By Ngozi Adighibe
Public versus Private Communication: Users’ Roles and Implications
Last week, our focus was on the concept of sharing as redefined by the introduction of social media and we concluded that many users of social media are unaware of the implications of “oversharing” and participate in it without knowing or understanding its implications. (See: The Culture of Connectivity: Big Owners versus Users)
This week’s article will shed light on how individuals, sometimes unintentionally, play specific roles on social media sites and the effects of this unintentional action.
Social media, which includes social networking sites (SNSs), user-generated content (UGC), trading and marketing sites (TMSs), play and games sites (PGS) has changed the concept of private and public communication. How?
Today, we have too much information on display in many social media sites, so much that I wonder if people recognize the difference between what should be classified as a private communication and that which is for the eyes of the public (public communication). Some persons have taken cognizance of this interchange, whereby information once considered private is now being shared with not just friends but also with strangers. This is probably what led to the frequent debates on privacy issues and the constant updating of privacy policies on some of these platforms.
On the other hand, if one reviews the situation objectively, one would see that the owners of these sites are not to be solely penalized, because individuals have also adapted to the way these platforms have been set up by responding to prompts from these sites.
For instance, Facebook reviewed its page to always show the question, “What’s on your mind?” right next to one’s profile picture. This is simply a prompt to evoke a response from users. But, some users have taken that question literally that they share whatever they are feeling, even when it is a personal grievance against someone else, who may or may not be on Facebook. It is as though life is now online rather than physically here on earth, and it appears as if there is no demarcation between what is considered as public information and that which ought to remain private.
Some other times people ignorantly share or post stuff on their friend’s timeline, forgetting that that friend has other friends, who have different friends and it goes on and on. Hence, it becomes public data.
A person wants to get married, and instead of the usual sending out of invitation cards to friends and family, he or she uploads the invite online and shares it with friends. Thus inviting everyone who can see the post to the wedding, including strangers. By this action, some have unintentionally brought harm to themselves and their families. Through the sharing of personal details on social media, some have been scammed, some assaulted and the likes. Many consumers join whatever trend that is happening on social media and supply information unintentionally to the public, without actually thinking it through.
Take for instance, the 10-year photo challenge that was trending on Facebook some months ago, where individuals shared photos of themselves from 10 years ago and their new look. All and sundry joined the bandwagon, and not many considered what these photos could be used for. Staying in touch with friends and family, and sharing information online may be necessary. But surely, there should be a difference between private communication and public communication.
Similarly, when one likes a post simply because a friend posted or shared it, not necessarily because one read it and liked what was being said or marketed, one is unintentionally telling the data experts to channel such messages to one’s page. Therefore, one inadvertently becomes a target market. With just one click, that person implied that such a message appeals to him or her. So from then on, that person starts to see similar messages and adverts, just like the one that was liked or shared.
It is necessary to state here that every social media platform is guilty of trying to manipulate people’s actions through the formats created on the site. A lot of these platforms attempt to influence users’ reactions, with the constant relaying of every activity carried out by friends. These platforms are programmed to inform individuals about their friends’ posts, likes and comments, groups they belong to and so on and so forth.
Some say that Facebook is the most defaulter of privacy, and this may be true, but some other platforms also sell out user-generated data to third parties. For example, Twitter utilizes the concept of ‘followers’ to determine influential users, who are then used as spokespersons for products and services. But then, are these site developers really in control? Do they solely decide how these platforms work and evolve?