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Private and Public on Social Network Sites

Differences and Similarities between Germany and China in a Globalized World

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Jingwei Wu

This book explores the boundary between «the private» and «the public» on Social Network Sites based on the sociability framework. The author analyses the roles of social norms and influences, benefits, and risks/costs, on the behaviors of SNSs users through models based on Social Exchange Theory, Social Penetration Theory and Communication Privacy Management Theory. She reviews different notions of «the private» and «the public» and selects the sociability framework to investigate the distinction between private and public. The author uses this theoretical framework to conduct online surveys and interviews with selected SNSs users in Germany and China and concludes that the clear boundary of «the private» and «the public» on SNSs is a result of acts of disclosure and/or withdrawal of personal information and political opinions. Globalization and mediatization contribute to similarities among different countries but do not erase the differences in their respective boundaries.

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I. Introduction

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1.1 The Problem

With the diffusion of new communication technology, scholars claimed that the division between the private and public spheres is becoming blurred (Meyrowitz 1985, p. 71, Habermas 1991a, p. 141–158, Thompson 1995, p. 64). The global widespread of Internet and Communication Technology (ICTs) has changed the social structure, communication channels and personal relationships, and called considerable attention to the distinction between “the private” and “the public”. Meanwhile, people around the world seem to become increasingly similar, rather than different, in regards to the usage of ICTs, a phenomenon that may result in the emergence of a global internet culture. The utilization of the Internet gives rise to the spread of “world-system status, privatization, democracy and cosmopolitanism” so that democracy is promulgated far and wide (Guillén and Suárez 2005, p. 45). Internet users also share similarities in their attitudes to online freedom of speech, privacy protection, trust and information security (Bellman, Johnson et al. 2004, p. 3, Dutta, Dutton et al. 2011, p. 6).

Although they hail from different countries, majority of the Internet users support the idea of online privacy. This trend indicates that levels of apprehensiveness are becoming more homogenous across the world, even in countries where no previous tradition of privacy existed, such as China. Accordingly, concerns over privacy increase with the modernization of Chinese society, the development of Chinese market economy and the changing social relations (Yuan, Feng et al. 2013, p. 1027–1029). Users across...

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