What happens in the Facebook, stays in the Facebook.

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Reflective Essay for BCM101 New Media

© Kaitlyn Carlia 2009
“...teenagers must and do disclose personal information to sustain intimacy, but they wish to   be in control of how they manage this disclosure” ­ Livingstone, 2008

This essay will define ‘online presence’ and critically evaluate it in personal terms, as well as  examining the idea of the ‘performative self’ and presentational media. It will look at the  purpose and function of social networking platform Facebook and how it facilitates the  sharing of personal details, control over information and privacy issues. It also examines the  possible ulterior motives and uses of Facebook and the repercussion these have on young  people.

Online presence is a term that describes user activity online: the way that we communicate, interact and participate in virtual worlds such as MySpace and Facebook (Langley, 2009). Studies have indicated that students spend approximately 30 minutes a day on Facebook and my personal online presence certainly matches this time period. While I am present on Facebook I communicate in a one-to-many style, posting comments and links, editing content and messaging others, although a greater percentage of my online presence is spent observing content than actually posting it (Pempek et al, 2009 and Westlake, 2009). The functions of previous popular social networking tools, such as MySpace, Flickr, Weblogs and Instant Messengers have all converged in one platform: Facebook, and this is the only site where I have an account. The purpose of Facebook is to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” (Facebook, 2009). Members of the Facebook community use it to communicate and stay in contact with friends, and upload personal information (Roberts and Roach, 2009, 3 and Westlake, 2009). Westlake (2009) calls the sharing of personal details “performance of the online self”, which may seem like exhibitionism in some cases, but is essentially the embodiment of the adolescent need for intimacy and energetic engagement. Indeed, the sharing of information is a principle function of Facebook. When signing up for an account, the site encourages users to share their date of birth, home neighbourhood, relationship status, sexuality, political and religious views, contact information, job and education details, as well as favourite movies, books and quotes, and photographs (Westlake, 2009). All of this information is displayed on the user’s profile and is available to friends1 and networks (Westlake, 2009). I choose not to display a majority of these details, as I feel some details will create a portrayal or presentation of myself that others may potentially view negatively. An example of this might be a boy who lists his favourite band as ‘Good Charlotte’ being negatively perceived as an ‘emo’. ‘News Feeds’ are another way that my information is shared. When I comment on a friends Wall2 or photograph, update my status, relationship or profile picture, these details are published in a reverse-chronological live-feed available to all of my friends (Boyd, 2008, 12). Because of this, I need to be aware that anything will be viewed by a wide audience, not just the friend I am writing to. This can limit or affect what I want to say. Facebook describes

itself as “a social utility that helps you...to learn more about the people who work, live, or study around you”, but there are concerns that News Feeds were going beyond the purpose of learning, and bordering on stalking:

CASE STUDY 1 On  5 September 2006,the social network site Facebook launched a feature called ‘News Feeds’. Upon logging in, users were faced with a start page that listed and time-stamped every act undertaken by their friends within the system. This included who had befriended whom, who changed profile pictures, who had written on other people’s Walls and what they wrote, who had posted new photographs, who had altered their relationship status, who had joined or left a group, written a public note or altered their list of favourite books and movies. Many users were unnerved by the fact that their every move would be seen by such a wide audience. Although none of the information displayed in the News Feed was previously private per se, previously one had to go searching for it, but now News Feed announced details to everyone in a Facebook circle and made the material far more accessible and visible. Within hours of the launch, users were forming groups such as “Students Against Facebook News Feeds” (which gathered over 700, 000 members) to express their frustration. Some users became worried about stalking: “It makes stalking way too easy...it scares me!” and “Facebook was creepy enough before...this is definitely crossing some sort of line”. Why did users feel this way? Because News Feeds disrupted the social dynamic. They now felt vulnerable, exposed and invaded when disclosing their data, and for many it affected the way they behaved on Facebook.

