Smile, Snap and Share? A Nuanced Approach to Privacy and Online Photosharing

Authors: Eden Litt and Eszter Hargittai

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Citation: Litt, E. & Hargittai, E. (2014). Smile, Snap and Share? A Nuanced Approach to Privacy and Online Photosharing. Poetics. (Journal of Empirical Research on Culture, the Media and the Arts) 42(1):1-21.


Photo-sharing has become a ubiquitous activity thanks to digital tools both for taking and for disseminating photographs. How selective are people in choosing the audience with which they share their photos of everyday life and friends? Are there systematic differences in people's related privacy choices? Studies tend to take a dichotomous approach to online sharing by either looking at whether people share or not share online, or whether they share publicly or privately. In reality, users' privacy decisions are more complex. Using survey data representing a diverse group of college students, this paper takes a more granular approach to understanding photo-sharing practices. The results highlight that traditional factors that have long influenced privacy management practices offline continue to shape privacy behaviors online, like gender. However, simultaneously, new factors outside of these traditional frameworks related to users’ digital media experiences also influence people's online privacy management, like their digital experiences during childhood. This more nuanced perspective on privacy brings to light new insights on past counterintuitive and widely understood findings from studies that have conceptualized privacy as a binary construct, and it adds a new understanding of how people reveal and conceal aspects of themselves as they negotiate their social boundaries.


The authors are grateful to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for its generous support. They thank the helpful assistance of Ericka Menchen–Trevino and the group of undergraduate research assistants, especially Jessica Diamond, in the Web Use Project lab during the 2008–2009 academic year for data collection and data entry. They also thank Jeremy Freese, Yuli Patrick Hsieh, Urs Gasser, Sandra Cortesi, Emilee Rader, Sabrina L. Connell, Poetics editor Timothy Dowd and the anonymous reviewers for helpful advice, as well as Ann Feldman and Tom Moss for their support.

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