The Main Reasons Why People Share Confidential Information on Facebook essay

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Introduction

It is not due to mere occasion, that we have chosen Facebook as the subject of our research. Facebook has become an integral part of contemporary life. According to a quarterly report of Facebook (Facebook.com, 2013) the number of active users of Facebook was more than one billion, as of March 2013. It is quite an impressive number, if we consider the number of people living on Earth, and the number of people living in developing countries, where not everybody has got access to the Internet. Facebook originates from the US, however, according to Facebook's statistics (Facebook.com, 2013) eighty per cent of its active users live beyond the US borders. Facebook has caused a revolution in the way people communicate with each other. It is due to Facebook that millions of people obtained a possibility of staying in touch with each other despite long distances and constant lack of time. It is due to Facebook that great numbers of people became able to share their photos with their friends, share their videos, their thoughts and nearly anything one may wish to share. Facebook became an entertainment tool for many people; many people use it instead of visiting each other. But for many it has also become a business tool in many ways. First of all it is a good advertisement platform. Lots of companies create groups, which represent their firms and gather clients and possible clients. This gives them an opportunity to keep those, who may theoretically be interested in their services, updated about the most recent developments in the company, new products and services. If one client liked services or goods, offered by a company, he/she can easily share it with his/her friends, who have a Facebook account. Just one click and they all know what he/she liked. Meanwhile, this very click brings the company free traffic, people, who are potentially interested in the services of the company get to know about such services in the best possible way - not through traditional ways of advertisement, but through an advice of their friends. And it is much more likely that people would trust such an advertisement. Word of mouth sort of advertisement is definitely one of the most effective ways of bringing information about your company to your clients. As a result, there is hardly a serious company, which would not have a facebook account.

As we have stated above, Facebook is, to say the least, widely used by individuals for the purposes of staying in touch with their friends and acquaintances, who are far or for meeting whom they may not have enough time. Facebook is also widely used by scientists, especially by psychologists, as a source of research materials. Facebook has got an automatically generated page, which contains statistical information, such as, for example, the number of registered members of the online society. Besides that, Facebook has a team of in-house researchers. These researchers have got an access to the logs of the site, and therefore have got an opportunity, and use it, to create the most informative researches on the demographic situation and behavioral patterns of people on Facebook. Together with the researchers of the University Degli Studi di Milano, the team of Facebook researchers has developed two researches which studied 721 million users of FB, with a total of 69 billion friendships
(Backstrom, Boldi, Rosa, Ugander, & Vigna, 2011). Looking at the numbers one can easily conclude that this research used the largest size samples ever. These studies released a number of very interesting findings, one of which being the fact that in 92 per cent of cases any two given people on Facebook were separated from each other with only four intermediate connections. Moreover, it turns out to be that as the number of accounts on Facebook grows, the degree of separation is constantly decreasing. According to Wilson, Gosling, & Graham (2008) "Researchers who do not work or collaborate with Facebook Inc. have devised alternate methods for data collection: recruitment of participants in offline contexts, recruitment of participants via Facebook applications, and data crawling".

This demonstrates what an outstanding role is played by Facebook in the life of modern people. This phenomenon inflicts a number of spheres of contemporary life, and this is why it is so important for social sciences. This is the reason why we have chosen Facebook to be our subject of research.

It often happens that people place their private information on Facebook, despite the risks, which have to do with it. Basically, in many cases, this information becomes available to the majority of Facebook subscribers. Many people think that they simply have got nothing to hide, but in the final score various situations may occur. Placing a funny photo of a heavy drinking session, in which one takes an active part, he/she may later on regret of this, when his/her boss gets a hold of this very photo. With that in mind people still very often place their private information online, and this private information includes photos, videos, audio clips, pieces of writing, expressing one's thoughts and opinions. What is behind those acts? What makes people neglect the risks and still place the information, publication of which may very well harm them in the future? Is there an explanation to this phenomenon? Very likely some people are not aware of the risks or simply do not think about such. Other people do it out of carelessness. There should be those, who would act in this particular way depending on the security mechanisms of Facebook. But what are the main reasons? And this is going to be our research question. And this question is of great importance, since if people, for instance, do place their confidential information out of ignorance about the risks, connected with it, there should be certain preventive measures taken, and people need to be widely informed about the risks. This research may also bring other very interesting and, probably, unexpected outcomes.