Facebook has privacy settings in place so that users can control their information, but only to an extent. I have my privacy settings as ‘friends only’ so that only people in my friends list can see my profile and posts – but that includes 280 people from my jobs, university, school, family and social groups, so I can’t hide anything. Other privacy options include ‘friends of friends’, ‘networks and friends’ and ‘everyone’. Figure 1 shows that 75% of participants allowed ‘everyone’ to view their profile. Almost 10% listed their phone number and home address on their profile for ‘everyone’ to see.

Figure 1. College Students and Social Networking Website Characteristics
Variable Do you allow anyone to view your profile(s)?  Yes 73.6% (117) %  (Frequency) Mean (SD)

Variable  No Do you include a picture of yourself on your profile(s)?  Yes  No Do you include your e­mail address on your profile(s)?  Yes  No Do you include your phone number on your profile(s)?  Yes  No Do you include your home address on your profile(s)?  Yes  No

%  (Frequency) 26.4% (42)

Mean (SD)

86.2% (137) 13.8% (22)

35.2% (103) 64.8% (56)

9.4% (15) 90.6% (144)

9.4% (15) 90.6% (144)

Do you include information about your interests on your profile(s)?  Yes  No Do you use your real name on your profile page(s)?  Yes  No Approximately how many “friends” do you have on all your  profile(s)? 81.8% (129) 18.9% (30) 239.41 (268.44) 83.0% (132) 17.0% (27)

Fogel and Nehmad (2009, 159) say that 72% of young people feel that their peers post too much personal information on Facebook. Fogel and Nehmad’s study (2009, 158) also showed that some young people realised the danger in posting too much information online, and

listed their reasons as avoidance of embarrassment or evaluations by others, protection of information about the self, and of the undesired self. Figure 1 indicates that while some users are privacy-savvy and aware of their actions, others are indifferent to the level of control they actually have over their information. A particularly daunting section of Facebook’s (2009) Terms and Agreements state that Facebook can use and distribute your information in any way: “By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly display, reformat, and distribute such User Content for any purpose”. The privacy statement (which many users, and indeed myself neglected to read when signing up) states that Facebook may collect information about you from completely unrelated sources, such as “newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services and other users of the Facebook service” and that by using Facebook, you are “consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States” (Facebook, Privacy Policy). This raises many unnerving questions, the most important being: What is Facebook really doing with my information??? Some sources boldly declare that Facebook is partly owned by or affiliated with the U.S Department of Defense and the C.I.A. for the purpose of profiling all members, most comprehensively documented in Vishal Argawala’s 2006 VIDEO (Argawala, 2006, and Greenop, 2007). In her blog post, O’Brien describes how information that we add is given to advertising companies who limit the target and scope of their audience, and show specific advertisements in the margins of pages (O’Brien, 2009). She also points out that Facebook does not “inform you that this information will be shown on your profile” (O’Brien, 2009).

Other’s are concerned not with whom Facebook are sharing our details, but with who can access them independently. As Henry Jenkins points out, “in an age where all information sources are interconnected and where privacy is breaking down at an alarming rate, there is an immense amount that one can dig out about a person...” (Jenkins, 2006, 36). For example, (Roberts and Roach, 2009, 2) reveal that Facebook pages are now being used as reference checks by HR personnel, and those with jobs can be fired as a result of Facebook comments (see case study 2).

CASE STUDY 2 In November 2008 Virgin Airlines sacked 13 cabin crew staff after they criticised some of the airline’s passengers on Facebook. The messages on the social networking site described the passengers as ‘Chavs’ and criticised passengers who put boarding passes in their mouths before handing them to staff at the departure gate, and also said they had little time for celebrity passengers with “stupid American accents”. The airline workers also wrote that one aircraft was full of cockroaches and that the airlines jet engines were replaced four times in one year. There was found to be no justification for the use of Facebook as a sounding board for staff of any company to bring their company or its customers into disrepute. Vassou, Andrea-Marie, 2008

