Be free. Don’t adjust your Facebook privacy settings

On: September 27, 2010
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About Emina Sendijarevic
Some find a great usefulness and comfort in new media, while others complain about the loss of privacy, intimacy and sociability. Technology in my opinion challenges people to rethink their position towards old standards, it challenges them to deconstruct the concepts they thought were embedded in old values and traditions. Instead of blaming or praising new media, we should see new media as an introspective tool for managing our world. New media (qualitative) research and social media analytics are a way to explore and understand every-day-real-life human interaction.


Chun states that we, the users, perceive new media, in particular the Internet, to be free, democratic and save. We think we are in control of our content, but just like with other technologies, we can never have total control. It is only then, when technology fails, that we are reminded of our vulnerability and this is exactly what makes us paranoia (2006).

In the beginning Facebook was a great tool with which one could re-connect with old friends and lower the barrier in connecting with new ones. After the implementation of Facebook’s News Feed, privacy issues made people very aware of their vulnerability towards others.

Still they continue to publish their private information on the site, without any privacy adjustments. In the words of Lampe, Ellison & Steinfield: “Even though mean agreement on the item about whether Facebook caused users problems also went up, interview respondents reported mostly small problems, such as minor embarrassment, and were unable to point to strong negative consequences of their Facebook participation.” The findings are in line with the work done by Debatin et al. (2009). They conclude that users are aware of the privacy issues, but do not act upon it. They still have a lax attitude towards it.

Why is this the case? Why would users want to maintain a open profile on Facebook being familiar with the risks? Is there any way we can explain this paradoxical behavior? In trying to find the answer, I’ve come up with three main subjects that seem to be of importance in this issue: social capital, social tracking and third person effect.

Social capital
Facebook appears to play an important role in the process by which users form and maintain social capital (Ellison, Steinfield & Lampe, 2007). In Facebook the maintanance and creation of social capital is completely dependent on your profile page. Self-representation, impression-management and number of friends become of great importance.

“Those more extroverted and with higher self-esteem, [seemed to be] more popular both offline and on Facebook. Another subset of users, those less popular offline [-] are more introverted, have lower self-esteem and strive more to look popular on Facebook.” (Zywica & Danowski, 2008).

Adjusting your privacy settings could exclude possible friends or other important parties from seeing your ‘representative’ profile. Facebook users, although they’re aware of privacy-issues, may leave their settings open: It would encourage new friendships and interactions (Joinson, 2008).

Social Tracking
Lampe, Ellison and Steinfield also recognized another Facebook usage that might add to the importance of a representative and open profile. They introduce ‘social searching’ – finding out more information about offline contacts- and ‘social browsing’ – the use of the site to develop new connections. In their research it’s clear that Facebook users primarily use Facebook for social searching (2006). They state that social networking sites serve a surveillance function, allowing users to “track the actions, beliefs and interests of the larger groups in which they belong” (p.167). Users are not merely ‘keeping in touch’ with their peers, they are actually ‘checking up on regularly’ (Joinson, 2008). So Facebook has become a tool for checking your friends profile and interactions to evaluate their popularity. Thompson (2008) calls this social ambience and refers to the workings of small town in which everybody keeps track of each other through the exchange of indifferent cues.

Third person effect 
On Facebook, the meaning of friend does not always have traditional connotations. Among Facebook users it is not uncommon to establish friend status among the most barely acquainted users (Boyd, 2006). “Friendship is in some cases most superficial, because the technology facilitates greater connection at some level, and because social norms inhibit refusals to friend requests (Tong et al., 2008, p. 537).”

Thus, the size of one’s apparent friend network on a system such as Facebook can easily become much larger than traditional offline networks. ‘Friending’ large numbers of people has even been shown to be one of the (if not the) main activities of Facebook, according to Ellison, Steinfield and Lampe (2007).

Nevertheless users still perceive that only their peers (their ‘real’ friends) are looking at their personal page (Lampe, Ellison & Steinfield, 2008). The psychologica mechanism involved is coined the third person effect. Users think that someone else may have a bigger chance of privacy invasion than themselves (Debatin et al. 2009). They think they are more in control of their profile and content than others. This of course, is not the case. Your actions will be displayed in all News Feeds of your Facebook friends and might lead to misunderstandings and privacy abuse.

Back to Chun
It seems to me that Chun was not right. Although people are aware of the dangers of privacy invasion, they are still reluctant to change their settings. They are not paranoia, but lax. Or are they willing to take the risk in return for the advantages of an open Facebook profile.

There is still little research done in this area. The focus lies primarly in the field of representation, self-enhancement, walls, friends and relations between the real self, actual self and perceived self. Research in the area of the convenience of Facebook and other technology versus the costs and risks of it is very important if we’re talking about privacy issues and their perceived importance. Maybe we should be afraid of our own craving for convenience and inclusion in social networks, but I certainly don’t think so. Convenience and social inclusion are the two features that make our lifes bareable if not wonderful. Privacy isn’t (yet?).


Boyd, D. (2006, December). Friends, Friendsters, and Top 8: Writing community into being
on social network sites. First Monday, 11(12). From on september 26 2010.

Chun, W.H.K. (2006). Control and Freedom, Power and Paranoia in the age of fiber optics. MIT press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Danowski, J.& Zywica, J. (2008). The Faces of Facebookers: Investigating
Social Enhancement and Social Compensation Hypotheses; Predicting Facebook and Offline Popularity from Sociability and Self-Esteem, and Mapping the Meanings of Popularity with Semantic Networks. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14, 1-34.

Debatin, B., Lovejoy, J. P., Horn, A.-K. and Hughes, B. N. (2009), Facebook and Online Privacy: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Unintended Consequences. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 15: 83–108.

Ellison N.B., Steinfield C., & Lampe C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “Friends”: Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Ciomputer-Mediated Communication. 1143-1168.

Joinson, A.N. (2008). Looking at, looking up or keeping up with people? Motives and use of facebook. Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Florence, Italy, 1027-1036

Lampe, C., Ellison, N. and Steinfield, C. (2006). A Face(book) in the Crowd: Social Searching vs. Social Browsing. In proceedings of ACM Special Interest Group on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, ACM Press, 167 – 170.

Lampe C., Ellison N.B. & Steinfield C. (2008). Changes in use and perception of facebook. Computer Supported Cooperative Work archive. Proceedings of the 2008 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work table of contents. San Diego, CA, USA

Tong, S. T., Van Der Heide, B., Langwell, L., & Walther, J. B. (2008). Too Much of a Good Thing? The Relationship Between Number of Friends and Interpersonal Impressions on Facebook, 13(3), 531-549. Retrieved from

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