Literature Review

Since Facebook is such a serious phenomenon of contemporary life, there is a lot of scientific literature written on the subject. This is despite the fact that Facebook itself is a relatively new thing in our lives. According to Markoff (2007), Facebook was created in the beginning of 2004 by a Harvard student, Mark Zurkerberg in his room in a students' dorm. Facebook was quickly expanding and at first united the students of Harvard, and then began to unite a number of networks. In 2006 Facebook became globally available for anybody, who was at least thirteen years old and had an active email address. Nowadays, as we have previously stated, Facebook has over a billion of active subscribers, and this number keeps growing every day. Despite the fact that the phenomenon is less than ten years old and by far not everything about it has been carefully researched by the scientists, there already exists a serious layer of scientific literature, which is related to Facebook, and there are some publications, which in one way or another address the research question we have set in this particular research: why do people place their confidential information on Facebook despite all the risks, which have to do with such actions. However, this field has not been researched well enough, and therefore we believe it to be a very interesting and promising area for further scientific investigations.

It is a serious dilemma for the administration of Facebook. On the one hand, the value of Facebook as a social network totally depends on the quality and the amount of content, shared by its users. Therefore, Facebook is interested in encouraging their users to upload as much personal data as possible. And the more confidential it is, the more interesting it becomes for potential readers. On the other hand, the subscribers, whose information has been disclosed and caused certain issues in their personal lives or at work, become frustrated and unhappy with the service provided. Hence, the company is forced to work out certain privacy mechanisms, which would, on the one hand, give a user an opportunity to upload the content he/she wants to share, but, on the other hand, would give him/her an opportunity of monitoring and controlling shared content. The subscribers need to have mechanisms, which would give them an opportunity to restrict the access to their data only to the circle of people, who they trust and want to see this content.

According to Debatin, Lovejoy, Horn, & Hughes (2009) the privacy risks, which are connected with placing one's information on Facebook are the following: unintentional disclosure of confidential data, rumors and gossip, and, as a consequence, possible harm to one's reputation, undesired contacts, undesirable use of personal data by third parties, hacking and other unfortunate results. Taraszow, Arsoy, Shitta, & Laoris, (2008) also mention these in their work.

One research, held not too long ago, gave an explanation of the phenomenon. The researchers studied the data of more than 140,000 accounts, focusing on the data from the first three months after their registration. The experiment, according to Burke et al (2009) showed that newly registered members of the society paid a lot of attention to what their friends were doing on Facebook and were following their behavioral patterns. It turned out to be, that two first weeks of the account's existence in the majority of cases were capable to provide the researchers with enough info on the long-run tendencies in information sharing. For instance, the experiment showed that members, who showed relatively little activity, were encouraged to upload a photo by a comment, which appeared on the photo, uploaded by one of their friends. There are also numerous other publications which name other reasons for people to share their confidential information on Facebook.

Research questions and variables

As we have already stated above, the research is going to be focused on the motives and/or reasons, which make people share their confidential information on Facebook, despite the risk of having this information disclosed. Many people do understand the risks and still neglect such, placing their photos and other data on Facebook and sharing such with all the subscribers, who may get access to the account. This particular research is aimed at finding possible reasons or motives, which make people neglect the security of their confidential data and still place their information on Facebook.

The independent variables, used in this research are the reasons and/or motives, which rule people's behavior, when they make up their minds to share something on the social network. The dependent variable is their behavior, their decision for or against placing information on Facebook, or their decision for or against protecting information, which they have just placed, with security mechanisms, with which Facebook team equips every subscriber's account. When such mechanisms are exploited, it is important to see in which way people tend to exploit them; who they prefer sharing their information with and who are those, from who they prefer to hide certain information. Variance is the information, which is or is not being shared on Facebook, and which is or is not being protected by the network member with available security mechanisms, with which his/her account is equipped.

It could be that the motive, which hints a user at taking the positive decision as for whether to place his/her photo online is his/her strong belief that he/she simply has nothing to hide and there is no one, from who he/she would like to hide this photo. Another possible reason for taking a positive decision may be simple ignorance of a user regarding the matters of network security, about possible consequences, which may have to do with such a decision, taken by him/her.

Another likely scenario is that a number of users, who end up taking positive decisions, may be inspired with the example of their friends and relatives. They may think: "Well, if John has placed his photo on Facebook and nothing special really happened, chances are, I might get away with it too".

There might be a number of other reasons or motives, which make people neglect their security and share their confidential information on Facebook.

