An Internet of Everything?/Public and Private Spheres in the Digital Age
- 1 Public and Private Spheres in the Digital Age
- 1.1 Introduction
- 1.2 Disambiguation
- 1.3 Characteristics of Digital Media
- 1.4 Narrative of the Self
- 1.4.1 Dramaturgical Representation of the Self, Ancient Greek Theatre Notion of Persona
- 1.4.2 Different Personas for Different Audiences: Jungian Conception of Mask
- 1.4.3 Narcissism and Asceticism
- 1.4.4 Private spheres as an environment of autonomy, control and self-expression
- 1.4.5 Identity Performance and Management of the Impressions of the Self
- 1.4.6 Celebrity Culture
- 1.4.7 Online Identity - Pushing the Boundaries of Public and Private
- 1.5 Publicity Online
- 1.5.1 Public Displays of Connection
- 1.5.2 Democratic but not Democratising
- 1.5.3 Public and Private Spheres As A Political Power
- 220.127.116.11 Political Power and the Public Sphere: The Media
- 18.104.22.168 Political Power and the Private Sphere: The Network
- 22.214.171.124 Public and Private Spheres on Social Media and Political Agendas
- 126.96.36.199 The Rise of Digital and Social Media in Political Activity
- 188.8.131.52 Political Communication Online
- 1.5.4 Online-activism by Citizens
- 1.5.5 Collective Action Dilemma
- 1.6 Privacy on digital media
- 1.6.1 Privacy rights and Awareness of Privacy Settings
- 1.6.2 Data and Traffic Tracking
- 1.6.3 Tags and Privacy: How They Shape Online Performance
- 1.6.4 Nothing Created or Destroyed
- 1.7 Anonymity in the Private Sphere
- 1.7.1 Freedom of Expression in Private Spheres of Social Media
- 1.7.2 Altered Narratives of the Self
- 1.7.3 Anonymity in Help Forums
- 1.7.4 Cyberbullying
- 1.7.5 Hackers and Hacktivism
- 1.7.6 Online Piracy and S.O.P.A
- 1.7.7 Deep Web
- 1.8 Security and Sphere Invasions
- 1.9 Theorists
- 1.10 Integrating themes
- 1.11 Critical Review
- 1.12 Glossary
- 1.13 External links
- 1.14 References
Public and Private Spheres in the Digital Age
This chapter of An Internet of Everything? cores and discusses main concepts and ideas of the Public and Private Spheres in the Digital Age. The main question to ask is how far the usage of internet influences our private sphere and if individuals can still decide where the public sphere begins and where the private sphere ends. This change in private and public spheres is created by an evolution of the Internet and emergence of digital media which include specific characteristics. An important effect of this evolution can be described as uncoupling of space and time because of content from all over the world which is available at every time. The Internet as a hybrid medium creates and enhances publicity online and is driven by the process of impression management which appears in several forms, as discussed in Narrative of the Self. This chapter will although prove how far the activities in the internet can be describes as anonymous as there are many arguments for an anonymous web but although many against it looking on Hackers and Trolling. As a consequence of the blurring of the private and public sphere online and the visibility privacy and security as well as sphere invasion is becoming an issue.
This chapter also talks about Online-activism by Citizens which had an important impact on past event such as the Arab Spring. Therefore it will look on how social media can be used in a political way.
Finally, the concepts of public and privates sphere are discussed by several Theorists such as Jürgen Habermas who wrote about the ideal of a public sphere which would contain discussions in public to influence political decisions and John Thompson who belongs to Habermas main critics saying that there is a new form of mediated publicness and Hamid van Koten who talks about McLuhans temperature scale.
Private Sphere Definition
In Greek philosophy, the difference between private and public sphere was based on a public world of politics and a private world of family and economic relations. In modern sociology, the distinction is normally used in reference to a separation of home and employment. The private sphere has always been associated with the family or home. It serves to enforce a binary opposition between public and private spheres.
Additionally it is also associated with privacy rights. Heidegger argued that it was through the private sphere where one can truly express themselves. The use of the private sphere by the individual is primarily a secure space where he or she can be alone – but not lonely, or isolated – and can present themselves however they want.
Furthermore, the private sphere is inclusive of the home, but as Raymond Williams notes the term of "mobile privatisation” society can now travel, and experience the world, through the comfort of their couch. Technology has made it easier to share our experiences, but it has made it difficult to keep them private as well.
The private sphere in digital media is were the individual can guarantee themselves a certain level of authority. This is why on most Social Network Sites (SNSs), they all contain a privacy option, to make the user feel more secure an din control of their online usage.
Public Sphere Definition
Jürgen Habermas defined the public sphere as a “virtual or imaginary community, which does not necessarily exist in any identifiable space. In its ideal form, the public sphere is "made up of private people gathered together as a public and articulating the needs of society with the state”
The idea of a public sphere was generated in the eighteenth century yet there is not doubt that it has a modern relevance and is essentially a way for civil society to articulate its interests. It has been argued that the internet has facilitated the phenomenon of the public sphere as it acts as a forum where public opinion is shaped. But what is the role of the public sphere in the cyber age?
The internet has made way for individuals to have direct access to a global forum where they are able to express their arguments and opinions without censorship. Moreover, we have seen that the emergence of the electronic mass media have radically changed the eighteenth century definition of the public sphere, and the idea is still very much alive in the network society today. Furthermore, even though the public sphere is alive and well recent technological advances mean it will never be the same again. Its future lies with digital media which is an exciting concept. Habermas' classical argument regarding the public sphere being inherently threatened by power structures is correct, as digital media platforms make way for individuals to feel empowered.
Digital Age Definition
"Last time I checked, the digital universe was expanding at the rate of five trillion bits per second in storage and two trillion transistors per second on the processing side."
"I don't know a single person who is not immersed in the digital universe. Even people who are strongly anti-technology are probably voicing that view on a Web site somewhere. Third-world villagers without electricity have cellphones."
After technological innovation such as the Steam engine firstly determined society during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the second "machine age" started in the middle of the 20th century by the development computers and their integration and networking. The resulting information and communication technology lead to information societies since the beginning of the third millennium - according to Lemke and Brenner this is the digital age.
However, Thomas Friedman describes the digital age as the globalisation 3.0: According to him the technological progress in the 18th century lead to globally acting countries, conquering the world politically and economically. Following till year 2000 globalisation 2.0 let multinational company groups arise, reinforced by the (hardware) technological development. Finally the still lasting third globalisation allows every single person to act internationally and thereby shape and influence technological improvement; the world has shrunk to a flat platform.
Representative for the digital age, which is strongly connected with the information age, is, that information is mostly saved and transferred in a digital form. "The multiple possibilities of digitalization and networking of information, data and applications as well as the mobility and miniaturizing of infrastructure and hardware determine during the digital age developments in society as a whole and will decide about mechanisms of a globalized world, about social structures and about economic relationships in future."
|1st stage||2nd stage||3rd stage||4th stage|
|Emergence and dispersal||General acceptance and daily mobile usage||General maturing and Internet of Things||Complete mergence of the real and digital networked world|
|1990 - 2000||2000 - ca. 2015||2015 - ca. 2030||2030 - ?|
The conceptional framework of the digital age can be traced down to Alan Turing and Vanavar Bush. The first one introduced the Turing Machine, a model, that pictures the principles of a computer's operation in a very simple and mathematical analysable way. Vanvar Bush however predicted in his famous article "As we may think" kinds of digital media invented after his publishing. He describes an imaginary so-called memex machine, with which each of us would operate from a desktop enabling us to store, access and share information with each other  - the basis for i.e. personal computers, the Internet, hypertext and the world wide web.
The development of Personal Computers (PC), especially those affordable for the greater population, set the course for the digital age. The inventor of the first PC is disputed; after the a contest one agreed on John Blankenbaker’s Kenbak-1 from 1970 as the first PC, but there are records of Edmund Berkeley presenting his Simon earlier in 1949. The Blinkenlights Archeological Institute gives a good overview about the first introduced personal computers.
|Computers evolved primarily for military, scientific, government, and corporate users with substantial needs…and substantial budgets. They populated labs, universities, and big companies. Homes? Small businesses? Not so much.
Over time, however, costs dropped. Equally important, computers grew sophisticated enough to hide their complex, technical aspects behind a user-friendly interface. Individuals could now afford and understand computers, which dramatically changed everyday life.
Starting from this point Lemke and Brenner's evolutionary ladder describe and predict past, current and future changes in digital age. The networking of computers is the focus of the first phase. The invention of the Internet followed by its user interface, Berners-Lee World Wide Web, for the first time enabled a non-scientific use and (distant) access to online and computational resources. The first website ever was republished a couple years ago and is still accessible here. A more detailed introduction to the characteristics of the Internet and the WWW can be found further below.
Important for the digital Age is that information is handled as a resource and good, commonly managed, networked and accessible through the new media and finally changing societies into knowledge-based and information infrastructures. Accordingly Rheingold states:
|The most successful recent example of an artificial public good is the Internet. [...] The internet is both the result of and the enabling infrastructure for new ways of organising and collective action via communication technology. This new social contract enables the creation and maintenance of public goods, a commons for knowledge resources. |
The personal computer and the Internet would not exist as they do today without extraordinary collaborative enterprises in which acts of cooperation were as essential as microprocessors.
It were changes like this and the constant craving for innovation such as the invention of the smartphone, that has deeply embedded mobile and online networking in our society and even led to an always-on culture.
In combination with advances in virtual reality technologies the fourth evolutionary stage predicted by Lemke and Brenner is heralded. The question left open is how the digital age will change in future and when will it end in order to give space to a new era?
Characteristics of Digital Media
In order to exemplify what influence digital media has on private and public spheres, the characteristics of this media type have to be determined first, specifically how it differs from traditional media types like print medias (i.e. newspapers, magazines, printed books) or analogue medias (i.e. film and audio tapes, radio, television). As this book focuses on the Internet, there will also be a closer look to the characteristics of this specific medium.
As digital media all media types are counted which are based on digital information and communication technology (i.e. the Internet) as well as technical devices for
of digital content and final products such as digital arts or music.
|Examples for digital media|
|Storage Medium||CD, DVD, Disk, USB Stick, FlashCard|
|Networking||Internet, Mobile Network, Social Media|
One can also say: "Digital media is the product of digital data processed electronically, stored as a file, and transmitted within computer systems and across networks."
Digital information is coded in a binary system using the only signs off=0 and on=1. Digital information of all different kinds can be presented through the application of this arithmetic and can be copied perfectly as many times as wanted with no degradation of quality. But therefore firstly a digitising devices is necessary to convert analogue signals into digital data  and as well as device for reception and manipulation afterwards.
Although often used as a synonym for Internet, the World Wide Web is only the Internet's user interface established by Tim Berners-Lee. Berners-Lee determined, that each website in the network is assigned to and accessible through an unique address, the Uniform Resource Locator (URL). Content then could be connected through cross references, the hyperlinks, which contains the URL.
This non-linear so-called hypertext structure enhances the interactivity over the Internet, thereby being primarily a pull medium with content, which can be accessed time - and place – independently as well as self-determined. Generally, this approach is available on every part of the Internet, but search engines can help users selecting it. This differs from traditional media such as the television, which follows a time-dependent programme  and is only receivable in the reach of the broadcasting frequences.
