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Digital Media

Transformations in Human Communication

Edited By Paul Messaris and Lee Humphreys

The age of digital media has given rise to a new social world. It is a world in which the transmission of information from the few to the many is steadily being supplanted by the multi-directional flow of facts, lies, and ideas. It is a world in which hundreds of millions of people are voluntarily depositing large amounts of personal details in publicly accessible databases. It is a world in which interpersonal relationships are increasingly being conducted in the virtual sphere. Above all, this is a world that seems to be veering off in unpredictable ways from the trends of the immediate past. This book is a probing examination of that world, and of the changes that it has ushered into our lives.

In more than thirty essays by a wide range of scholars, this must-have second edition examines the impact of digital media in six areas – information, persuasion, community, gender and sexuality, surveillance and privacy, and cross-cultural communication – and offers an invaluable guide for students and scholars alike. With one exception, all essays are completely new or revised for this volume.

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Chapter 35: Public Privacy on Social Media (Lee Humphreys)


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Public Privacy on Social Media

Lee Humphreys

The value of Twitter is its publicness. It’s a source of news and entertainment. It’s a means of broadcasting information, whether it be political or crisis information. This publicness is part of its competitive advantage over other social media platforms. Unlike Facebook, most Twitter users have public accounts, which means anyone can see their tweets (Madden et al., 2013). The nonreciprocal nature of the relationships on Twitter (e.g., followers/following) also encourages a kind of publicness. Tweets can show up in Google search results. The application-programming interface (API) of Twitter allows people or other platforms to access metadata and tweets, which further encourages public access to Twitter.

However, to say Twitter is public is, of course, overstated. There are several attributes of Twitter that actually discourage anyone from seeing any public tweet. People can delete tweets, which, if no one has responded to or retweeted, can actually remove the content from availability. Old tweets are also harder to get. Typically, you can only get access to tweets from the day you start using the API moving forward. Meaning, you cannot easily collect tweets retroactively from the previous day or month or year. The average Twitter network size among teens, at least, is also smaller than their Facebook networks, suggesting that people are making greater distinctions in determining to whom they are tweeting. Unlike Facebook, Twitter also allows people to have more...

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