The same may refer to the people, who for one reason or another fail to use Facebook security tools. The reason why they neglect such tools might vary from simple ignorance of existence of such tools, and to neglecting them purposely due to carelessness, or a belief that the information the user places is not going to harm him/her ever.

It is very important to carefully study these variables. Such a research may give an opportunity to work out a set of recommendations regarding the secure use of Facebook, as well as to understand a number of psychological phenomena.

Methodology

The main method, which we plan to exploit when making this research, is data crawling. We will collect information and then work with it, trying to identify tendencies in the profiles of people, who actively share their personal data.

This particular method seems to be a very effective method for this particular research. The main reason is that the data, collected by means of this method, are going to be free of any influence, thus they will not be inflicted by the users' personal point of view regarding this problem. On the other hand, however, this particular method has got a number of disadvantages. The main disadvantage of this method is that the data will be mainly collected from the accounts of the users, who do not actively use security tools. Meanwhile, it would be very important for the scientific value of the research to obtain more information regarding people, who use security tools when placing information on Facebook. In order to apply this method, we will have to work out a spreadsheet, which would contain the data about the users and possible reasons of usage or not usage of security tools and sharing or not sharing their information on the social network. Such data will have to be split into certain categories, which also need to be worked out.

This one method alone is not going to cope with the problem set. In order to receive a full picture, we will have to apply one more research method. This is why it is also planned to find a number of volunteers by means of Facebook, and ask them to fill out a form, which will contain questions, regarding the sort of information they share on Facebook, whether or not they use security tools, designed by Facebook team for protecting their confidential information, and which reasons and/or motives influence their decisions on whether or not to share their information online and whether or not to use security tools. This method will give us an opportunity to collect information about a wider spectrum of Facebook subscribers. This will include those, who use privacy and security tools and those, who neglect them. However, this method also has disadvantages. To the number of such disadvantages belongs the circumstance that this particular method will not give us a chance to receive, so to say, pure data, and the participants, who will be questioned, will express their personal view of the problem. However, this view may also be of scientific interest and may be taken into account when making conclusions as for the study in general.

Both methods applied are expected to provide us with a wide range of data, which will be classified and analyzed in order to obtain representative results, which may give the answer to the research question.

Study Case

The research, definitely, cannot be completed without a literature review. Therefore, we have already studied a number of sources, which address the problems, which lay in the same field, as the one, discussed by our research. A serious amount of literature on the subject is yet to be found and carefully studied. In the final score it is expected to collect and analyze a serious volume of sources, which may either discuss the same problem, or may provide explanations to the phenomena, with which the research may be dealing.

It is very important to understand why exactly Facebook among other social networks was chosen to be the subject of current research. Many researchers admit that unlike many other social networks, Facebook unites people, who have previously met in real life. Besides, despite the view of Facebook as a separate reality, something disconnected from the real life, everybody who lives in large cities, works at large companies will admit, that using Facebook has become a part of everyday life; Facebook and real world, so to say, have already heavily mingled with each other, and nowadays are definitely an integral part of each other. This is why current research appears to be interesting and important not only for understanding certain processes, which happen in Facebook, but also, and mainly, for understanding major social processes, for understanding how and why people interact with each other in contemporary world, how they express themselves, what steps they take in order to make certain impressions upon their acquaintances or potential acquaintances. For a scientist, who is interested in social sciences and does his/her research in this particular field, Facebook is a unique database, which is always up-to-date, since the information is being added to it all the time, and a scientist cannot simply go by such a limitless source of research data. As Wilson, Gosling, & Graham (2012) remark "it offers a unique source of information about human behavior with levels of ecological validity that are hard to match in most common research settings. Thus, topics that have long been of interest to social scientists, such as how people become acquainted, how social networks spread, and how people communicate their identities, can be examined in this new context."

Besides, as it has been already stated, Facebook is a very large, not to say "the largest" social network to date. The number of active users has already become more than one billion, and it keeps on growing at a very impressive speed. Looking at the figures, it is easy to conclude that there are very few people among Internet users, who do not have and actively use a Facebook account. This is why we should consider this network not simply as a big database, which is being supplied with data in real time, but also as the greatest database of all times. It is important to work out methods of working with the data, supplied by this database, to work out appropriate methodological scientific approaches, but the value of the database itself can be hardly ever overestimated. Another very important factor is that this database is basically free - one does not need to make major investments for using this database, and therefore it is available for all the scientists all over the world, to anyone, who may desire to learn the nature of human relations, of the society or work in any other related scientific spheres. It is also very important to work in this particular field, because, as we have already stated above, this field of science is comparatively young and many processes and phenomena have not been studied yet. Moreover, in many cases the research methodology and scientific approaches have not been worked out, and therefore it is very important for social science to concentrate efforts on this particular field and work out both databases, related to the field, and scientific approaches and methodology, effective for analyzing this data. This research field should be definitely treated as a very promising field, as the field, which will have to be in the focus of scientific attention during a number of coming years and even decades.