Nowadays the Internet connects people all over the world on a communicative but also interpersonal level. Via offers like instant messanging, social media, email or webblogs, people can communicate one-to-one, one-to-many or many-to-many, meaning varying between interpersonal communication and mass communication. Additionally, communication on the Internet is reciprocal and interactive; sender and receiver can exchange roles without time delay. And basically everyone with Internet access can present their own content (even anonymously), known as user-generated content. In contrast, the press and broadcasting are institutionally organized; interactions are therefore media initiated (i.e. via letters to the editor) and the reactions of the audience is time delayed.
McLuhan’s theory says, that the new media contain the old ones  and no medium does this more obviously than the Internet: Countless crossmedial offers like web TV, video-on-demand or online newspaper are mostly just digitalised offers of the traditional medias. The digital content form on the Internet asks for technical aids for the reception (Computers, mobile final products)  but it also holds a higher reproducibility and possibility of saving.
Uncoupling of Space and Time
|Media Space||Type of Time Space||
|Relationship in Space||
|Mode of Presence||Presence Method||
Firstly introduced by Thompson, this term is used to indicate new convergent technologies’ ability to bend the space-time continuum. In its most specific forms, it signifies the ability for media users and produced information not to be constrained by geographical and temporal boundaries. While this is not a new event in the history of technologies, the development of Internet-based media has certainly accelerated and further separated this two concepts from each other. Indeed, while in nature the where is inextricably linked to the when, the modern era has firstly disrupted some of this limitation: TV broadcasts, telegraphs, telephones and radios first permitted to spread a message to further 'where' and not necessarily at the same 'when', with pre-recorded programs and advertisements but the medium itself had to have a fixed and public 'where' such as a broadcasting station.
Notably, it’s only in the new digital world that the perception and cognition of time and space as two tied notions has been allowed complete separation, while also changing the experience that we have of them in our social and everyday life. In fact, transformation of these two concepts it’s fundamental to understand the interrelation of a public and a private sphere, both among humans interactions and the way we make sense of the world for ourselves through news outlets and information acquisitions.
For instance, we no longer need to be physically present to a public place to attend an event but we can do so from our own private and personal sphere, which is geographically restricted to i.e. our home or office. We can also attend simultaneous events through access to Internet livestreams, with always more websites providing this service even in a non-pay-per-view format, such as YouTube #Live.
Likewise, we can get public information and news from all over the world in real time without accessing mainstream media institutions but relying on people who themselves are geographically based there. At the same time, we can too invite the public into our private sphere and entertain quasi-face-to-face interactions within our sphere.
Similarly, the digital age also makes us less bound by time. Events that formerly required our physical presence at a certain time, can nowadays be recorded and as digital information, which is easily copied and distributed, and can be watched delayed and multiple times. Accordingly, whenever people invite others into their private sphere, it is not necessary that all parties are present at the same time, but messages and information can be stored by digital media and accessed with a time shift. Consequently publicity through digital media does neither need the physical nor the simultaneous presence of all parties.
However, even on media with time-invariant programmes, such as television, broadcasting services can send small filming teams to live events and then air the programme time-delayed and repeatedly (see broadcast delay). This is enhanced through digital recording possibilities, which are nowadays accessible for private customers as well, and the possibility to reproduce and upload digital information without degraded quality to a wide spectrum of digital broadcasting platforms. For instance, the app Periscope allows private users to broadcast to their followers anywhere in the world whichever event, protest, scene that is happing near them. The broadcast is also recorded and can be seen from anyone who looks up its title for up to 24h. Commenting on it, the creators explicitly said that they wanted to build the closest thing to tele-transportation. 
Therefore, whichever the message, senders both institutional or private, can get into the public sphere and target their public audience more precisely:
- They are less time-bound even on traditional media platforms.
- They can choose the right time and right media platform either convenient for them or for the audience.
- They reach a high coverage through greater OTS.
Concluding, the way these two spheres, the public and private, whose interconnection has characterised our lives for centuries, bear now a new appearance thanks to the disruption between temporal and spatial constraints.
Mobile Privatization describes the connection between an individual and a mobile device that connects it to his private environment and creates a feeling of a 'comfortable zone' within the usage of that device. The term mobile can be seen as a non-geographical setting of privatization as people can transfer their home, which is originally seen as a building with four walls in each room, to every place that is connected to the internet.
Zizi Papacharissi describes in his book  that 'within this private sphere, the citizen is alone, but not lonely or isolated. The citizen is connected, and operates in a mode and with political language determined by him or her.' This act of privatization can take place everywhere the individual uses the device with a private reason. This can be a phone-call or even a photo which is being shared on Facebook.
Sharing and filming plays an important role in the current ongoing privatization of public places. A reason for that might be the 'uncoupling of space of time' argues John Thompson. Content can be watched everywhere and everytime so that people don't need to meet anymore to know what the other is doing. Raymond Williams describes the term of mobile privatization as 'the ability media offer audiences to simultaneously stay home and travel places'.
This movement started with Selfies when people took photos of themselves in order to share it with their friends. This conflict between of private photos made public using a device that can connect to the World Wide Web. The next developments are Vlogs in which people start documenting their lives using a camera and upload their videos to a public sphere such as YouTube. This form of mobile privatization can be seen critical as people can decide which parts of their private life can be seen online but on the other hand they have no control of who can see these videos.
Castells  explains that 'The mobility of this private sphere further permits that everyday routines be interlaced in ways that render the individual reachable anywhere and anytime, in a way that may "revolutionalize" control of everyday life'.
Therefore mobile privatization can be a fitting description for an ongoing movement in the society but although a threat of losing control about our everyday life.
Digital Photography and Picture Sharing
With the advent of digital photography, public and private spheres are becoming interchangeable and what used to be intimate and private is becoming public. For instance, as smartphones are becoming accessible to anyone, people can take pictures or video wherever they are, thus breaking the boundaries of other people’s privacy. People can take photos of strangers or of themselves and then show these pictures on websites like Flickr or Deviantart, making them available to strangers. As this kind of practice is becoming very popular, the concern about privacy issues related to it has attracted media attention.
Despite there is not a general law that forbids people from taking pictures of people in public and subsequently publish them (unless the person photographed is identifiable), people involved in this practice against their will might feel like their privacy (or private sphere) has been invaded. From a research carried out by Edgar Gomez on Flickr, we can clearly see how taking pictures of a stranger without a consent from that person might generate conflicts. The girl whose photo was taken without her knowing it, in fact, got upset when she found out that Flickr users had started a forum conversion with two photos of her with the title: "Someone Knows Her?". From her point of view they were breaking her privacy even though she was in a public space when the photo was taken. This is also a relevant point regarding social media and pictures being posted without the consent of the person actually in them.
According to Alan Westin, when people are in a public place, they are still seeking for anonymity and they try to find freedom from identification and surveillance. Therefore being in a public space does not mean that everything we do is public, on the contrary, we still expect some privacy and we do not think that we will become the focus of attention or that someone will record us and publish picture of us on the web. However, the users of the internet, used to the big amount of self-portraits and to the related disclosing facilitated by new technologies, apps and social networks, do not find sharing their private lives with strangers a problem, hence they feel free to break into other people’s lives.
One popular social network recently created has been Snapchat. It is an application on smartphones where people can take "selfies" and videos of anything they wanted. On some levels, Snapchat could be considered private. Videos and photos can’t last more than 10 seconds, and after that the video or photo disappears. However in those 10 seconds, the recipients of the Snapchats can quickly take a screenshot and thus invading someone’s trust and privacy.
When Snapchat was first created, it had no option to reply anything people sent to another. As it grew and developed so did its options, and the medium evolved and a reply function was added. This therefore can allow any one to repeat a Snapchat as many times as it wants. Thus losing it’s purpose of the original idea of the app. Furthermore, Snapchat can be seen as one of the most private social networks due to the fact that others may only follow you on it if you give them your unique username. It is far harder to be found on Snapchat than it is on more public sites such as Facebook, thus meaning that the limited audience on Snapchat is something that you create yourself.
Different from Facebook where anyone can find yourself with just your first and last name. With digital media it is very difficult to find a site that is completely private. Snapchat can be seen as more private than others because it’s most likely that only your closest peers will have access to your Snapchat, so only a handful of people have access to the videos and photos posted. However, under the "Terms and Conditions" of Snapchat it has been noted that Snapchat can keep anything posted, and use it.
User-generated content (UGC) (also known as user-created content or user-driven content) comprise all digital content that is created, edited and published by the users of websites instead of the website´s publisher. This includes "any form of content such as blogs, wikis, discussion, forums, posts, chats, tweets, podcasts, digital images, video, audio files, advertisements and other forms of media that was created by users […]".
Right before the internet was mainstreamed the content was pre-selected and edited by publishers of the mass media and their recipients only consumed the content in a one-sided, passive way. But the fast diffusion of the Internet in the early 21 century and der rise of Web 2.0 driven technologies  have mainly enabled the development of the web to a “participative web“. As part of this fundamental change towards user-driven technologies, the phenomenon of user-generated contents occurs and leads to a shift or new trend concerning the supplier of content online. In the early years of the internet, the majority of the content was coordinated and created by paid and professional administrators of websites. Due to this, the usage of the internet was limited to a passive use of the existing content. This form of one-sided publishing is still relevant and is applicable to a majority of the content that is provided online. Emphasised through the emergence of social networks and further user-driven platforms in 2005 the user-generated content phenomenon was pushed with the effect that the content is merely “pulled“ by users rather than “pushed” on them. Nowadays internet users produce and share content at a high rate and do not merely consume it as several surveys reveal. “
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has defined central characteristics that outline three criteria that user-generated content needs to fulfil:
- publication requirements state that the work must be published in some context on a publicly accessible website or a one that is only accessible to a selected group (e.g. social media sites)
- creative effort implies that that users must add their own creative effort and value by creating content. This also includes if users are adapting existing content to make it a new one as a kind of collaborative work
- Creation outside of professional routines and practices emphasis that work should not content any institutional or commercial market context
There are different formats of user-generated content that can be divided into four categories: texts, photo and images, audio and music as well as video and film. The most common format of user-generated content is the text type. Thereby the users create original texts, poems, novels, quizzes or jokes or just expanding the existing work and share this with the community. Most of the content are published on blogs, social networks or on websites as a kind of review. In this case, the phenomenon of fan fiction is important. Further increasingly important types are user-created photos and images. Most of them are taken with digital cameras or smartphones and shared on platforms like Instagram, snapchat, Pinterest, Flickr or Facebook. Those uploads are maybe manipulated with several photo editing software. Self-created music, mash-ups or remixes of existing songs to a single track as well as podcasts belong to user-generated audio and music content. Besides of photos user also produce or edit video and film content. User provide homemade video content, remixes of pre-existing works or combine those two forms. The most important hosting platforms in Europe are Blip.tv, VideoEgg, Dailymotion, YouTube, Veoh and Google Video.
