Boundary Regulation in Social Media


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Fred Stutzman and Woodrow Hartzog, UNC-Chapel Hill

This research explore the creations and use of multiple profiles on a social media site as a communication boundary regulation mechanism. Utilizing grounded methods to analyze twenty theoretically-derived, semi-structured interviews, we identified three methods of boundary regulation: Two or more profiles on one site, use of privacy mechanisms to create functionally different audience zones, and the use of different social media tools for different audiences. Three types of boundary regulation in social media were identified. The first type, pseudonymity, was comprised of individuals who kept their identities private and unlinked. Practical obscurity, the second type, covered a majority of individuals studied. Individuals who utilize practical obscurity did not necessarily engage in concealment of identity, but they did not actively link between identities. Finally, those utilizing transparent separations created multiple, interlined identities largely for utility purposes. Our analysis of boundary regulation behavior identified four motives: Privacy, identity, utility and propriety. We hypothesize that individual motivational emphasis may predict the type of boundary regulation adopted. Finally, we evaluate boundary regulation for self-reported measures of efficacy and burden. We find mixed results; Level of technical skill or understanding may mediate efficacy, and size of friend network may mediate perceptions of burden.

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Boundary Regulation in Social Media

  1. 1. Boundary Regulation in Social Media
  2. 2. (Lenhart 2009)
  3. 3. Context Privacy Disclosure Fred Stutzman,
  4. 4. Managing Contexts • Friendster • “Burners, gay men and bloggers” • Myspace • Teens and mirror profiles (boyd, 2006 & 2007) Fred Stutzman,
  5. 5. Managing Contexts • Presence of multiple social groups • Behavioral Strategies • Mental Strategies • “Least Common Denominator” (Lampinen et. al., 2009) Fred Stutzman,
  6. 6. Context Tension • Connections across status and power boundaries • Propriety, work/ family • Inadvertent disclosures leading to harms (Skeels and Grudin, 2009) Fred Stutzman,
  7. 7. Conceptions of Privacy • Privacy as selective control (Altman, 1975) • Privacy as information practice (Dourish & Anderson, 2006) • Privacy as boundary management (Petronio, 2002) Fred Stutzman,
  8. 8. CPM • Communications Privacy Management • Rule Development • Boundary Coordination • Boundary Turbulence (Petronio, 2002) Fred Stutzman,
  9. 9. Study Goals • Why are motives for using multiple profiles? • What strategies to people employ in managing multiple profiles? • Is this an effective strategy? Fred Stutzman,
  10. 10. Method • Criteria: multiple profiles on one social media site • Twenty in-depth interviews, Summer 2009 • In-person/phone/Skype • Analyzed using grounded theory Fred Stutzman,
  11. 11. Respondents • Six in their 20’s, Seven in their 30’s, Six in their 40’s, and one was 57 • Twelve females, eight males • Respondents from US (NC, VA, GA, CA, FL) and UK Fred Stutzman,
  12. 12. Motives • Privacy • Identity • Utility • Propriety Fred Stutzman,
  13. 13. Privacy • Control of access to the self; withdrawal from public domain • Safety • Confidentiality “I know some young kids who tweeted ‘I’m going to lunch at so and so’ and they came back to their apartment and they had been robbed...” Fred Stutzman,
  14. 14. Privacy • For many respondents, multiple profiles: • Functioned as shield, protecting identifiable information • Enabled content production Fred Stutzman,
  15. 15. Identity • Multiple profiles allowed for establishment of distinct identities (personal/professional) [Created second Facebook profile so] “I could be all about business” [On personal profile] “could be a place where I have opinions, where I express personal stuff.” Fred Stutzman,
  16. 16. Utility • Multiple profiles enable: • Accomplishment of promotional and collaborative goals • Catering to specific audiences at specific times • Not having to apologize for off-topic posts Fred Stutzman,
  17. 17. Utility • Segment volume of disclosure • Offer differing information streams (topic/interest) “If somebody on my personal Twitter says ‘oh gosh you are inundating me with too many updates,’ I will tell them that they can follow my public profile that I update substantially less” Fred Stutzman,
  18. 18. Propriety • Multiple profiles used to manage conformity to norms and customs • Befriending the boss or parent [On the personal profile] “when my boss pops up and Facebook tells me ‘we think you should be friends,’ I don’t say yes because she’s my boss.” Fred Stutzman,
  19. 19. Forms of Regulation • Multiple identities in a single space • Single account, highly segmented privacy controls • Segmentation by site • Different social media for different audiences Fred Stutzman,
  20. 20. Axes of Regulation • Regulation by linkage • Regulation by concealment Fred Stutzman,
  21. 21. Linkages • Links to the identity "I have two different identities, I have a personal one. [and] one geared towards my professional stuff, there's not much personal information there. But, I do have a separate Flickr account, I have separate Twitter accounts, I have separate Myspace pages” Fred Stutzman,
  22. 22. Linkages • Regulation by linked interconnections “But I don’t try and hide the fact that I’m one or the other. You know in my [personal] bio, I say something about [my business twitter]. So its not like I’m trying to hide my two different identities.” Fred Stutzman,
  23. 23. Concealment • Three genres identified • Pseudonymity • Practical Obscurity • Obscure name variants, non- disclosure of identity • Transparent Separations Fred Stutzman,
  24. 24. Concealment Fred Stutzman,
  25. 25. Evaluation • Do these techniques provide privacy? “The thing going into it is I don’t put anything out there that I wouldn’t want everybody to know” “I have to be careful about - that I say something that's generic enough” “I’m very conscious of the fact I am basically speaking to an open mic” Fred Stutzman,
  26. 26. Evaluation • Is the process burdensome? • High burden: Number of accounts maintained, large number of contacts • High burden: Degree of linkage disassociation Fred Stutzman,
  27. 27. Evaluation • Technical strategies • Most participants reported “bleedover” • Segmenting by device • Segmenting by time and location Fred Stutzman,
  28. 28. Implications • Multiple profile maintenance consistent with the theoretical provisions of Altman and Petronio • Process reduces potential harms, and encourages disclosures • Represents a reaction to limitations inherent in sites Fred Stutzman,
  29. 29. Thank you! Fred Stutzman: @fstutzman Woodrow Hartzog @hartzog Fred Stutzman,
  30. 30. Axis of Linkages Fred Stutzman,
  31. 31. Pseudonymity Fred Stutzman,
  32. 32. Practical Obscurity Fred Stutzman,
  33. 33. Transparent Separations Fred Stutzman,