Plans for the near future

In order to successfully reach the goal of completing the research within the following studying year, it is very important to conduct preliminary work. The preparations should include:

Working out methodological approaches for analyzing the data, collected from Facebook

Creating spreadsheets with questions to give to volunteers, who agree to take part in the project and answer the questions. These questions need to be carefully thought over.

It is also planned to get a closer view on Facebook structure, learn its privacy and security tools, and research the history of their development. It is important to get to understand what each of the tools was meant for and why it was designed. If possible, the reasons, which resulted in developing each of those tools, need to be researched. It is also important to gather statistics as for how heavily each of such tools is being used currently, and what were the figures on this tool throughout the history of its application.

It is critically important to find more literature, which addresses Facebook and, possibly, social networking as a social phenomenon and as a source of scientific information, as well as the subject of scientific research. It is very important to collect all available publications, which address, in one way or another, the problem, which is in the focus of attention for our research. It is necessary to collect them to see, which conclusions have been made by their authors and take into consideration their methodological workouts and so on.

It is also very important to work out the methodology, which will be applied for analyzing the data, received by means of data crawling. Desirably, the preliminary samples of such data collection should be made.

Conclusions

Having appeared less then ten years ago, Facebook has made a true revolution in the whole world. For the scientists, especially for social scientists, it became impossible to ignore this phenomenon. Social networking, in general, and Facebook, in particular, are developing at such an unbelievable speed that a scientific research does not keep up with their development speed. This is why it is so critically important to pay special attention to this field of research. There is a lot to be learnt and a lot to be done, in order to make the analysis possible. The methodology in many cases has not been worked out and therefore scientists from all over the world should unite their attempts in order to cope with this huge unresearched phenomenon. The phenomenon is not and cannot be researched separately, as a thing in itself, but has already become an integral part of our lives.

The key point is to understand: Facebook and social networks, in general, are not only the subject for research. They are also the sources of research data. And these data refer to the fields of science, which have always been the most interesting, the most intriguing for social scientists. Social science has always wanted to find out how people get acquainted, in which particular way they make friends, what happens with their relations then. It has always been interesting, in which way people express themselves, how they try to develop their identity, to express it. However, social scientists lacked reliable database, which would provide them with pure scientific data. They had to rely on the answers, given by participants of scientific experiments, they had to trust fiction books, - and all these are, definitely, very subjective sources. Nowadays Facebook and other social networks provide us with pure data, with the data, which can definitely be treated as reliable, the data, which can be trusted as independent. The scientists only need to find the best approaches to deal with these data. And this is what makes our particular research so important. This research is an attempt, one of many, to work out possible methodological database and get to know the answer to a very simple question: why people share their confidential information on Facebook, though they often know about the risks, which have to do with such sharing. But this question only seems to be very simple, however it deals with a number of psychological and sociological factors, which need to be understood and taken into consideration, in order to find the answer to this question. And though this particular research studies a very narrow field of knowledge, it is a very important, though small, stone in the building of social sciences of the future, the building we are all currently erecting.

This research would be impossible without analyzing the works, which have been previously addressing the subject we are interested in. And therefore, the stage of collecting and analyzing available publications, which may appear to be relevant to our subject, is definitely an important part of the research itself. It is necessary to see what other people have worked out, and which obstacles they had to overcome, and which methods they used to overcome such obstacles. This experience can be neglected under no circumstances. Special attention has to be paid to working out our own methodological base. This is going to be the second stage of the work. It is to be followed by the stage of collecting data by means of spreading the questionnaires among volunteers and collecting the data by means of data crawling.

And finally, by means of analyzing the data collected, we will be able to work out the answer to the research question. This needs to come together with possible recommendations for future possible researches and conclusions.

The amount of work is impressive, but the subject, being addressed as the research problem, is simply impossible to imagine in its greatness and importance for contemporary people. Therefore it is very important to address the research with proper care and attention.

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