The world of social networking is a double edged sword in many ways. Having a platform that enables us to reconnect with old friends, or share snapshots and day to day moments of our lives on a worldwide stage can also backfire if we do not take the necessary measures to protect our privacy and identities.
In terms of what is important in how we present and manage our identities online, it comes as no surprise that most people still want control over their personal information on the internet and want the ability to stay anonymous if they choose (De Rosa, Cantrell, Havens, Hawk, & Jenkins, 2007). They also want to be in control of who can obtain their personal details, and what and if any privacy policies are in place.
Despite its enormous popularity, Facebook has been criticised for its privacy practices or lack of (Raynes-Goldie, 2010) This is due largely to the fact that people must use their own identities and real names. Some users attempt to get around this by using an alias or a false surname, however such measures are in breach of Facebooks user agreements and can lead to consequences. Wiki and social networking sites (SNS) are two of the most popular with young people (Mallan&Giardina,2009). Users here have the advantage of building their own profile , or more to the point, building a profile that depicts how they themselves want to be perceived. Some users admit to collaborating with friends in platforms such as “My Space” and Instagram to build their online profile either out of lack of technical knowledge or as a peer bonding exercise. Their profile then also becomes a mixture of their friend’s view of them. As technology can’t ensure the information in profiles is true and accurate is it still very much a case of being wary of the unknown, when establishing social relationships on line.
In looking at what can we share and what should we retain as private to the online world, people still want to be in charge of who knows what, about them ( De Rosa, Cantrell, Havens, Hawk, & Jenkins, 2007). Recent research has shown that about a third of users feel comfortable sharing personalities online, a third want to remain anonymous, and the rest cautious and will share information if they feel comfortable with a web site. There is still some confusion amongst many users about what information is kept private on the internet and how much is public knowledge. Not surprisingly online banking and financial transactions are where people become most concerned about security. Over half of users look for security icons on commercial sites, an important point for organisations to note when attempting to attract potential customers. Most interesting as well is that people care more about their online or “social privacy” and what people viewing their profile online can find out about them, than what Facebook or big companies see or do with their personal information (Raynes-Goldie, 2010). Facebook users admit to trying to manage information wherever possible, for example screening posts to ensure a work superior cannot see what a friend may view. This also leads to the issue of managing and accepting awkward friend (or family!) requests. In this case Facebook has opened the proverbial can of worms. Fortunately, research has shown that security breaches are fairly low (De Rosa, Cantrell, Havens, Hawk, & Jenkins, 2007) and in the big scheme of things, most people are prepared to sacrifice some privacy in return for the convenience or enjoyment they get out of using internet sites.
Raynes-Goldie, K. (2010). Aliases, creeping, and wall cleaning: Understanding privacy in the age of Facebook, First Monday, 15(1), 4 January. Available http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2775/2432
De Rosa, C., Cantrell, J., Havens, A., Hawk, J. & Jenkins, L. (2007). Section 3: Privacy, Security and Trust. In Sharing privacy and trust in our networked world: A report to the OCLC membership. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC. [ebook] Availablehttp://www.oclc.org/reports/pdfs/sharing_part3.pdf
Mallan, K. & Giardina, N. (2009). Wikidentities: Young people collaborating on virtual identities in social network sites, First Monday, 14(6), 1 June. Available