Principal Investigator: Dr Zoetanya Sujon

Co-investigator: Dr Lisette Johnson

Social media platforms may have equipped users with new, quicker methods of digital communications and socialization, but they have also opened up new risks alongside those opportunities. This project draws on research looking at the ethical risks and challenges for young people operating within social spaces online, particularly in relation to their understanding and perception of privacy, the ethics of sharing and tagging user-generated and curated content.

This project seeks to add to broader understandings of what shifting ideas of privacy and related practices mean in digitally mediated environments. Many researchers have struggled to understand shifting notions of closeness and distance which suggest the emergence of a wider permissiveness around privacy, sharing personal information (Brake 2014) and even the emergence of a publicly accepted “intensive intimacy” (Lambert 2013). In addition, questions about authenticity and meaning accompany almost every new platform, when they are new (Baym 2010, Marvin 1988), yet ideas of privacy appear to be shifting from control-based notions of privacy as defined by control oriented notions of privacy as “the claim of individuals….to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others” to those shaped by public intimacy (Westin 1967: 7 as cited in Fuchs 2014: 156; Lambert 2013).

While these shifts are associated with many more opportunities and risks (Livingstone 2008; Livingstone et al 2011), it seems that the meaning of privacy is being constantly rewritten through a variety of sharing practices practices: status updates, photos, social media profiles, sharing, linking, hashtagging, commenting, data control, the rise of increasingly global mega-platforms, the emergence of mass surveillance and the pervasive global power of sharing platforms.

This paper examines what mass sharing practices mean for privacy, from the perspective of media users, practitioners and consumers, in order to develop evidence based and conceptually relevant insights on today’s ethics of privacy. In particular, we ask what does privacy mean for people accustomed to sharing personal information across platforms? And how do people make decisions about private and public information?

Based on qualitative (media diaries) and quantitative (survey) analysis of young people’s (18-36) experiences of privacy and a range of everyday social platforms – from Facebook to Snapchat and from Vine to Twitter – we argue that for many there is a blurring of boundaries between what they perceive as private and as public (Fuchs 2014; boyd 2014). This mixed methods approach enables researchers to triangulate the findings from both data collection methods. Findings support established literature claiming that privacy in itself has a diverse range of meanings, applications and cultural implications (Ess 2015; Zimmer 2010). In addition, online social spaces are often an extension of real time spaces, and for a large proportion of respondents, many are unaware of the potential consequences in terms of online security, use of personal images and information and extension or reach of “private” information.

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Baym, Nancy. 2010. Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Polity Press

boyd, danah. 2013. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press

Brake, David. 2014. Sharing our Lives Online: Risks and Exposure in Social Media. Palgrave MacMillan

Ess, Charles. 2015. Digital Media Ethics. Polity

Fuchs, Christian. 2014. Social Media: A Critical Introduction. Sage

Lambert, Alex. 2013. Intimacy and Friendship on Facebook. Palgrave MacMillan

Livingstone, S., Haddon, L., Görzig, A., and Ólafsson, K. 2011. Risks and safety on the internet: The perspective of European children. Full Findings. LSE, London: EU Kids Online. URL:

Livingstone, Sonia. 2008. ‘Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression’. New media & society, 10 (3). pp. 393-411

Marvin, Carolyn. 1988. When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century. Oxford University Press

Whitehouse, Ginny. 2010. ‘Newsgathering and Privacy: Expanding Ethics Codes to Reflect Change in the Digital Media Age’, Journal of Mass Media Ethics: Exploring Questions of Media Morality, 25:4, 310-327

Zimmer, Michael. 2010. ‘“But the data is already public”: on the ethics of research in Facebook’, Ethics and Information Technology. Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 313-325