FIMS Publications

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Information, Communication, and Society

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Social networks have become a central feature of everyday life. Most young people are members of at least one online social network, and they naturally provide a great deal of personal information as a condition for participation in the rich online social lives these networks afford. Increasingly, this information is being used as evidence in criminal and even civil legal proceedings. These latter uses, by actors involved in the justice system, are typically justified on the grounds that social network information is essentially public in nature, and thus does not generate a subjective expectation of privacy necessary to support a civil rights-based privacy protection. This justification, however, is based on the perceptions of individuals who are outside the online social network community, rather than reflecting the norms and privacy practices of participants in online social networks. This project takes a user-centric approach to the question of whether online social spaces are public venues, examining of the information-related practices of social network participants, focusing on how they treat their own information and that of others posted in online social spaces. Our results reveal that online social spaces are indeed loci of public display rather than private revelation: online profiles are structured with the view that ‘everyone’ can see them, even if the explicitly intended audience is more limited. These social norms are inconsistent with the claim that social media are private spaces; instead, it appears that participants view and treat online social networks as public venues.


This is an early proof of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Information, Communication and Society in 2014, available online:

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