Week 5. Oversharing?

10 Apr

Analyse critically the statement by Mark Zuckerberg while comparing it to privacy issues raised by online social networking collaborative practices.

Mark Zuckerberg explained new privacy controls on Facebook as tools for heightening sharing amongst online communities, and promoting global problem solving, however Facebook demonstrates that sharing and problem solving are still subjected to offline social realities.

1. “When people have control over what they share, they’re comfortable sharing more”

While Zuckerberg makes sharing sound like sitting around a campfire singing kumbaya, it’s important to remember that it also has a business function. Sharing links, interests, and ‘likes’ is how Facebook collects data for targeted advertising. Roosendaal (2010) explains that the two most important factors of privacy are ‘informational self determination’ and ‘contextual integrity’ (7). The first is allowing users control over what and how much they share, and the second is not sharing content outside of its context. It could be argued that despite the user agreement that we all skipped when we signed up, Facebook violates ‘contextual integrity’ by removing information from a social networking context to a business context. Then again, Facebook is a business, a bank of information. Within Facebook, users are able to control shared content with general switches and options for individual posts. ‘Contextual integrity’ is more subjective, as users debate what is appropriate in a social networking context. We’ve all faced ‘life sucks’ or ‘had toast for breakfast’ status updates and wondered if they were entirely necessary -whether they are merely personal or of a more private nature. Statuses are just one form of content that includes interests, photos, employment, education, and relationships. Of the average 130 friends a user has on Facebook (who have access to all of a users content), only about 15 are relationships based on mutual communications (Marlow 2009), which means more people have access to personal information online than in our offline relationships.

2. “When people share more, the world becomes more open and connected”

Openness isn’t necessarily the same as honesty and transparency. There are Facebook users that aim for high numbers of friends simply for the cred. Privacy controls also allow users to pick what people can see, perhaps misrepresenting the users personality to the online community.Then there’s the opportunity to abuse the sharing process through stalking, fraping, and employers checking up on their employees. The complex social behaviours arising from Facebook and social networking mean that sharing doesn’t automatically lead to openness and connectedness. Facebook creates the appearance of an open and connected community while allowing users the power to control to what extent this is true.

3. “In a more open world many of the biggest problems we face together will become easier to solve”

There’s no denying Facebook encourages networked communication on a whole new level, helping coordinate events, charities, causes and news. But this communicative power doesn’t automatically extend from sharing personal information and content. Facebook is not removed from the politics of social interactions. Users that produce wittier status updates and link to more interesting content will gain higher views and so have greater power over the social network. It’s like being friends with the popular kid in high school. Facebook may allow us to infringe on each other’s privacy as never before but, as The Social Network showed us, we don’t always use that power for solving the world’s biggest problems when there’s money and popularity on offer.


Marlow, C. 2009 ‘Maintained relationships on Facebook’ http://overstated.net/2009/03/09/maintained-relationships-on-facebook [10/04/2011]

Roosedaal, A. 2010 ‘Facebook tracks and traces everywhere: like this!’ http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1717563 [10/04/2011]

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