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Thursday, July 24, 2014 | Last updated: 12:21pm

Social media raises privacy concerns



Technology-based communication’s entrenchment in today’s hyper-connected society has experts questioning the concept of privacy and very definition of a friend.

While few doubt the benefits, some worry that the possible harms outweigh the gains, and if more is really merrier.

“I just can’t imagine having a record of everything I’ve done in day-to-day interactions for the last ten years,” said Stephen Rains, associate professor of communication. “The idea that these people, your generation, now has this record since you started Facebook of sort of your life, that can be a good or bad thing.”

With the spread of Facebook, texting, Twitter and other technology-based modes of communication, these bridging means can potentially crumble links as well. These bridges are more than a fad, as 97 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds text, according to Pew Research Center, and 1.01 billion individuals use Facebook monthly, compared to 1 million in 2004.

While these routines allow users to rekindle lost social ties, Rains added that perpetual contact can also be a burden.

“The world historically was a world of villages and small towns,” said David Kirkpatrick, author of “The Facebook Effect,” in a May interview with Yahoo! Finance. “In a village you hear everybody’s business. Isn’t it interesting that … the most popular software ever invented for communications is one that creates that ‘over the backyard fence’ quality of the small town?”

Facebook reported an average of 584 million daily users on its site, but research shows this “backyard fence” quality can be a burden for some.

The University of Edinburgh Business School released a study in November that found the more social groups a user is connected to on Facebook, the larger a source of stress the medium is.
And it doesn’t look like this particular brand of stress will dissipate anytime soon.

“Not even using it is not a discussion,” said psychology professor David Sbarra. “But [discuss how] to use it in a balanced way to really try to cultivate deep relationships.”

Sbarra recognized that it is important to keep a balance when using the website, and not become overly dependent on it. ”Some of the real pleasures in life are about being able to experience things as they unfold in a very organic and natural way,” he added, “and I get the sense more and more that people don’t feel an experience is real unless it’s posted to Facebook.”

This inability to experience life without the crutch of technology can have a lifelong impact on college students, he said.

“Going away to college was oftentimes people’s main chance to reinvent themselves and break free of the shackles of their old identity,” he said. “And now their old identity is just sort of with them.”

Dave Kast, an undeclared sophomore and avid tweeter who has sent 13,825 tweets since 2009, said he doesn’t fear the new realm of publicly transparent privacy, previously reserved for celebrities.

“I guess online’s a little more important but it doesn’t bother me as much. I don’t really know how to differentiate the two,” Kast said on the contrast between carrying “baggage” in life and having it immortalized online.

Despite how deeply embedded social media is in society, Rains says a backlash is on the horizon.

“We’re going to begin to see people question, ‘How much information do I want to share about myself? How much do I want to be connected to others?’ and start to become (able) to manage these more effectively, because I think right now there is such a rush to sort of share everything,” Rains said.

Sbarra echoed this outlook, saying people will eventually need a break.

“It comes back to whether or not Facebook is really changing our personality,” he added. “Generationally, people are coming up now who don’t know anything but this, so the nature of social relationships is going to change as a function.”


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