A Bumpy Ride on the Information Superhighway: Exploring Turbulence Online

Authors: Eden Litt and Eszter Hargittai

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Citation: Litt, E. & Hargittai, E. (2014). A Bumpy Ride on the Information Superhighway: Exploring Turbulence Online. Computers and Human Behavior. 36:520-529.


Managing our personal information is becoming increasingly complex as people share more and more about themselves and others online. Beyond the ordinary challenges people face in disclosing information in face-to-face settings, the Internet presents additional demands users must take into account related to the size and diversity of their audience as well as the longevity and accessibility of their communication. Using survey data from a diverse group of young adults, this paper explores turbulence online, that is, the breakdown of privacy expectations that result in information spreading beyond a user's desired audience. More than a third of these young adults reported at least one turbulent encounter online ranging in tangible consequences like ending a friendship or trouble at work or school to emotional trouble like feelings of embarrassment or betrayal. Results suggest that successful privacy management online requires a combination of social and technological skills and behaviors. Findings also bring to light new questions on self- versus other-generated turbulence and broader implications for researchers, designers, and users.


We are grateful to the Robert and Kaye Hiatt Fund of Northwestern University and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for their support. We also thank Jenna Lebersfeld for her help with project management as well as Rebecca Schieber, Madison Ginsberg, Andrea Carney, and Veronica Nieves for their help with data entry and Madison Berry, Jenn Suh, and Kristin Kim for help with project logistics. We appreciate input from Erin Klawitter and Jeffrey T. Child about the survey instrument and from Peter Miller about survey logistics. We also thank the anonymous reviewers and editor for their helpful feedback.

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