A phenomenological study of other-generated disclosure in online social networks

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Abstract

Sharing on online social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, has become a global phenomenon and is rapidly emerging as a new social norm. Billions of users worldwide post or share diverse content containing information about themselves (self-disclosure) or about other people (other-generated disclosure). Disclosed information can pose risks, harm, or threats to personal or informational privacy.

While information disclosure and privacy on online social networks have been studied extensively, most studies focus on self-disclosure and emphasize independent privacy. However, sharing on interconnected environments like online social networks involves multiple shareholders in which individuals’ sharing decisions and privacy preferences affect other people’s privacy and vice versa. Privacy interdependence in this context has been ignored. There is a need to protect privacy not only from self-disclosure but also from individuals’ social connections. To date, other-generated disclosure associated with interdependent privacy has not been explored.

Other-generated disclosure has great impacts on one’s desired self-image, impression formation, and identity. Information disclosed by others, particularly from insiders or friends is less deceptive and more credible than self-disclosure, as friends often have intimate details of their friends. In online social networks, details of this information can be searched and disseminated very quickly. While self-disclosure can be inhibited and managed through privacy settings and tools offered by social network service providers, other-generated disclosure is beyond an individual’s control. Currently,privacy controls and management strategies on online social networks are insufficient to prevent and mitigate risks from other-generated disclosure. Thus, other-generated disclosure can potentially raise serious privacy challenges.

The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was not only to fill the gap in the literature on information disclosure on online social networks, but also to provide an in-depth understanding of other-generated disclosure associated with interdependent privacy in OSNs, based on insiders’ lived experiences. This study explored other-generated disclosure on Facebook from multiple aspects, including motives (Research Question 1), perceptions (Research Question 2), types of disclosed content (Research Question 3), management strategies (Research Question 4), to both online and offline impacts (Research Question 5). In particular, the study used observations and semi-structured in-depth interviews with a purposive sample of 21 participants recruited from an online survey. These participants were adult Facebook users aged between 25 and 65 years, who had engaged in other-generated disclosure on Facebook – both those who disclosed about others (the disclosers) and those who others disclosed about (the disclosees).

A qualitative data analysis revealed six motives for sharing content concerning others: to share moments in life, to share funny things, to seek attention, to share or seek information, to express pride in someone, and to receive or provide support. The
disclosers and the disclosees shared a common belief in the notion of independent privacy but in different aspects. In other words, both engaging parties focused on their own individual rights (either my rights or your rights) and neglected interdependent
privacy (our rights). While the disclosers felt they had sufficient control over the disclosure, the disclosees felt they had little or no control. Other perceptions of other-generated disclosure include parts of life, death of privacy, and selective sharing. The disclosers in this study perceived other-generated disclosure, particularly by the insiders or Facebook friends, as an individual right to freedom of opinions and expression, selective disclosure that was within control, a part of life on online social networks, or simply as the nature of online social networks. In contrast, the disclosees regarded other-generated disclosure as an individual property right over which they lacked control and trusted their Facebook friends.

Moreover, the qualitative findings indicated four major types of other-generated disclosed content: co-owned content, on-behalf content, pass-along content, and tagging. The participants employed both technical and behavioral strategies to manage
other-generated disclosure. Other-generated disclosure has an impact on both online and offline relationships, emotions, and behaviors. The degree of impact varies and depends on the relationship between the disclosers and the disclosees.

This study fills a gap in the privacy literature on online social networks and provides an important opportunity to understand information disclosure beyond self-disclosure. The findings highlight the significance of other-generated disclosure and contribute to a comprehensive understanding of interdependent privacy and other-generated disclosure, including motives, perceptions, types of disclosed content, privacy management strategies, and online and offline impacts on relationships. These multiple aspects offer valuable insights for online social network service providers to offer more effective services and applications to users as well as to provide collaborative privacy settings. This study also increases users’ awareness about interdependent privacy and concern about collective privacy. Finally, the findings call for scholars’ attention to the challenges of interdependent privacy regarding other-generated disclosure in online social networks.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Al-Saggaf, Yeslam, Principal Supervisor
  • Khan, Muhammad Arif, Co-Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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