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Public vs. Privacy

Rod Munday | Tuesday May 05, 2009

Categories: Other Topics, Social Networking, Public Vs Privacy

A focus on anonymous communication characterised early investigations into computer-mediated communication (CMC). This research continues today in research into avatar based communication environments such as Second Life. Academics based in this tradition have emphasised ideas about identity, masquerade, performance and performativity (Lister et al. 2009, 209).

A second overlapping tradition has been involved with the opposite idea of self-publication. This conception informs most of the scholarly work done on Social Network Sites. Here the focus is on the identity of users and how they choose to represent themselves online (ibid.).

Some scholars suggest that new communication technologies may be “eroding the boundaries between ‘publicity’ and ‘privacy’ in fundamental ways” (Weintraub & Kumar, 1997, xi). When scholars talk about the opposition between public and private, they typically use one of two distinct metaphors:

1. Hidden versus open
The first idea that is used to understand what is private in contras to what is public is to think about this in terms of what is hidden or withdrawn versus what is open and accessible (Weintraub & Kumar, 1997, 4-5). In this sense, private things are things that we are able and/or entitled to keep hidden from others, whereas public things are things which are kept open and shared (ibid., 6).

2.  Belonging to the individual or to the crowd
The other idea is that private things are those which are identified as individual, or that pertains only to a few individuals, whereas public things are those which are identified as being collective, or belonging to the crowd (ibid.,  4-5) (Lange 2007).

Social Network sites are seen as blurring the boundaries between what is intimate and hidden and what is public and open. Firstly, because a social network site creates conditions where people‚Äôs intimate thoughts and private photographs are potentially broadcastable to a large number of people, Barnes’s...


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