The distribution of user-generated content takes place on many different platforms and serve different purposes. The following chart shows a selection of distribution platforms for user-generated content and their characteristics.
|Platform||Description of the user-generated content||Examples|
|Blogs||Blogs contain newsgroup-like articles that were updated at frequent intervals. Postings consist text, photos, audio, video, or a combination. Blogs resemble a cross between diaries, newspaper editorials, and hotlists where owners write down information important to them||Blogger, Tumblr, WordPress, Nucleus CMS, Movable Type|
|Wikis and other collaboration formats (text)||Websites where user add, remove, or otherwise edit and change content collectively||Wikipedia, Wikibooks, PBWiki, JotSpot, SocialText, Writely|
|Forums||Platform where people talk about different topics||2channel, Yahoo! Groups, phpBB|
|Group-based aggregation||Collecting links of online content and rating or tagging collaboratively||Digg, reddit, BuzzFeed|
|Podcasting and video sharing||
|Social network sites||Sites allowing the creation of personal profiles and where users interact with other people in terms of chatting, writing messages, or posting images or links||Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, VK, snapchat|
The user creation movement, in addition, influences the way how traditional mass media work and emerges new forms of participatory journalism. Despite its originally non-commercial context, user-created content has already changed to be an important economic phenomenon, too. Companies try to develop and establish successful business models based on UGC, like the video-sharing website YouTube. In cooperation with really successful YouTube stars, they connect the user-generated videos with advertisements and generates more than $200 million ad dollar per year.
Ownership of User-Generated Content
One of the issues with the internet is the ability of people being able to take content such as literary work, art, music or videos and upload or repost it without the artist's credit. The internet also gives them the opportunity to take credit for these works. Copyright laws state that this is in fact, illegal, for 'the author of any work is the first owner'. This includes work that is posted online. However, despite these laws the internet has made it extremely easy to bypass these regulations. There are thousands of instances where artists online, such as photographers, have to put watermarks on their images, lower the resolution and size or confront art thieves in order to protect their work. There are websites which tell artists that they have the right to start a lawsuit, however, this is often an expensive and long process and may not always be a feasible solution. It is difficult to locate thieves of small, online-artists and writers and file law-suits against them. That could mean tracking them down via an IP address which could come from anywhere in the world, followed by high costs in lawsuits. The internet has therefore made it increasingly difficult to legitimize the credits that certain creators deserve, regardless of the copyright laws.
However, it is more difficult than just having art stolen, for the lines of copyright are very blurred when it comes to things such as parodied videos, images from television shows that have been altered, fanart and other fan labor. In fact, people have profited off of the art and literary work they have produced inspired or including ideas from books, TV-shows and films, such as Fifty Shades of Grey. Certain fan-art forms are seen as theft, such as taking clips from a TV-show. Creative commons licenses can offer some leeway in these situations, but that is not always the case. Here it becomes difficult to decide what counts as theft and what counts as artistic expression. On the one hand, the original content of such an art form is not made by the user itself, but because they transform the art and create a new kind of art, new user-generated content has been created. There are organizations that support the idea that these transformed artworks are indeed legitimate content that should be credited to the user. However, the debate remains difficult to whom the art truly belongs to; the original artist, or the user who altered it.
Narrative of the Self
Dramaturgical Representation of the Self, Ancient Greek Theatre Notion of Persona
The word persōna is the Latin equivalent of the Ancient Greek word πρόσωπον(Prosopon). The Greek word itself is composed by the preposition pros- which stands for ‘towards’ and the word ops- which usually is translated with the words hole or eye. Hence, Prosopon can be translate as face (that which is before our eyes), front, character and appearance but it can also mean mask, personality.
Even though the etymological tie between these two words is conjectural, the modern conception of persona still relies on its original Greek meaning. In fact, when we talk about the concept of Persona, we usually link its meaning back to the Theatre of ancient Greece and to the notion of mask. In the Classical Greek period, the word Prosopon was used to mean both the mask that actors wore in order to play different characters on the stage and the human face.
The mask’s function was to depict the main characteristics of specific characters so that the audience could understand the characters’ role. In an open-air theatre, like the Theatre of Dionysus, the very intense, extroverted expressions of the masks with wide-open mouths were able to bring the characters’ face closer to the spectators, thanks to their features. Moreover, the shape of the mask itself formed a resonance chamber which not only allowed the audience members in the distant seats to hear the characters better, but also created a connection between the character and the theatre. Furthermore, it lead the human body behind the mask to a metamorphosis, hence the human face became the mask.
During the theatrical performance, the actor had to vanish into the role of the character. The actor had to become the character in order to establish a particular kind of interaction with the public. Starting from this concept of theatrical performance, Erving Goffman compared the way people construct their own identity in everyday life with the way actors perform characters.
In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman employs a dramaturgical approach in his studies about human interaction. Interaction is viewed as a performance and it depends on time, place and audience; human beings therefore act accordingly to some cultural beliefs depending on their environment.
One of Goffman’s key concepts is the distinction between private and public, which are represented by the back region and the front region. The back region can be considered as a private or hidden space where individuals can be themselves and where they do not need to act in a certain way or conform to social norms. Whereas the front region corresponds to a public space where people have to perform a specific identity and where performers are on guard, careful not to give the wrong impression to the audience.
In the Digital Age, it is not only physical spaces, such as a classroom or the stage of a theatre, that fall into this category, but also social networks and online communication. The way human beings perform their identity online is not too different from the way they perform the self in real life situations. In fact, nowadays, people can influence the impressions others have of them in many different ways online. For instance, individuals can decide not to share some information like their age or location on their Social Network; can set their privacy settings so that different people will only see certain things on their social media accounts; and can manipulate their pictures so that others will have a specific opinion of them and view them in a certain way. This conscious or subconscious process was already present in face-to-face interactions and it is known as Impression Management.
Goffman coined this term, which can also be associated with the concept of self-presentation. According to him, impression management is about “successfully staging a character”. In order to create a perfect theatrical character, actors “must subscribe to a variety of concerns to foster a desired impression before their audience”. Goffman adopted the term Personal Front in order to describe one of these concerns, which consists of items needed to perform, items “that we most intimately identify with the performer himself and that we naturally expect will follow the performer wherever he goes”. Presumably, Goffman had in mind the Theatre of ancient Greece, as the performance he described recalls the performance typical of the ancient Greek Drama where the use of the mask was crucial in order to stage and become a character.
Different Personas for Different Audiences: Jungian Conception of Mask
With all the advantages that social media and other forms of online communication offer us, there also comes a certain pressure to 'perform' online; to present a version of yourself to the internet and subsequently the public. This is something psychologist Carl Jung defined as a persona, or a 'mask', that is explored in Two Essays on Analytical Psychology.
Indeed, Jung identified the persona as the mean through which the individual establishes a relationships between himself and the outside world. However, it constitutes a partial way of connection because it does not have to necessarily match a person's self and ego. This is the reason it is often referred to as a mask: although it retains properties of the person who wears it, is mainly functional in relation to the social role that it is meant to entertain. According to Jung, is perfectly normal from a psychological point of view to have a persona and it is indeed fundamental for the development of the individual and the society which he is part of. In fact, it represents a compromise between the high demands that sophisticated social relationships require and what the person wishes they would be or they wish they could appear to be. Therefore, it is a system of behaviour that is partially dictated by society and partially dictated by the expectations and wishes of oneself regarding oneself. It is easy to see why the notion of masquerading fits so well with the performance individuals stage online, all playing different roles at once.
Human beings are complex, meaning no one form of social media allows us to express every persona or element of our personality that we can exhibit in real life. The invisible and often anonymous nature of online communication means that people can present any persona of their choosing and this can be liberating for some. Theorist Adrian Athique's arguments tie into those of Jung. Athique comments in his book Digital Media and Society: An Introduction that the "social norms guiding group interaction had the potential to break down online, primarily due to the loss of visual cues that defined the social hierarchy." This is a noteworthy argument. For many, there is nothing holding people back online. People who are perhaps introverted and anxious in public and social interactions can find a sense of freedom online, a chance to put on the 'mask' that they are not able to do in real life and say things on the internet that they feel they can't in person.
Jung sees the persona as a real and honest way to both free an individual and also conceal their 'true nature'. The way that we navigate our online worlds and present these personas online, however, is complicated. Audiences, both in person and on the internet, will all receive a slightly different persona from one another. You probably would not feel comfortable speaking to your employer the same way that you would speak to close friends. Social media can be restrictive in this way. Having not only your friends, but also family members and both current and potential employers on networking sites such as Facebook means that is unlikely you will can truly be yourself, as you have a variety of audiences to please and entertain using only one or two of your 'masks' and online personas.
The internet can often restrict the image you present of yourself on any one social media site. This can be why people usually have multiple online accounts on a variety of sites, from Tumblr to Pinterest. Different sites are aimed at different audiences and can often limit people to only one of their personas. You are encouraged to share and explore different elements of both your personality and your life in different spaces online. What people express on Twitter they may not feel like they can post on Facebook. Different groups of the public require a different mask, from professional to personal. Networking sites purely for job hunting and professional pursuits are emerging, a popular site being LinkedIn. These kinds of audiences obviously would be presented with a different persona than the ones exhibited on more casual social media sites. Jung himself observed that every different profession and occupation require a different set of characteristics and personas.
Our social identities are fluid and evolving, and it appears sometimes that the nature of certain social media sites does not allow for us to present all of our 'personas' at once. Social media allows people to create an online space, privately or publicly, to be whoever they want to be and to wear whichever mask they want to wear. Different audiences in different areas of our lives all receive a different interpretation of ourselves in real life, and this does not change online. Different masks suit different situations both online and off, and your online persona may be closer to your true self than the image you portray to people in the real world. Nonetheless, Jung warns us, it must be maintained that identification with oneself’s persona is detrimental; the subject must be conscious that he/she is not identical to the way in which they appear through their persona. If not, that is if this persona freely controls a subject unconsciously, a discrepancy might arise between the way one appears in different contexts and in the way in which one perceives himself in relation to others. This too can happen online, with equally serious consequences.
Narcissism and Asceticism
The mythological character Narcissus was seen as an example to avoid, especially in Ancient Greece where the self-absorption and selfishness on the citizens’s was seen as detrimental for public values of community, democracy and political participation. Indeed, although self-expression was considered a powerful tool for people to contribute their opinion in public places such as the Ecclesia (ancient Athens), a self-centred opinion was not accepted.
Time has passed, but narcissism is still often described in negative terms. However, Papacharissi, drawing from Richard Sennett and Christopher Lasch work, argues that in a social media context narcissism does not necessarily retain its pathological and pejorative characteristics. Indeed, it works along side of post-modern values of autonomy, self-expression and control and itself favours a need for introspection and self-centredness that relies on the rapidity with which the subject can shift or merge the private and public sphere. That is because, unlike in ancient times, narcissism of this form is self-directed and self-based but it is not in itself pathologically selfish. Namely, while it does favour auto-promotion and presentation, the social media tools of which the subject makes use through personalisation are not by themselves intended to benefit the subject directly: recognition happens through others. Other issues might emerge from the amount of possible personalisations of a topic in terms of reliability within a democratic debate, but these narcissistic practices, whether they take the shape of blogs entries on WordPress, Facebook profiles or Twitter updates, they are fundamentally part of a search for contact among different subjects.
However, contrary to the opinions expressed in the ecclesia, what social media users announce from their pulpit is not finalised at contributing to the public sphere; these opinions might be used to monitor civic engagement and to a certain degree they do constitute a form of political and social expression of one’s thoughts, but first of all they are based on self-fulfilling evaluation of content by those who produce them. Similarly, according to Lasch these tendencies, unlike pathological behaviour, arise from a sense of insecurity and self-interrogation that cross the boundaries of public and private and which cannot in this sense be oriented to exclusively selfish desire. Notably, this form of narcissism arises from desperation in a society that does not provide a clear distinction between public and private 
This can be explanatory of the recent phenomenon of Selfie, where just the name itself speaks for values of self-referentiality and self-absorption. However, despite several critiques about selfies promoting narcissistic behaviour and hubris in those who post them, the phenomenon has also been identified as a form of re-assessing and re-assuring self-esteem through sharing with others. This presents this interpretation of narcissism as something far from disorder and more as new way through with the self projects itself into the world by a self-controlled mediation. Analyzing why people post 'selfies' can take away from the fundamental fact that in many ways they are a form of expression. For many, a 'selfie' is an act of self expression, celebration, liberation and autonomy, rather than a ploy for attention or praise.
