing issues such as identity theft or stalking. They must make the most of the features provided by SNS to protect their privacy. Developing the appropriate skills to use social networking sites allow users to maintain the fragile balance between online disclosure and privacy.
Social media has changed our mind set concerning the amount of personal information that should or should not be rendered public. In the late 1990’s when the internet began gaining popularity it was almost unthinkable to post your photo, location or even your real name online. With SNSs finding success in the mid 2000’s, people allowed this technology to enlarge their comfort zones, as it gave them more freedom to share personal information online and therefore with time making them feel more at ease to do so. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg even goes as far as saying that “privacy is no longer a social norm” (BCS, 2010). We have been changed by this new technology and while online disclosure has many benefits such as uniting people and creating social bonds, users must keep in mind that they must make the most social networking sites while keeping their right to privacy intact.
It has been argued that a balance between privacy and online disclosure is essential when sharing information on SNSs. The dangers of not taking into consideration privacy issues were weighed up against the social benefits of disclosure. It was therefore concluded that the logical solution was for users of SNSs to understand the functioning of social sites and make the best of their privacy settings to create a safe environment online for them to communicate and share personal information with other people. The potential of SNSs to create social enhancement should be embraced but a balance must be constantly kept between privacy and online disclosure.
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