The Nitty-Gritty on Facebook Over-Sharing
If you are like me, you have probably wondered why people choose to share so much about themselves and their families on Facebook. Why do people treat the social media site like their own personal journal?
Some students at Carnegie Mellon University set out recently to answer that very question. Leslie K. John and colleagues surveyed and researched hundreds of people to find out why they share their most intimate details on Facebook. Their findings were interesting.
A few years ago, when Leslie K. John was a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University, a classmate introduced her to a then-nascent website called Facebook. John took a look, scrolling through page after page of photographs, personal confessions, and ongoing accounts of people’s every move. She found the whole thing perplexing.
“I didn’t understand why people were putting all this information out there,” says John, now an assistant professor in the Marketing Unit at Harvard Business School. “There seemed to be a constant need for people to give status updates on what they were doing. It was very bizarre to me.”
John’s curiosity led to a raft of collaborative research about information disclosure in the age of social media. Her goal: to determine when we’re most likely to divulge intimate facts and when we’re apt to keep our lives to ourselves.
In short, the initial findings indicate that individuals are both illogical and careless with their privacy on the web. “We show that people are prone to sharing more information in the very contexts in which it’s more dangerous to share,” John says.
So why aren’t most of us more logical and judicious in our approach to Internet privacy? “Broadly, the lesson of this research is that people don’t really know how to value their own information,” John says. “Because of this uncertainty about what the value of privacy is, people don’t know when to value their information or how to care about it. And as a consequence, when people are uncertain, their judgments are often influenced by seemingly arbitrary contextual factors.”
The research should prove useful to marketing firms, which often use online quizzes and games to garner detailed demographic information. But the findings also highlight a catch-22 situation for conscientious companies. While these firms want to ensure customer privacy for legal and ethical reasons, the mere act of ensuring privacy seems to suppress information disclosure.
What’s the solution? “Perhaps the happy medium for marketers is to protect people’s privacy, but don’t explicitly tell them you’re doing that,” John says. “That may be a slippery slope. It may lead to the temptation just not to bother protecting people’s privacy. But I would hope that the virtuous marketer would resist that temptation.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with these findings?
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