Public Today, Private Tomorrow

Privacy on Facebook is about being private in public

In February 2010, a 16 year-old-girl from England was layed-off from work after updating her Facebook status with a description of her job as boring. In the same month year eight college students in the US were disciplined after photos of them drinking were posted on Facebook, an act violating the school’s code of conduct. Two years earliere a high-school student created a Facebook group dedicated to “hating” a teacher at her school. She took it down after a few days but two month later she was suspended for cyberbullying her teacher.

A few days ago a Danish man was sentenced 10 days of prison for setting up a hating group. Why do we see these trials popping up in the news? I believe is due to the way users distinctly perceive Facebook as a private space in public. A private space where information is intended for a specific audience and not the whole world, even though the whole world of Facebook users sometimes have access to a given users profile.

As when you are in a bar on a Friday night with your colleagues, you don’t expect that what you share with your colleagues this particular night, ever will get to desk of your boss. It is the norms of appropriateness that rules in a situation like this. The social norm that apply to a Friday night in the bar with the colleagues tells us not to bring the gossip on to the boss. On Facebook it is different, or is it? I do believe that Facebook is just a much a place for being private in public, as on the bar Friday night or anywhere else.

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