At the same time, Sennett identifies narcissism in this sense as a form of asceticism. Drawing from Heinz Kohut work in psychology, Sennett suggests that narcissism is less a clinical condition and more a preoccupation that one has of his self-hood and the role of the self “as a source of initiative, intentionality and unity for the personality” plays. What Narcissus is looking for when he drowns, Sennett argues, is certainly his self-image but at the same time this self and its depth is an alluring form of “Other”. That is, the reflected image presents a self that is more deep, interesting and seductive than the original one. The Image, that Narcissus sees and construct of himself exits the inside world and wants to reach out to him and be apprehended, drawn, out of the water. Therefore, self-absorption is not selfishly fixated on psychological interiority and magnification, but rather it concentrates on that surfacing image which appears more likeable and intriguing. This is the image that Narcissus wants the outside to see and the one he wants to be recognised for. Despite a sense of lack within the self, Sennet identifies the ability of the self to take interiority as a starting point for withdrawal from its own self in search for a better image as a form of asceticism. Namely, the subject who retreats from its self manages self-examination and reflection on itself, thus promoting self-understanding and autonomy. Nonetheless, Narcissus, as preclusively closed and stagnant towards activities that do not revolve around the self and its characterisation in the ways explained above, eludes an active public sphere.
Private spheres as an environment of autonomy, control and self-expression
“Participating in a MoveOn.org online protest, expressing political opinion on blogs, viewing or posting content on YouTube, or posting a comment in an online discussion group represents an expression of dissent with a public agenda, determined by mainstream media and political actors. It stands as a private, digitally enabled, intrusion on a public agenda determined by others.”
In this digital age, society have been given the tools to speak freely on the internet. Once users have gained access to posting within a private sphere online, individuals gained the control over their audiences. On sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, users have the autonomy to craft a public image to a select audience. The privacy settings on these sites allows users to privatise posts, and gives them a sense of control over their own content. These social media sites are the only place people can exhibit and experience total self control as they can choose what they say and how they present themselves.
Photos posted online are a good example of the images people can construct of themselves and their lives and then present online. For example, on Instagram there are many filter options and ways to edit a photo being posted, as well as. If photo is edited in some way, it could mean that the portrayal of the user's life is edited for the public eye online. People can choose to omit certain details of their lives online. Facebook profile pictures are chosen to show the best angles, and is the photo that represents users to their "friends" and any other strangers who may click on their account. The privacy of Facebook means users have the control over who they are friends with, and in turn who sees their posts. However, even profile pictures and cover photos are outwith the private sphere of this website, so, when choosing these photos people tend to have the idea of the public sphere in their mind, and thus having control over how the public sees them as well as their audience. Many of the photos and opinions that people post on social media may not be suitable for every one of their online audiences, which is something to take in to consideration regarding the subject of self expression.
In relation to the previously mentioned quote, using online forums for personal expression is another way in which the private sphere can be used. The possibility of becoming anonymous on a website and giving opinions could be considered part of the private sphere, as anonymity is protects personal image. The private sphere gives people the chance to express themselves in a digitally enabled community. This aspect of anonymity can be liberating for many people, who may be reluctant to speak out freely if they had to do so in public. This sense of confidentiality can be encouraging in both negative and positive senses. Negative, as people are more willing to be rude or 'troll' other people online when they know they will not be caught out. Positive, as it may give people a sense of confidence to express their beliefs.
For many, social media accounts may be the only place that a lot of people get to exhibit and experience total self control. They can choose what they say and how they present themselves and are able to create private online area that can encourage creativity and self-acceptance. The public and private versions of individual's online selves can differ, meaning that many social media users begin to 'craft' a version of themselves to present to their online audiences.
The way in which people can present themselves among their peers within a mediated environment could potentially mean an issue with realism. Creating personas on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be construed as painting a false image of yourself and also what real life looks like. Despite the positives behind posting on a private page, within a gated community, it can be argued that people are still using this as a way to create false personas to impress their followers.
It can also be argued, however, that it is within these online gated communities that people are often able to express their true selves and communicate with people that they believe to be more on their wave length than the people they know in real life. Depending on the audience they may be catering to online, it can be believed that many people do not seek out a place online to 'perform' or show off, but a place that they have created themselves where they feel safe enough to present an image and persona that is closer to who they truly are than the one they exhibit in day to day life.
Identity Performance and Management of the Impressions of the Self
As Erving Goffman explains, the individual who is part of a social group and in the immediate presence of other becomes at once initiator and part of a staged performance. Within this performance, the individual will intentionally or unintentionally express himself, and the other individuals of the group will in return be impress in various way by him. While the impression that the individual gives off cannot be entirely predicted in the way it will be received, the main interest for the subject is that to try and construct and impression that is consistent with the way in which the subject wishes to be seen.
That is, the subject works to influence, in its formulation, impression directed at others in the attempt to have them receive the impression that was meant to be conveyed, thus also shaping the situation which the recipient finds himself in. However, sometimes a subject might. In addition, the degree to which the subject disclose certain aspects of their life, thus censoring some information and making available others through a form of “crafting” of the represented-self, enormously shapes the perception given. Within this performance, the observes too have a role that doesn’t comply with merely observing, The spectator, whom is part of the spectacle, knows that he’s being allowed to perceive and knows the his perception serves the performance, but at the same time, even more if he’s a performer himself, he knows that something is being hidden. However, his role is confined to the front region and he cannot access the subject’s backstage. Nonetheless, if the observer is enough close to the subject, he might disrupt, even unintentionally, the constructed impression that the subject has tried to give to themselves, thus resulting in the subject embarrassment. This could be the case when, for instance, pictures in which the subject has been tagged on SNS differs a lot from the staged self-presentation that the latter has crafted.
The Impression Management process that the subjects controls, therefore, inevitably concerned with the dialectic of social relations. For this reason, the subject has to satisfy his desire for control with regard to the situation and ways in which his own self-representation will be perceived by others. However, just like he has under-played and over-played some aspects of their representation, so have done others too in the role of subjects, especially in the way they feel about him. Therefore, all the relevant social data about other in order for a complete control are unavailable. In their absence, the individual tends to employ cues, tests, hints, expressive gesture, status symbols that works as predictable devices for his characterisation in others’ minds. Indeed, to avoid a by-product impression of his representation, the subject has the option to reframe their representation in a way that the observer will be manipulated by those cues, Sign and Symbol in his interpretation. That is, a sign can be employed by the subject in the absence of knowledge of what the observer’s interpretation of the sign’s signified would be. For this reason, a convincing impression is not necessarily concerned with what the subject is or has but these elements can be engineered enough to convince, in their absence, the observer that they are indeed possessed.
In regards to presentation of the self and impression management, Goffman has stated: “people give a ‘performance’ when they allow themselves to be photographed, in the sense that they make allowance for a public that will ultimately see the photograph.” He uses the term ‘performance’ to refer to ‘all the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants’. The 21st century has brought the introduction of Internet and therefore new Social Networks, such as Facebook. Through websites such as these, society has managed to use photographs unconsciously and consciously to express themselves in various forms.
There are many contributing factors that go into taking and choosing photographs that one may decide to put online. A process has been used in Chalfen’s Snapshot Versions of life (1987):
However, after analyzing Mendelson and Papacharissi’s “Look at us: Collective Narcissism in Facebook Photos”, there is more than just planning, posing, shooting, that goes behind uploading a picture on any Social Network Sites (SNSs). Media gives the opportunity for people to express themselves in various forms. “While people are purportedly presenting themselves, they are presenting a highly selective version of themselves. Social Network Sites (SNSs) present the latest networked platform enabling self-presentation to a variety of interconnected audiences.” (Mendelson and Papacharissi) SNSs allow people to present themselves different for different audiences. For example, in some cases people create multiple versions of Facebook, one for their parents and one for their peers. As well, people edit their photographs according to who their audience may be. Consciously and unconsciously people work to define the way they are perceived by others, hoping to cause a positive impression. For this to happen, have to put effort in their appearance, the way they act, and try to hide their flaws. Uploading a profile picture, or any photo, is a process because it represents who a person is. A deciding influence to choosing a photo to upload is the thought of who will be seeing it. For example, having your grandmother on Facebook stops one from posting photos from a social night that only your social group would find amusing.
Donath and Boyd define SNSs as: “online environments in which people create a self-descriptive profile […] Participants in social networks sites are usually identified by their real names and often include photographs; their network of connections is displayed as an integral piece of their self-presentation.” The more personalized photographs individuals take emphasize how they wish their lives to be remembered. Consciously and unconsciously individuals transform themselves before the camera; portraying a version of ourselves we hope to be. In networked environments that blend private and public boundaries, like SNSs, Facebook, inadvertently communicate content of a performative nature to a variety of audiences.
The demand for celebrities to be part of the ‘always-on’ culture is continuing to grow. The demand is ever increasing from fans for interaction with celebs. An interesting quote completely sums up this point about the effects which social media has on celebrities:
>>The most important thing about a technology is how it changes people.<<— John Lanier
This demonstrates the matter that once celebs become successful, technology is the first tell-tale of their identity, their social morals and how their success impacts them as people. In fact, many celebrities have built their entire careers around 'always-on' culture and the power of social media as a platform that encourages celebrity culture. Nowadays, 'celebrities' are developing through sites such as YouTube, SnapChat and Vine.
Due to every celebrity’s massive succession, fans feel the need to have a constant connection to their idols. This puts a constraint on celebs to be always available and connected to their fans, providing what is deemed to be appropriate content. Celebs face massive challenges involving the type of content which they post online and what is seen to be the ‘right’ opinion.
This can result in people losing their sense of identity and conform to society's ideology - post appropriate content, always looking ‘perfect’, have the ‘right’ opinion and convey a positive image. Although social media provides many advantages for us to reach many different people, it is still limited to time and amount of attention we have at one moment.
A key point to be made here is that technology is less political and more about power and social status. Technology becomes the centre to influence of succession and technology acts as a base to build social status across the globe, key to all celebs. Celebrity dominance over all aspects of social media has led to a noticeable imbalance of power, and encourages the belief that celebrities are deities rather than human beings who make mistakes online.
This can also lead to a narcissistic image of celebrities. The attention which celebs receive on a daily basis is massive and so it is likely a transition will take place: a change from a ‘normal’ everyday user to an obsession of self-image and a focus shifted to them and who they portray. The mediation on images and publications is so selective and the majority of the time it is not in the control of the celebrity but in the hands of their manager.
As expressed by Lanier, newspapers are in decline so more value is now being placed on the internet, which could be problematic. People are much more likely to check social media above any other source according to a report by the Pew Research Centre. The priority which social media takes for news is a rising issue for celebrities as major platforms are notorious for spreading news either correct or not.
