The Internet has created many changes to the way American society interacts. In the midst of the new age, people have traded off letter writing and phone calls with status updates and tweets. A trend that was not predicted, however, was the type of information that Americans would disclose. As social networking sites continue to grow, more and more people are disclosing personal information. Following suit are countries such as Canada and the UK, who have also merged the Internet into its society and have also begun taking part in the Facebook Age. Information being disclosed includes name, age, birthday, and relationships. There are possible reasons for people to disclose private information in a public medium, but for every benefit of doing so, there are also dangerous consequences.
A study done by Amanda Nosko(2010) took 400 random accessible Facebook profiles and analyzed the information that each profile shared. Nosko’s study revealed what information people are revealing; of those profiles, 83.3% shared information about gender, 61.1% about birthdays, 72.2% about birth years, 61.1% had emails, and 55.6% had profile pictures(p.410). Because Facebook users cannot hide their name from others, an average Facebook profile contains a substantial amount of information about an individual. The study itself was also limited to what was considered “basic information” required to identify someone. Many more profiles share much more than just the information above, such as photos of oneself, photos of friends, and/or photos of relatives. Profiles can also include information about sexual orientation, political orientation, and religious orientation. The potential to display personal information on many social networking sites is staggering and many of these profiles tap into this potential.
The study not only analyzed what information was displayed, but who was handing out that information. Those who are disclosing personal information range from young teens to adults in their late 40′s. Nosko’s study reviewed that of those 400 profiles, the ranges of ages were 19-47 years old for women and 17-61 years old for men. Nosko’s study also revealed, however, that as the age of the person increased, the amount of personal information on the profile decreased(Nosko, 2010). Her study shows that Facebook is not limited to teens and is being used by people of all ages. The tendency to share private information, however, seems to fall in the hands of those in Generation Y. These same people grew up with technology and thus their views on privacy reflect a different era. The study is also limited to Facebook, leaving out the even younger teenagers on other social networking sites like MySpace and Xanga; the number of young people sharing private information is much larger.
So many people would not disclose as much information if there weren’t a good reason for it. For one, the more you know about someone, the better your choices can be for both parties. Social networking sites are used to make new friendships and manage existing ones. An important part of friendship is knowing each other and social networking sites greatly facilitate this by providing an organized way to share information(Hinduja, 2008). This follows Nosko’s findings about the correlation between age and information disclosed. Although in their early 20′s, these people are not completely “grown up” and are still making new friends. Those people are also likely to be in college and if that college is away from home, social networking sites make it easy to update the family on your life.
Social networking sites, particularly Facebook, allow much freedom in what you are allowed to share with others. What most users don’t know is that this freedom is misleading. In the case of Facebook, users have a lot less control over the content and information on their profiles. People can use this information for harmful purposes, such as cyber-bullying, stalking, kidnapping, or worse. Today’s Facebooker needs to be aware of the many consequences of posting sensitive information online, as well as the terms through which they make this information accessible.
Anon. (2009). Facebook. Available: http://www.facebook.com/. Last accessed 19 April 2010.
Hinduja, S., and Patchin, J.W. (2008). Personal information of adolescents on the Internet: A quantitative content analysis of MySpace. Journal of Adolescence 31 (1), 125-132.
Nosko, Amanda. (2010). All about me: Disclosure in online social networking profiles: The case of FACEBOOK. Computers in Human Behavior. 26 (3), 406-418.