Internet Privacy Costs of User-Generated Content
Weimer, Jason M., Global Media Journal
Internet, social networks, user generated content, privacy costs
The growing universe of user-generated content (UGC) accessible through social media platforms is raising new questions about the role and nature of privacy in the modern media environment. While preliminary studies on UGC have concerned themselves with identifying potential consequences to individual privacy as a result of user-generated content production, relatively little is currently known about the types of privacy violations actually being experienced by UGC creators. This study supports previous research indicating an ever-increasing number of UGC producers. Findings of a survey conducted at a large Mid-western university indicated that UGC creation behaviors, at least among college students, is virtually ubiquitous. The findings support the conclusion that creators of UGC are willing to pay privacy costs such as unsolicited marketing communications, and unwanted advances from acquaintances for the gains in social capital made possible by creating personally identifiable UGC online. Analysis revealed that privacy violations are related to the extent of time individuals have been contributing UGC to social media platforms. Additionally, UGC creators perceive privacy violations experienced with greater regularity more severely than those experienced less frequently.
Over the past fifteen years, traditional understandings of the roles occupied by audiences and producers of mass communications have been challenged in light of the Internet and advancements in information and communication technologies (ICTs) that increasingly allow users to create their own content online. Many have cited the variety of opportunities for audience interactivity in web based media and the growing universe of user-generated content (UGC) online as evidence of a fundamental alteration to the way messages are created and valued within societies across the globe (Acar 2008; Boyd and Ellison 2007; van Dijck 2009; Gonzales and Hancock 2008; Walther 1996).
As a consequence of the relatively recent rise in UGC, a great deal of concern is being expressed about the consequences to individual privacy in the new media landscape. Many of these perspectives paint UGC as potentially dangerous to its creators given risks for experiencing identity theft, job loss/rejection, or simply being embarrassed by content personally uploaded to online networks. Modern researchers are addressing these risks through exploring how creators of UGC perceive the risks and benefits of their behavior. While these investigations are important for generating understandings about the UGC phenomenon, this line of inquiry leaves a fundamental question pertaining to individuals' actual experience with different privacy violations as a result of creating personally identifiable UGC largely unexplored. Are UGC creators really sacrificing their personal lives in order to like each other's photographs, comment on each other's posts, and make connections with those of similar interests online?
Courtois, Mechant, De Marez, and Verleye (2009) defined UGC as "content made publically available on the Internet, reflecting a certain amount of creative effort. UGC is created outside of professional routines and practices and exists in different shapes and sizes" (p.111). The rapid rise in UGC entering the media landscape can be seen through the proliferation of social networking platforms, blog forums, and online dating sites (Debatin, Lovejoy, Horn, and Hughes 2009; Ellison, Heino, and Gibbs 2006; Leung 2009; Weisbuch Ivcevic and Ambady 2009). In only seven years, the social networking site Facebook has grown into a network consisting of over 750 million global users, half of which access the site everyday. The average Facebook user contributes 90 pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc. …