Trolling is one of the biggest issues connected to celebrities and their privacy online. Particularly on social media, trolling is extremely common. Either fan bases or the opposition could pose to be a celebrity and therefore create a fake account or page based upon this person. This is problematic as celebs personal information is up for interpretation and this is also how spread - leaving the celebrity with no control or privacy rumours. This can lead to misrepresentation and becomes much more personal online.
A common theme among celebrities due to social media and access to information and data is leaking of harmful content. This is a growing problem for celebrities as journalists and media users are abusing there power in order to gain hidden content. An example of the way that the internet can be used to abuse the platform that celebrities have been given is the hacking of female celebrities and subsequent leaking of nude and private images. Women in the limelight are targeted and violated by different forms of media and have their private property stolen and leaked online, where the images will last forever.
"The incredible amount of activity in contemporary culture that explores the boundaries of the personal, the private, the intimate, and the public resembles the discourse of celebrity but expands pandemically beyond that realm because it deals with the general population." - David Marshall 
Social media also instigates 'stalking' on celebrities. The ability to access open pages, interpretative pages of a celeb and profiles creates a path for celebrities to be stalked, with all of their information at major risk. In a study of stalking and psychological behaviour, it was made clear that the main access and vocal point of stalking is media. “Stalkers of celebrity figures are the sensation of the popular media, particularly if they have threatened or been violent toward the object of their pursuit.” 
Celebrities convey this idealised culture; a culture which in many ways is desired by others and is that of luxury and high style. However, in other ways celebrities do attempt to show a 'normal' life narrative; make them more human. This narrative may include instances where celebrities pose doing activities which the average person might or associating themselves with brands which the 'common' person may like. But, what really distinguishes celebrities from the average person is the level of publicity they receive and this is out of their control. Once someone has delved into the deep end of celebrity culture, all privacy is out of the window.
Online Identity - Pushing the Boundaries of Public and Private
Our online identity and the identity we take online can change our usage of the Internet; this narrative of us changes the functions of the digital media. The narrative of self is important to create boundaries of public or private in our online usage. The self that we choose to create and display online is beginning to place boundaries on the public and private functions of the Internet and due to our growing society, has changed our perceptions of public and private.
One form which our online identity can take and is most popular is that of open source. This means that our profiles are available with lots of information about us published, pushing the boundary of private. This factor can make being private more difficult because of the amount of information the user has allowed online. Additionally part of our online appearance is out of our control, i.e. shared information, that companies track down. And as characteristically digital data is easily copyable, one cannot restraint, that these companies or people, we shared content with, spread these further - our private sphere is extended to a part, that is invisible to us. Another point of concern is perhaps the inherent nature of sharing on social media, in that we can never truly control what circulates on these sites about our private lives. Often information is published on social media by both individuals and larger companies without our permission. To a large extent we have no control over the images that are posted of us without our knowledge or consent. It is in this way that our online identities are shaped into something that we perhaps do not recognize or support.
So our perception of public means that we believe our information to be available to everyone, and anyone can view our content. However, since this is becoming more acceptable, it needs to be made more aware of the dangers of being public online. This is pushing the boundaries of public as the type of user we choose to be alters this public stance.
Online identity is the make- up of our character online and who we choose to be online. The choice of sharing real life information can alter privacy or oppose it; can change the publicity as we may choose to reserve certain information thus making our profile more private. The information that we choose to make either public or private about ourselves online can shape the identity that we create and then present to our online audiences. (see section 1.7.2: Altered Narratives of the Self)
So, this brings about the question to what extent our identity defines privacy? Are we really private if we still have information online? This question highlights the boundaries to which social media pushes privacy and shows that despite being private on Facebook for example, we still need a profile picture and basic information.
This can also be linked to key theorist Hamid Van Koten who suggests a link between identity and culture. He implies that what we choose to display about ourselves and choice of public or private says a lot about us as people and our identities and our culture.
As society evolves, we become more controlling over our social media and we gain more agencies over our own profiles and the way we use and display our information online. This raises issues of responsibility online. Since we have so much control, are we fully to blame when something goes wrong?
The problematic issue of fraud can be very common among users with reports in America in 2014 showing almost 50% of people are being hacked into a year. Social media programmes are changing so much that the company itself is moving away from being the first to blame and more the user. So, in turn it works two ways – the user gains more control and power but in return, they are responsible almost entirely for their problems online.
Whereas the radio needed over 30 years to reach 50 million receivers, the Internet succeeded that in less than 5 years (see infographic). With that in mind the question is, how the Internet as a hybrid medium  creates and enhances publicity and what effect this has on the private and public sphere. In our discussion we need to consider the following dimensions of publicity:
- Publicity in the sense of a public room anyone can enter
- Publicity through public communication and public communication systems
- Publicity as in public opinion
The demand for publicity came up historically as a monitoring tool for and legitimation of political decisions. Therefore a sphere has to be created open for any topic and where everyone can equally, reciprocal express his/her opinion. The Internet like no other medium offers through various information channels a forum for (political) discourse, that in theory anybody can access. Additionally, the roles of speakers and recipient are changing continuously especially on social media platforms and the variety of examined issues is huge.
Creating such a room also means creating a communication system, that in earlier days could be a marketplace: Public communication, closely related to mass communication, is aimed to be transparent and therefore accessible for anyone. Normally they imply a huge and anonymous audience, which makes the reach, reflection and impact of the message immeasurable and uncontrollable, but with online tracking tools and the possibility to immediately reply on i.e. social media the possibility to verify the online audience increases. However, as the Internet connects people all over the world, the audience is nowadays more disperse. According to Schulz this are in fact real public spheres, as they are international in comparison to presence public sphere, which are only segmented public spheres, likewise the marketplace.
Public communication differs from private or secret communication, as the access to the message of communication or the communicating situation is openly accessible – but facilitated by the high copyability of digital media private messages can be published to a bigger audience even without each other’s consents.
A public opinion is in commons sense the dominant opinion, which is enforced through public communication. This has to be distinguished from a published opinion, an opinion expressed in public, making it especially online accessible for everyone. Mass media can mirrors the public opinion, but with Noelle Neumann's spiral of silence in mind, this does not has to be the thinking of the majority.
However, the premise for publicity online is the that every group of interest has access to that sphere. But the digital divide precludes that, because not everyone has a technical devices with Internet access, nor the time and ability to deal with the technology (digital analphabetism) or information overload; the latter hinders the finding of websites, that are not search engine optimized.
Public Displays of Connection
People displaying that they are connected to other people isn't a new thing that has come with the digital age, it has been around for years as we are always eager to let people know that we have friends. In recent years showing our connections has changed however, with the introduction of social networks.
Facebook in particular, with the introduction of tagging people in photos, has made it easy for users to showcase their friends/connections to the world. This has been around for a lot longer however, even on the internet, if we refer back to Bebo users had the choice not only to choose their top friends but also to choose an "other half". Myspace allowed users to choose their top friends, in the article Public Displays of Connection  look to find what these displays mean and what they represent in the modern era. The article talks about first the public displays of connection we use in the "real" or "physical" world which includes introducing our friends to each other, because we either think they will become friends with each other or admire each other, which in turn means they will admire you for having a friend like them. This could be through hosting a party and bringing your friends together or even by something as simple as name dropping.
On websites like Facebook there is the ability to tag in photo's but also displaying "mutual friends" is a huge part of the site. When a user adds you as a friend, you can see what mutual friends you have together. This may be the first thing users look for when deciding whether or not to accept someone as a friend, as you can see how many similar friends you have and if you're likely to know them or meet them in the future. Twitter also introduced this with the "Followers You Know", followers are similar to friends on Facebook however someone can follow you and you do not need to follow them back and vice versa. The "followers you know" feature displays all of the users that you follow who follow them also, which, like the Facebook mutual friends may affect your decision on whether or not you follow them back. Research by Konstantin Besnosov, Yazan Boshmaf, Pooya Jaferian and Hootan Rashtian of the University of British Columbia  showed that whether not the user had mutual friends and the closeness of the mutual friends was one of the most important factors in deciding to accept their friend request.
Although closeness of the mutual friends is an important aspect in deciding whether or not to accept someone's friend request it is difficult to distinguish the relationships between the mutual friend and the person who has sent you a friend request. As boyd and Donath  talk about in their article just by looking at mutual friends there is no real way of knowing the connection. A mutual friend could range from a best friend, family member, partner to a relative stranger who they perhaps have only met once or twice, if at all.
Tagged photo's can be a more effective way of finding out a persons solid, real life relationships with your mutual friends. Tagged photos give a user a better idea of the kind of person someone is, what social circles they belong to and if they are someone that they either know, are likely to meet at some point or perhaps want to know. Tagged photos and photo's in general are a huge part of displaying your connections to your digital circle. In their research Beznosov, Boshmaf, Jaferian and Rashtain  found that the very first thing someone looks for when accepting a friend request is their profile picture.
Most people would look for a profile picture with them in it, however the rest of the photo's available on their profile are also hugely important. Picture's, specifically tagged ones, can prove the authenticity of a person and their profile and can basically prove or atleast convince someone that they are "real". boyd and Donath  talk about this and say that displaying connections on your profile is a way of verifying your personal identity.The more connections someone has, mutual friends, tagged photos etcetera makes them seem more like a real person. With the rise of catfishing (see section 184.108.40.206)this is something that has became more of a concern, increasing the importance of connections being displayed on social media profiles.
boyd and Donath also talk about how these connections could also help showcase "incompatible" connections  meaning you could look at someone's mutual friends and tagged photos to quickly see who they are and who they assosciate with, and if you do not like what you see you are able to make the informed decision of declining their friend request. The opposite of this is also true.
You could also look at displaying connections on your profile as a way to assure other people that you are popular and have friends. Many people will not only tag themselves in photos, but also with the addition of Twitter's "@" tagging method you can tag your friends in general posts on Facebook and start public conversations with them using this over Twitter. People display their public connections in this way because they want people to know how many friends they have and who they are. Public displays of connection mainly are not about who your friends are but are always trying to reinforce the idea of who you are.
Democratic but not Democratising
The characteristics of digital media, which shape the new relationship between the private and public sphere, also touch upon the concept of democracy and citizenship. Indeed, a private sphere enabled with mobile privatisation, de-spatialised simultaneity and that integrates values of self-expression, control and autonomy inevitably interplays with the concerns of the public sphere. We can identify two major trajectories among the ways in which digital media influence and at the same time are conditioned by civic life. The first one considers how the internet is a communication tool that can be used in campaigns by parties and candidates and thus serving certain political agendas. The second, instead, seeks to understand the role and the effects of new media on one’s private sphere and participation to public sphere, that is one’s individual civic and political behaviour within a democratic society. Understanding the relationship between these elements is important and it’s currently object of research.
Putman explains that an individual’s participation in offline social networks, such a bowling team, not only fosters interpersonal trust and cooperation but also offers to the people that are part of this network the chance to discuss and exchange political, social and economic opinions and beliefs that ultimately, on a larger scale, serve values of community and democracy in the real world. Here, we can easily see the intended comparison between offline and online social networks and also notice that this activities are transported in the online world. However, the way in which this transfer actually takes place is controversial. For instance, Bimber argues that that while new media lower the cost of accessibility and divulgation of political information, therefore potentially giving more people the possibility to engage in a civic debate, on the internet the same disparities of the real world are often replicated: engagement comes from those who already have the means to both afford access to internet sources and the knowledge required to be engaged in a political or economic argument.