Others are more concerned with stalkers and infiltrators (Abelson et al, 2008, 13), although Facebook is generally a more trusted site than others such as MySpace (Fogel and Nehmad, 2009, 159). Case study 3 shows how potentially dangerous unknown friends on Facebook can be:

CASE STUDY 3 In 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier made friends online with a 16-year-old boy named ‘Josh’. When ‘Josh’ turned against her, writing “You are a bad person and everybody hates you...the world would be a better place without you,” – Megan committed suicide. When police investigated the motivations behind the incident, they discovered that ‘Josh’ did not exist. He was a MySpace creation – a fake profile. Police tracked the account to the mother of a girl in the neighbourhood who acknowledged ‘instigating’ and monitoring the account. The actual sender of the final message was never identified. Abelson, Ledeen and Lewis, 2008

Teenagers must and do disclose personal information, sometimes with little or no regard for  privacy. Some do not seem to consider the negative repercussions of sharing personal details  in a virtual world accessible to wide audiences, such as cyber­harassment, damage to  reputations and consequential loss of employment, and even disclosure to advertising and  other agencies without their knowing. On the other hand, there are young people, like myself,  who are wary about what they disclose online, and who utilise privacy settings to gain control  over this information. Notes:
1

The term ‘friend’ is used in social network sites to indicate a consensual connection between  two users. Not all connections represent a relationship that sociologists would recognise as a  friendship – these kinds of friends can be acquaintances, friends of friends, someone you  don’t know but have something in common with, or someone you simply find interesting.
2

The ‘Wall’ is a space on an individuals’ profile where their Friends can leave messages that  are viewable to anyone who has access to that profile. 

Bibliography: Abelson, Ledeen and Lewis (2008). Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty and Happiness After the Digital Explosion. Addison-Wesley: Indianapolis

Agarwala, Vishal, 2006. Does what happens in the Facebook stay in the Facebook? (VIDEO) Accessed 7/6/09 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wogtTQs8Kzw Boyd, Danah (2008) Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion and Social Convergence, in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 14; 13; Published online by SAGE. Buckingham, David (2000) After the death of childhood: growing up in the age of electronic media. Polity Press: Cambridge. Buckingham, David and Willett, Rebecca (2006). Digital Generations: Children, Young People and New Media. Routledge: London. Fogel, J and Nehmad, E (2009) Internet social network communities: Risk taking, trust and privacy concerns, in Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 25. Issue 1. Published online by Academic OneFile. Greenop, Matt (2007). Facebook, the CIA Conspiracy. In the New Zealand Herald on Sunday, online. Accessed 7/6/09. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/technology/news/article.cfm?c_id=5&objectid=10456534 Jenkins, Henry, 2006. Convergence Culture: Where old and new media collide. NYU Press: New York. Langley, Emma (2009) Week 5 – Blog Question 1, Twitwall Post to BCM101_DrMoore on 20/4/09, accessed on 5/06/09 at http://twitwall.com/view/?who=emmalangley O’Brien, Melanie (2009) Untitled, Twitwall Post to BCM101_DrMoore on 19/4/09, accessed on 5/6/09 at http://twitwall.com/view/?who=manlymel Pempek, Tiffany, Yevdokiya, Yermolayeva and Calvert (2009). College students’ social networking experiences on Facebook”, in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30.3 (May-June 2009): 227(12). Academic OneFile. Accessed 5/6/09. <http://find.galegroup.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/ips/start.do?prodId=IPS>. Roberts, S and Roach, T (2009) Social Networking Web Sites and Human Resource Personnel: Suggestions for Job Searches, in the Business Communication Quarterly; 72; 110; Published online by SAGE. Vassou, Andrea-Marie (2008) Virgin Crew Sacked over Facebook comments, in Computeractive, online. Accessed 7/6/09. http://www.computeractive.co.uk/computeractive/news/2229627/virgin-atlantic-staff sacked Westlake, E. J. (2008) Friend Me if You Facebook: Generation Y and Performative Surveillance, in TDR: The Drama Review, vol. 52. No. 4. Published online at Project MUSE.

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