Cultural analysts have argued that privacy is less important to the younger generation, a generation that grew up with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and texting. As a result of this careless distribution of personal information, adolescents are seen as easy targets for commercial and identity fraud, as well as for emotional and sexual abuse (Trepte, 2011). This is both a blessing and a curse, from the powerful database technology that we have at our fingertips.
On the one hand, privacy is a basic human need. Self-disclosure has been defined as “the process of making the self known to other persons” (Jourard and Lasakow, 1958). It is anthropologically and psychologically rooted in the sense of shame and the need for bodily integrity, personal space, and intimacy in interpersonal relationships (Trepte, 2011). On the other hand, however, social networking sites pose many privacy risks for their users, ranging from unauthorized use of their information by government agencies and businesses to attacks by hackers, phishers, and data miners.
Why do we disclose so much information about ourselves when it is not safe? Many acts of self-disclosure today are not the result of an elaborate consideration of its advantages and disadvantages. Rather, users disclose information spontaneously or even unconsciously during communication processes with others. It is not possible to receive social gratifications without disclosing any form of personal information such as thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Additionally, users are often not aware of the possible long-term consequences of these acts of self-disclosure.
While some adults are concerned about an invasion of their privacy on the Internet, adolescents seem to present personal and intimate information on the Internet without a problem. The Internet provides adolescents with just the privacy they need to explore their identity, experiment with intimate issues beyond the confines of face-to-face communication, and to find information and social support regarding developmentally sensitive issues. It creates the space for self-exploration and self-assessment, which are essential components in an individual’s development, particularly in adolescence (Trepte, 2011).
And the Internet is not just for ‘youngins.’ Social media use among elderly individuals has dramatically increased and is expected to gain further importance in the future. 25% of Internet users aged 50–64 years used social networking sites in 2009. In 2010, these percentages went up to 47%. 71% of social activity included activities of self-disclosure, making self-disclosure the most frequently observed behavior (Trepte, 2011). Asking for advice, giving advice, discussion with other members, building new relationships, seeking a dating partner and meeting people online were important motivations for the elderly (Trepte, 2011).
Based on the current uptake of social media and projected increased usage, the tension between privacy and database technology will only grow stronger as powerful database applications become more pervasive in our world. Users today feel that the pros far outweigh the cons. The growing risks and possible issues will have to fall where they may and be dealt with on a case by case basis.
Beekman, G., & Beekman, B. (2012). Digital Planet: Tomorrow’s Technology and You, Complete Tenth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.
Jourard, S.M. & Lasakow, P. (1958). Some Factors in Self-disclosure. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 56 (1), 91-98.
Trepte, S., Reinecke, L. 2011. Privacy Online. Perspectives on Privacy and Self-disclosure in the Social Web. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-21521-6