In this sense it worth mentioning Jürgen Habermas’ interpretation of the internet’s commonality. Initially, in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere Habermas too falls into the trap of thinking that the internet is free from the real world’s disparities. In fact, he attempts a historical comparison between the public sphere of the bourgeois in the 18th and 19th centuries and the internet. While he does explain that subsequent consolidation of hegemony within the bourgeoisie has changed this decision-making procedure, he founded his analogy with the internet as based on the bourgeois’s public sphere’s openness to all and its formal principle of disregarding class hierarchies in the name of arguments that prevailed because of better argumentations rather than because of coercion.
Salter dismisses this comparison. Firstly, it only remarks both the internet’s and bourgeoisie acceptance of disparities: indeed, the public sphere of the bourgeois was only formally open to all, as for example women where excluded from participating. This is certainly in accord with disparities which the internet and social media have been already accused of. For instance, boyd and Hargittai explain how even social networks like Facebook, although accessible by almost everyone, have a built-in demographic bias, both because internet access and literacy is required to be part of it and because, from the beginning, Facebook had as user-base constituted by academics from privileged american institutions and thus has a fundamental american-bourgeois element to it.
Secondly, while the bourgeois’s public sphere was intentioned to find a political common will, the internet seems to fragment or question the idea of universality and common interest, hence facilitating the exact opposite: a pluralism of wills. Papacharissi too argues in favour of this interpretation. She explains that the interrelation of private and public sphere, facilitated by digital media, allows for values of autonomy,control and expression to determine our social-networked conduct and to let us blend with the public space. However, the degree to which these values serve democracy is questionable. In fact, because they satisfy ego-centred needs and function as an expression of personal opinions and beliefs, they are potentially and always more easily (unlike within the 18th bourgeoisie) applicable by everyone to everything. Therefore, they progressively distance themselves from a 'common will'. That is, while they might be democratic in affordance, they do not inherently make society better unless the pluralism of self-serving private spheres that broadcast themselves onto the public sphere actually come together to serve the public sphere selflessly.
Public and Private Spheres As A Political Power
Government intervention within media channels and legislation impacting on networks has created discourses concerning its political validity and judgement of power use. Such discourses include the reasoning regarding the control of a libertarian networked environment and employed strategies used within the media framework that serve to uphold a political perspective or agenda.
Political Power and the Public Sphere: The Media
There are three distinct concepts of mediation that governments use to serve vested interests or uphold perceived standards as set by a political power. These concepts are:
- Authoritarian Concept. This concept dates back to Gutenberg's invention of the printing press and is the oldest media concept. Under this concept the press are subject to direct or implied control from the state. Forms of diversity are harmful and irresponsible to a countries development, and any gathered news must not criticize or challenge leadership in any way.
- Communist Concept. Under control from this concept, published news has to concentrate on nation building and the goals and policies of a society set by leadership. The characteristics of this concept included the press being one-party, incoming and outgoing news are heavily controlled, news must be positive and further party goals rather than refle|cting interests of the people and, it is a means of exercising control over the people aided by secret police.
- Developmental Concept. Traditionally used in underdeveloped and poorer countries. The Developmental Concept states that mass communication should aid with nation building and fighting illiteracy and poverty, media should follow government rather than challenge it, each country may restrict flow of news between borders in an attempt to limit incoming information from western countries that may threaten cultural traditions, and have control over content about themselves.
Political Power and the Private Sphere: The Network
Since the 1970s governments have heavily monitored online activity in an attempt to halt criminal activity. However, within the last two decades the objectivity of criminal activity has been blurred and replaced, in some societies, by the subjectivity of a leadership's definition. Even with influential figures such as Dr. Vint Cerf -one of the fathers of the internet- stating that government control over the Internet will fail, this has not hindered governments from inducting their own policies regarding how individuals and groups can use the network, most notably the Chinese government. In 1993 the Chinese government initiated the Golden Shield Project in an attempt to legislate and control access to the internet within the Chinese mainland. A variety of methods were implemented with the aim of censoring the internet which included:
- Blocking IP addresses. Certain IP addresses will be denied and effects protocols such as HTTP, FTP and POP.
- Filtering and redirection of DNS. Certain domain names are blocked or incorrect IP addresses are returned via DNS hijacking.
- Portal Censorship and search result removal. Major portals such as search engines are effectively blocked. The Chinese government have censored access to Google. In 2006 Google launched Google.cn in an effort to maintain a presence within China, however due to increasing demands over censorship and Google being the subject of hacking by the Chinese Government, Google ended its Google.cn service in 2010.
While China practices extreme measures of censorship, further measures have been taken by other nations. In 2011 Egypt disconnected itself entirely from the network in an effort to reduce the power of protesters rallying against the Mubarak regime. Such action was deemed necessary after an uprising in Tunisia which has been dubbed the Twitter revolution. The actions of censorship and complete network disconnection exhibited by the Chinese and Egyptian Governments are political tactics that maintain asymmetrical power as the aforementioned actions do not benefit society as a whole, and only proves that despite the political rhetoric, governments do possess the power to control the internet and intervene within the sectors of society that individuals are granted control over.
The Chinese and Egyptian government's intrusion into the private sphere has effectively expanded the reach of the public sphere by disarming users of the network control over produced and viewed content. A prominent example is the banning of Facebook and Youtube by the Chinese government. Both sites operate within the private sphere as they allow for virtually unmediated control of produced content by outside organisations. They subsequently now fall under the domain of the public sphere; controlled so heavily they are completely inaccessible. Further impositions include regulation of internet cafes, as these establishments now enforce age restrictions. Users must be over the age of 21, and a log book is required to be signed by each user. Once online, activity is heavily monitored. Such restrictions have brought about the conception of underground internet cafes, where underage users can freely access the network. However, access to the network is the only element of control experienced by users, even within the confines of an underground establishment, content is still heavily mediated and monitored.
Public and Private Spheres on Social Media and Political Agendas
Political Agendas and Digital/Social Media
In Politics, the rise of Digital media and Social media usage has allowed for politicians and political parties to pursue, promote, and campaign for certain political agendas. Due to the nature of digital and social media creating their own unique concepts of private and public spheres, politicians and political parties now utilise these spheres in order to pursue their chosen agenda(s).
Political websites, e-mails and social media platforms are now some of the most common methods of political communication. In order to inform individuals of their agenda, for example a manifesto, party policy or campaign, the first place this is now published is usually on the party website, and advertised further through e-mails to party members, supporters, and volunteers. Internet technologies like this are the main ways in which parties and politicians now spread information amongst their members and supporters.
Whilst other, more traditional methods are still widely used to spread a political message, such as news programmes, leaflets, and face to face communication, the fastest way to do this is via an online medium, i.e. the internet. This can be done through a number of methods;
|Party Website||A dedicated website domain for a certain political party, organisation, or politician. usually where information is first posted, where individuals can go to to find out information about a party/politician, political agenda, campaign, or issue. Also where individuals can register to join or support a party or politician.||The Labour Party website|
|A dedicated public page for a party or politician to share information about themselves or a political agenda, and where other Facebook users can 'like' the page to show support, and 'share' information from the page to their timeline.||The Official Scottish National Party (SNP) Facebook page|
|A social networking site where parties or politicians can have their own Twitter feed to promote their agendas, and where they can further promote their agendas by creating a hashtag for users to follow. Other Twitter users can engage publicly by sending a tweet to the party, or privately through Direct Messaging.||[https://twitter.com/unitetheunion Official Twitter of the trade union Unite|
|Online Petitions||Various websites which allow any individual, including politicians and political parties, to start a petition in order to campaign about and raise public support for an issue.||Change.org, A website which allows users to start, sign, and share petitions online.|
Although politicians and political parties use all of these methods, as social media has such a large audience which is not restricted to just members and supporters, this approach is becoming increasingly popular. Therefore, much of the information on any political agenda is then spread by the party or politician themselves, members and activists on social media. This can be an extremely successful method of promoting a political agenda.
Viral spreading of information online is another method used both socially and politically to reach wider audiences, and this is done so through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other popular social media sites. This is a method of spamming, which can be done through consistent advertising, whether that is paid for or spread by online celebrities to reach a wider audience. Social examples of viral spreading include youtube videos e.g. Anything posted by the notoriously known 'viral video creator', Tom Fletcher, or shocking and exciting images that were perhaps posted online in order to become 'viral'. As it seems, contemporary audiences of political announcements tend to discuss or voice their opinions online via social media, therefore this viral spreading of political messages will be best received through such platforms.
Working Tax Credits
Take for example the recent campaign against cuts to Working Tax Credits in the United Kingdom, organised by The Labour Party in opposition to the Conservative Party's plans. The vast majority of the work to mobilise individuals and communicate information in this campaign was through social media platforms, e-mails, and an online petition. This allowed the campaign to become very widely known and supported in a short period of time. The outcome of this campaign was that the Conservatives had to scrap their plan to cut the Working Tax Credits scheme.
Public and Private Spheres in Relation to Political Agendas
Peter Dahlberg argues that there are a number of different Internet based public spheres which contribute to modern political communication, including;
|1. Versions of e-government, usually with a top-down character, where government
representatives interact with citizens and where information about governmental administration and services is made available. While interaction may be relatively constricted, it can still at times serve as a sector of the public sphere. This sector is sometimes distinguished from e-governance, which emphasizes horizontal civic communication and input for government policy.
2. The advocacy/activist domain, where discussion is framed by organizations with generally shared perceptions, values, and goals—and geared for forms of political intervention. These include traditional parliamentarian politics, established corporate and other organized interest group politics (e.g., unions), and the new politics of social movements and other activists.
3. The vast array of diverse civic forums where views are exchanged among citizens and deliberation can take place. This is generally understood as the paradigmatic version of the public sphere on the Net, but it would be quite erroneous to neglect the others.
4. The prepolitical or parapolitical domain, which airs social and cultural topics having to do with common interests and/or collective identities. Here politics is not explicit but always remains a potential. Clearly, there is no absolute way in which the boundary between the nonpolitical and the parapolitical can be drawn, since it is always in part discursively negotiated and changeable.
5. The journalism domain, which includes everything from major news organizations that have gone online (e.g., newspapers and news programs) to Net-based news organizations (usually without much or any original reporting) such as Yahoo! News News, alternative news organizations, as well as one-person weblog sites (also known as “bloggers”). Interestingly, the research literature has tended to focus mainly on deliberative interaction in terms of online public spheres and/or mass media journalism. We should not forget that the online journalism sector is a core element of the public sphere on the Internet.
It is the activist/advocacy domain and civic forums where political agendas and the utilisation of the public and private spheres of social media come into play the most. In particular, the contrast between campaigns which are shaped by the party or politicians, and campaigns which are shaped by 'ordinary' individuals. The way in which political parties and politicians manipulate what they share on private and public spheres and the influence this has on the promotion of political agendas is of particular importance.
The Working Tax Credits campaign was not only successful due to the high profile social media campaign, but also because it used the private and public spheres of the internet and social media to its advantage. By informing members and supporters with key information an tools through e-mails, the face of this campaign became 'ordinary people' being helped by a party, not just a Party campaign, and this became what is commonly known as a 'grassroots campaign'. These types of campaigns are normally more supported by individuals, as it is seen as more authentic and trustworthy than a slick political machine type campaign.
- Publicly, due to the amount of 'ordinary' people sharing and supporting the campaign on social media, and all activities being run by ordinary people, this was outwardly a very grassroots campaign which won over the electorate.
