You are here

Mechanisms for Self-Disclosure on Facebook

The next speaker at AoIR 2015 is Brady Robards, whose interest is in mapping changes in disclosure practices through sustained Facebook use. User presence on Facebook is constituted by both synchronous and asynchronous disclosure, through various communication mechanisms and governing algorithms. Disclosure practices have changed over time as Facebook itself has also changed.

Brady's project builds on a series of interviews with 20-something-year-old users (i.e. users at a critical age in identity formation). Information on their identity disclosure practices is informative of larger patterns.

In general, in the idealised self-presentation, the positive is always recorded over the negative, emphasising moments of celebration – but this is complicated by more 'authentic' presentations of the self in the moment, by users as well as their friends: the self is thus also co-constructed.

In MySpace, the quantity of friends was an indication of social status; on Facebook, by contrast, the quality rather than size of friendship circles became more important. The timeline format meant that specific disclosures degraded over time but resulted in an aggregate identity; more recent Facebook interventions such as the annual look-back collage change these dynamics somewhat, however.

Three drivers for these changes exist: Facebook's push towards encouraging users to share their updates as publicly as possible, the diversification and mainstreaming of the userbase, and changes in disclosure practices amongst users' sub-networks themselves.

For the interviewees, a number of important transition points were obvious: the transition from student to professional life, at which frivolous and 'inappropriate' Facebook content may become problematic. User strategies for dealing with this may be to tidy up their profiles, or even to rename the profiles outright while they were applying for jobs (but of course this still does not address any content posted by others).

Interviewees were surprisingly accepting of this need to clean up their profiles to meet perceived professional norms. One interviewee who had gone through a major life change even downloaded his entire Facebook profile, deleted it, and then re-uploaded a selection of this content back to the site. The three different drivers for such reinventions are all evident in such transformations.