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Private and Public on Social Network Sites

Differences and Similarities between Germany and China in a Globalized World


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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VII. Results


7.1 Results of Online Questionnaire

7.1.1 Description of Survey Respondents

35.6% of SNSs users provided only partial real names while 34.4% provided their full real names on their SNSs profile. By “partial real names”, I include entities such as an authentic first or last name, a nickname that the user responds to, and initials. Meanwhile, 24.7% of SNSs users used obvious pseudonyms while another 4.8% used non-obvious pseudonyms. In Germany, Facebook requires people to provide the name which they use in real life, so that the users always know who they are in contact with. It helps to keep the online community reasonably safe even though users can still change their name or add another name (e.g., nickname, maiden name) to their accounts (once every 60 days). Some limitations restrict the users in this aspect, however. For instance, the names provided cannot include: (a) symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, repeating characters or punctuation; (b) a mixture of characters from multiple languages; (c) titles of any kind (ex: professional, religious); (4) words, phrases or nicknames in place of a middle name; and finally (d) offensive or suggestive words of any kind (Facebook 2014). Unlike Facebook, users of Google+, Sina Weibo and Qzone can chose to use any names they like. Renren, the Chinese version of Facebook, also requires people to provide their real names. However, this requirement is offset by Renren’s system’s inability to detect the difference between a real name and a pseudonym. Therefore, users...

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