- Privately, this campaign was run by The Labour Party just like any other political campaign, as they provided activists with all the materials, information, and instructions they needed to successfully front the campaign. This tactic is just one example of how public and private spheres on the internet and social media can influence political agendas.
This utilisation of how individuals perceive political agendas, especially through Internet mediums, is also used in more sinister fashions by political parties and politicians in order to promote an agenda. The most prominent example of this behaviour is political smear campaigns. This is where a certain party or politician will 'leak' information from a private sphere, i.e an individual's personal life, in order to discredit that individual, be it another party or politician, and promote an agenda within that expose. This leaked information is often untrue or taken out of context to suit an agenda, and therefore why it is a 'smear'. A privately orchestrated smear campaign can also be exposed by individuals, again in order to discredit the individual who planned the campaign and promote a political agenda. The use of smear campaigns and the exposing of a smear campaign are two similar yet different practices which show how political parties can promote an agenda through manipulating private and public spheres online.
John McCain's 'Illegitimate' Child
In 2000 during the Republican Presidential Nomination race, John McCain was set to to win the state of South Carolina against George W. Bush. This was thwarted however by one of Bush's strategists, Karl Rove, who orchestrated a 'whispering' campaign' via an anonymous online poll to voters which asked the question "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain…if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" McCain was at the time campaigning with his dark-skinned daughter, Bridget, adopted from Bangladesh. This campaign was a huge contributor to the result of this, which was that Bush did indeed win the state and go on to secure the Republican nomination.
By circulating this untrue information into the public sphere online, Rove successfully manipulated the lines between public and private spheres via the Internet and managed to help Bush pursue his political agenda.
The Rise of Digital and Social Media in Political Activity
This political campaign tactic of manipulating public and private spheres online has become widely popular due to the rise of social media in political communication. Social media is now not only one of the main forms of distributing political information, but has also become a major tool for political engagement. Through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube, politicians and political organisations are employing creative and more accessible methods of engaging with individuals.
- Facebook is the largest social networking site on the Internet, sitting at approximately 1.55 billion users as of January 2016. Increasingly, Facebook has become the place where more and more people are getting the majority of their political information from. According to a study by the Pew research Center, the percentage of Facebook users who classed the site as their main source of news had risen from 47% in 2013, to 63% in 2015. Furthermore, around 66% of Facebook users are reported to participate in civic or political activities through this channel.
- Public engagement
- There are a number of ways in which Facebook allows politicians and political party's to engage with individuals in a public sphere online. On a very simplistic level, Facebook pages allow an individual to connect with certain parties and politicians, keeping them up to date with political information through 'liking' the page and therefore seeing anything that page posts on their personal 'news feed' - similar to a homepage on a website. The act of 'liking' a page or post by a political party or politician also enables an individual to publicly show support for that particular party/politician or agenda. More complex functions of political engagement which can be constructed through Facebook include Facebook Q&A sessions with politicians, Facebook polls which allows users to express a public opinion on certain issues and inform the original poster of this opinion, and also "Open" Facebook groups, which are extremely useful mediums where any user can join, see discussions and engage with - political types of these groups are useful for communicating information and campaign material, and also provide a valuable political debating/discussion platform for individuals.
- Private engagement
- Privately, Facebook offers a private messaging service, Facebook Messenger, where users can create a private discussion space through what is usually a public forum. This is particularly useful as it can allow political parties, politicians, and individuals to have more detailed, personal conversations about political issues, as there is less fear and risk of judgement from the public sphere.
- Referring back to the concept of Facebook Groups, Facebook also allows 'Closed' and 'Secret' groups. Again, the extra level of privacy granted by these settings often allows individuals to be more comfortable discussing political issues. Furthermore, this also allows for political groups themselves to easily organise, share materials, and communicate in a singular pace, without fear of 'infiltration' by those who seek to do them harm.
- Public engagement
- Similar to Facebook, Twitter offers a public platform for individuals to engage with political parties and politicians. Any user can send a 'tweet' to another user, including political parties. Twitter is useful as it limits each tweet to 140 characters, and therefore questions can be asked and answered very quickly, and political debates are very fast-paced.
- Twitter also pioneered with 'hashtags' which users can follow. By typing in '#[insert text]' in a tweet, an individual can contribute to a mass discussion on the same issue. Also, by searching the hashtag on Twitter, users can follow any discussion surrounding that topic. This makes Twitter one of the most accessible and fast-growing social networking sites for political communication and agenda promotion.
- Example; The Hong Kong 'Umbrella Revolution' - #UmbrellaRevolution
- Private engagement
- Twitter is much less limited with what it allows users to do privately. Direct Messaging (DM's) is Twitter's private messaging service, and this serves the same function for political engagement that Facebook Messenger does. Although, it does also have the 140 character limit, which can make it difficult to communicate detailed information.
- YouTube, the Internet's largest video sharing platform, is now becoming more popular as a platform for political agendas to be promoted in the online public sphere, with YouTube now even launching a political toolkit for campaigners an politicians.
- Public engagement
- Videos on YouTube can be seen by millions of individuals. As videos are shared from YouTube to other social network sites also, it can make the possibility for political persuasion phenomenal. YouTube videos also allow for discussion and debate to take place via a comments section on videos which are uploaded.
- Example; The 2012 presidential campaign in the US.
- In this election, YouTube was extremely prominent in voter persuasion and encouraging political engagement. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's teams were posting creative, tailored video content online, and videos containing the tags 'Obama' and 'Romney' were viewed approximately 2.7 billion times.
- Private engagement
- Similar to Twitter, YouTube has sparse private engagement methods. There is again a private e-mail service, but that is about it. YouTube does however allow for any video to be made public or private, so the user does have some manual control over who they share the video with.
Political Communication Online
Following Maletzke's definition of mass communication and Lasswell's model of communication, political communication is that kind of communication, where political players construct messages, which are transmitted by means of technically instrumental media to a disperse audience and which are used by the latter and provoke an effect on those. But political communication can also go into the opposite direction, meaning citizens communicating to political players, or horizontally, between players or between citizens.
The strongest form of political communication is information with persuasion as a special form, which tries to influence the political participation. Hence, political information uses the public sphere to influences the public opinion and finally the opinion of individuals in their private sphere. This section therefore focusses on the forming of public opinion through political communication online.
On the Internet the presentation modes are multifaceted in comparison with many other media types: Information is mediated with under through Youtube-videos, newsletters, Wikipedia or online journal articles, social media posts or pictures - adapting to different user preferences to acquire information. For instance, texts can be received slower than videos.
The crucial part of all offers are their digital characteristics. Not only does it facilitates the storage of information uncoupled of space and time, but it also enables the reproduction of the messages and an immediate (interpersonal) response by the audience, i.e. in discussion forums (see user-generated content). Consequently the public disperse audience and its public discussion are enlarged and networked: People can get in touch with opinions that they would never get to know in their physical public sphere and they can do so without moving out of their physical private sphere.
Catalysed by the possibility for everyone to become an author, public information is not filtered by traditional gatekeepers (i.e. journalists), but normal citizens can post about topic. On one hand they increase the diversity of opinions, but as they can become opinion leaders and as they often pick up information from mass media, they thereby create a double filtering of the public opinion (“Two-Step-Flow of Communication”). Additionally the growing participation online worsens the information overload, so that search engines are asked to filter and manage the amount. Everything that is not registered by them belongs to the invisible web  - consequently search engines have a huge effect on formation of public opinions as well.
With regard to Wikileaks, one may think, that the transparency of the public sphere increases online, but it might actually worsen the spiral of silence: Through public measurement tools, i.e. "clicks" or "likes", a public opinion is emphasised as highly supported, although it in fact he might be not.
Additionally, this kind of political communication is unproven in quality and validity (in comparison with institutional journalism; i.e. in Germany newspapers are only allowed to publish information, proven by two separate news agencies).
Finally the biggest weakness of the internet is, that it is a pull-medium. Hence one can only reach those, who are already interested in and looking for an issue, that they have heard about before. The danger is, that people are informed one-sided and in combination with various possibilities to filter the information overload, they could be kept in an "political bubble". The knowledge gap hypothesis adds, that people with a higher-education and political interest can receive information faster than people without these preconditions. In combination with digital divide and digital analphabetism, through which a certain part of the world's population is excluded from "public" online discussions, the knowledge gap increases: Higher-educated and political interested people with access to and competence to deal with (controversial) political communication cultivate more and more, whereas people without these basis get less antithetic stimuli resulting in them staying in their political bubble. Therefore political communication strategies should be applied cross-medial, for instance setting an agenda in push media first to encourage as much citizens as possible to inform themselves further through online research.
Online-activism by Citizens
Online-activism, also known as Internet activism is commonly identified as a practice where politically motivated citizens use the internet and various online technologies to achieve certain goals. As explained by Sandor Vegh, the strategies implied can be either internet-enhanced or internet-based. The former indicates a situation where the internet is used to enhance traditional techniques for protests, such as spreading awareness on a topic, creating e-petitions on websites like Change.org and call for action, either online or offline. The latter indicates form of activism that only happen online, like hackers's activities identified as hacktivism, targeting or protests against internet-related bans.
Online-activism generally divides in three categories, each of them emphasising different aspects of protests against someone or something, the people involved and the methods applied:
- Awareness/advocacy: this category characterises the type of people who produce and receive information. The goal of activists in this part of the process is that to divulge information regarding certain topics through a distribution networks made of online petitions, Facebook pages, blogs or email lists. In this case, content producer are most likely to be individual citizens or independent organisation and they have as their main goal that of sharing and putting out for public condemnation those information which might have gone underreported or not reported at all, concealed by mainstream media because of an undemocratic regime, or internal cases such as breach of human rights. Similarly, online advocacy involves both spreading awareness and promoting a certain way of action. Indeed, it can focus on both asking for intervention on a singular case or for continual effort for a future and long-distant goal about a great issue, such as climate change. A form of advocacy is identified in lobbying which differs accordingly to the target of a lobbyist’s action. For instance, e-Advocates are groups of activist that offer lobbying on behalf of organisation and individuals that lack the internet knowledge and practices to successfully involve people in campaigns. This form of online-activism increases the scale of people that can be potentially informed and consequentially involved, either online or offline. Likewise, it is time- and cost- saving as it allows to use the internet to virtually spread a message. Moreover, through discussion pages and social media people can exchange information asynchronously and despite geographical constraints.
- Organisation/Mobilisation: this category includes two different ways of proceeding in regard to how the internet can be used for activist mobilisation. Firstly, it can be used to call for offline action, meaning that information will be provided regarding the place and time at which a protest or demonstration will happen. In this case the trajectory is online → offline. Secondly, it can be used to encourage actions that traditionally happen offline but that would have a better outcome if done online, such as requesting explanations and stating demands through emails, petitions and tweets with a specific person or company as receiver. Here, the trajectory becomes offline → online
- Action/Reaction: this category includes activism that can only happen online and often takes the form of hackers attacks, massive spamming campaigns and Smurf attack that aim at taking down or saturate the servers of entities identified as detrimental.
All these forms and steps of online-activism, especially if combined, can help bring about cultural, social and political changes. The degree of efficacy and duration of these changes remains debatable.
