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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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III. Boundary Management Pertaining to SNSs

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In the previous two chapters, I have formulated the theoretical basics for the construction of a boundary between “the private” and “the public”, with regards to SNSs. This chapter will analyze the characteristics of “the private” and “the public” as defined in SNSs within the framework of sociability, particularly focusing on the public character of SNSs. The first part of this chapter will argue that SNSs only provide a public “space” but not always a public “sphere”. According to Jürgen Harbermas, the construction of a public “sphere” can only occur under a deliberation process and involves the compliance of several conditions, such as rationality, user equality and inclusiveness. The second part of this chapter will investigate two main classes of information that channel the flow of data from a private to public space, namely: self-disclosure, and political expression. Both of these sets of behavior operate on the basis of self-imposed restriction; meaning users can set up a boundary protecting the viewership and dissemination of their personal information and political opinions on SNSs.

3.1 “Private” and “Public” on SNSs

It’s difficult to clearly demarcate a public or private space on SNSs because these platforms possess characteristics that sometimes overlap with each other. In other words, a piece of information that appears to be private in nature can at times become public due to the medium of its presentation, and vice versa. However, according to the framework of sociability, we can differentiate “the private” from...

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