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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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VI. Research Method

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The former five chapters are the theoretical parts of this dissertation. I performed a historical comparison of the different notions of “the private” and “the public” and introduced five frameworks to aid in the distinction between them. After comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each framework, the framework of sociability emerged as the most suitable one to facilitate my analysis of the boundary between “the private” and “the public” on SNSs. In collaboration with the framework of sociability, three sets of theory – the Social Exchange Theory (SET), the Social Penetration Theory (SPT) and the Communication Privacy Management Theory (CPMT) – were introduced to explain the motivation behind people’s acts of self-disclosure and the behavioral aspects of political expression, both of which account for the transfer of personal information and political opinion from a private to a public space on SNSs. After proposing two models for the boundary between “the private” and “the public” on SNSs, I also contextualize these two models cross-culturally to examine the possible digital differences and similarities in a globalized Germany and China. Based on these theoretical backgrounds, this chapter introduces the research method that I undertake, including the ways in which samples in Germany and China are selected and variables are measured. This dissertation utilizes the results of an online survey and interview to investigate the location of a boundary between online private and public spaces, as well as to determine the differences and similarities of this division in a comparative study of Germany and...

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