Forms and Platforms
As explained in Online-activism by Citizens there are two ways in which online activism occurs: internet-enhanced and internet-based activism. Related to those forms are different kind of platforms where the citizen can participate to achieve the certain goal of the activism. Certain platforms can give ordinary people a voice to express their opinions and can encourage change. Therefore, each platform provides specific characteristics that can advance or even strengthen the outcome and purpose of the action. This section discusses several platforms and their usage as a kind of 'promoter', nevertheless this represents only a fraction of the most widely used platforms that are related to online activism practices.
Social networks are merely used as an additional communicative tool for arising awareness or to coordinate the traditional, off-line protest forms. Especially the usage of the two largest social media platform Facebook(59 billion monthly active users) and Twitter(320 million monthly active users). Users and activists can exchange text messages, video or audio files, photos and other information on their profiles. Word spreads quickly online and online fundraising can raise a staggering amount of money in a very short period of time if enough people back the cause and spread the information on social media. Additionally, activists on Facebook can join common-interest user groups, spread specific content and organise off-line protests or strategies for the action. Twitter and Facebook are separated in their opportunities for information sharing as Twitter is a micro-blogging platform, where user can declare messages with a maximum amount of 140 characters. The interconnected nature of Facebook and Twitter leads to an easier way of information sharing and can generate a huge amount of traffic in a less time and cost-consuming way as well as up-to-date status. A development related to the online activism on social networks and one of the strongest tools is the so-called hashtag activism as the use of them can coordinate the traffic and, in addition, function as a measurement tool. A research by Emily Vraga reveals that videos “can be shared easily, quickly, and effectively through a variety of other mechanisms, including e-mail, other social media, and even print media, and then watched at the viewer’s leisure” via the platform YouTube. It further emphasis, that videos related to a political action can serve a “communal resource, informing, motivating, and connecting like-minded others” as well as target new audiences precisely and boost viewership. Video sharing platforms provide tools to catch people´s attention as moving images have a more emotional driven effect. Such tools and platforms are also used for cause-related activism such as lobbying and fundraising.
Online-petitions (also known as e-petitions or internet petitions) are an extended tool of the traditional petitions as they are less time and cost-consuming and include the opportunity to reach and participate a bigger group of people. Those internet-based petitions also follow the purpose to protest against and urge for positive policy changes on any topic by sending them to the government or organisations. Thereby e-petition can be implemented through two forms: e-mail and world wide web. The former sends petitions or certain information to subscribers or members of a website or platform based on electronic mailing list systems (so-called Listserv). The latter indicates websites like Change.org or Moveon.org where people can address a petition. When a website hosts a petition, visitors have to sign in electronically and are often required to give personal data like their name and e-mail. Furthermore, petitions like those on change.org or moveon.org could be integrated with social media channels and as a consequence achieve a higher participation. Since 2015, citizens in the UK are able to petition against the policy of their government nearly 7,190 petitions were registered and even 20 of them were debated in parliament. Many NGOs or charities use online petitions, too, to reach their goals in environmental issues like greenpeace.com.
In addition, the mostly negatively associated form of hacktivism belongs to online activism. Originally this kind of activism “is a politically motivated single-incident online action, or a campaign thereof, taken by nonstate actors in retaliation to express disapproval or to call attention to an issue advocated by the activists.” Hackers make use of denial-of-service attacks to get access to private or secret governmental information. As nearly all spaces of the public and private sphere depend on technologies that are driven by computer networks, attacks become more and more threatening. Regarding Sandor Vegh, hackers are divided into “wired activists”, just adapting the internet to their strategy and “politicised hackers”, adopting political causes as the justification of their acting.
Some experts argue that the rise in activism online has caused a negative effect regarding the amount of activism that is done in real life. This so-called Slacktivism causes people to do less for their community as they feel 'satisfied by their participation in the low-cost online activism'. Because of this, there is less activism in the public sphere outside of the online communities because people feel as if they have been doing their good deeds online. Furthermore, there are experts who argue that it is oversimplified to say that technology is the reason that certain activist movements are so effective. An online revolution often does not help a revolution in the real world; face-to-face action is needed to help a cause move forward. Online communities are too impersonal and do not have the influence that a mob of demonstrating participants may have.
However, it can be argued that online activism has positive effects as well. It has become easier to use your voice through various websites such as Twitter, change.org, Tumblr and Facebook people are able to spread information and news about activism quicker than ever before. The effect of this is that a larger audience is brought into contact with views, issues and campaigns that are associated with certain online activist movements. In large protest movements, a great number of people can be contacted online and made aware of this movement, as the examples in the next sub-section will discuss. Though it might be difficult to join a demonstration in a city far away from you or help with a campaign in a different country, online-activism provides a platform for many people to have their voice heard regardless. It's a cost-effective way of spreading a message and creating dialogues; people are able to discuss, exchange ideas and offer different perspectives on the subject, and that without having to start an expensive, wide-spread campaign via for example radio or television. This can lower barriers for minority voices, creating a platform for a more diverse, large group of people.
What online activism also changes is the way people protest. For example, people are less likely to go to a sit-in or to a demonstration, but they are more likely to sign petitions or tweet, e-mail or message celebrities, government officials or institutions or other important figures. Important figures in the public have to be more careful what they post online, as a wave of comments on their tweets and Facebook posts is inevitable. This call-out culture is a key effect that online-activism has had. Everything that a public figure may post online is challenged or confronted if it is problematic in some way, causing them to be more careful and more aware of activist movements. This happens with people in every-day life, too; discussions on social media about political movements and social activism. Some people may deem this as a negative development considering it is difficult to post views online without it being commented on, others may argue that this way the online society can move forward and be more considerate of individuals and aware of different movements.
Lastly, online-activism can offer a different perspective from mainstream media. Considering that corporate media is an issue that causes companies to have influence in the media, the goals and stories of certain news articles cannot always be trusted. There are instances in which social media showed an incredibly different view of an event than mainstream media, for example with the #blacklivesmatter movement. Online movements can provide information to those who do not trust the stories of the main news channels, or at the very least provide a different perspective from people posting live from events. Therefore, online-activism has created a different news outlet, and an individual information source when it comes to countless movements and organisation.
At the end December 2010 the Arab world saw an unprecedented series of social movements, protests and revolutions overall identified as Arab Spring.
|“||Blogs and forums fueled the changes in the Arabian world, new media became the means for self empowerment. Still: The revolution took place on the streets.||”|
Numerous considerations and studies have been made regarding the role and relationship between uprisings and social media networks for their diffusion and coordination. Namely, people interacted with each other and the world through various platforms that ultimately made the message uncontrollable by their regimes. Although the causes of people’s resentment toward their governments had already economic and political foundation, the triggering event happened and propagated online: Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, on the 17th December in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia set himself on fire in front of a government’s office in protest against officials violence, humiliation and the seizing of his goods and cart. Videos recorded on mobile phones were quickly posted on the internet, from where they spread across Facebook and Twitter gathering thousands of protesters first in the small town and eventually in the capital. The video, together with those of the spontaneous uprisings just few hours after Mohamed's self immolation , reached even satellite news channels like Al Jazeera.
In similar circumstances, six months before the blogger and activist Khaled Saeed was beaten to death by the police while being taken from a cybercafe in Alexandria. Photos of his disfigured corpse were taken by his brother while visiting the morgue and shared online. After five days from his death, an anonymous activist created a page on Facebook titled We Are All Khaled Saeed and divulged the pictures. By the 15th of July more than 130,000 had joined the page, making it the biggest dissent page in Egypt ever. Following these events, on December 18 youth activist Asmaa Mahfouz posted on YouTube video appeal to urge her fellow citizens to protest Tahrir Square with her on 25 January against the regime of Hosni Mubarak.
While it is difficult to isolate the amount of importance that each of these events from the way that they were shared, there is no doubt that how they were circulated online gave ordinary, non-activist people a way to connect with battles for human rights against government’s oppression and police abuse of power. Notably, “social media carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East, and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising, while people who shared interest in democracy built extensive social networks and organised political action. Social media became a critical part of the toolkit for greater freedom.”  In fact, social media platforms made it easier to involve people and get out the news for everyone to see and discuss, especially because newspaper and state television were biased and monitored. Indeed, all but one of the protests called for on Facebook ended up coming to life on the streets. In particular Facebook was one of the primary source to both get information and organise protesters in the Arab regions, with an increase of 30% of users between January and April 2010, and almost double the users (27.7m against the 14.8 of 2010). This strengthened both the volume of protests and the rapidity with which protests spread across the Arab world. Moreover, protest and supporters broke geographical boundaries boundaries thanks to social media: After Mubarak resignation, there was an average of 2,400 tweets per day from people in neighbouring countries about Egypt. In Tunisia, after Ben Ali resignation, there were about 2,200.
The way the message has been spread across countries and people, the output and reading of unbiased information and the bypass of government’s hold during the Arab Spring represents one of the most important example of people coming together to advocate for democracy. This defines for dictators a new enemy: "If for a long time they had only political and fragmented ones, they now found opponents that use social media to identify goals, build solidarity and organise demonstrations.” That is, if disagreement and anger among citizens have always existed, social media offer a tool to coordinate and push forward a reaction.
Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution
The Umbrella Revolution or Umbrella Movement refers to the Hong Kong protests for universal suffrage and democracy that developed between 26 September and 15 December 2014 thanks to a group called Occupy Central with Love and Peace. Similar protests in Hong Kong against the Beijing government had also interested almost half a million of people in July 2003, but, although having a successful outcome that managed to protect Hong Kong from China's interference, they did not have both the same growth and coverage of the Umbrella Revolution. Indeed, protests organised in 2014 received a global network of online support and protesters themselves exceed locality and restriction in their manifestation events.
After being tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed by riot police in Admiralty two days after the beginning of protests, Josie Tao Cai-yi immediately shared what had happened to her online “First time I’ve actually witnessed the tear gas and pepper spray. Absolutely terrifying.”  This propelled a flow tweets in support of the Occupy Central movement, thus bringing it to global attention. At the peak of police intervention in riots, 12 tweets about Hong Kong were posted per second, with images and messages about police violent behaviour towards protesters being shown and shared by users all over the world. This brought Scott Likens, analytics consulting lead at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) China and Hong Kong, to comment on the events saying “we have seen progressive new ways to connect [on social media], serving the needs of something like this in real time… and making sure we’re always connected, [just so] the message can get out fast.”  In addition, Occupy Centre’s profiles on Facebook and Twitter, only two days after the beginning of protests gathered respectively 100,000 and 25,000 followers, followed by a series of pages aimed at explaining to anti-Occupy audiences the reason of protesters and convince them to join the cause.
The way people started sharing images, tweets and videos of protests prompted Beijing government to censor both protesters and those who showed sympathy for them, with also almost a dozen of people being detained after scrutiny. Censorship had as its main focus Weibo, China’s version of Twitters, with analytics reporting that only in September 28 the rate of censorship outweighed the one adopted in occasion of the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. Because people were sharing pictures and videos on Instagram, access to the app was blocked, in agreement with previously arranged censorship in China of websites like Facebook and YouTube.
As expected, this did not stop the protesters: virtual private networks were used to bypass the firewall and purposely misspelled words and codes were used to jump over targeted censor bots. In particular, protesters used Whatsapp to coordinate messages about meeting in one place at once. The app FireChat, which allows users to communicate through bluetooth and cellphone radio through mesh networking in a nearby chat, was used when authorities tried to shut down mobile networks and cut off internet networks. This meant that as long as phones remained in range with other, there was no way for authorities to prevent flow of messages apart from physically seizing phones. Only on September 29 FireChat users in Hong Kong were involved in 800,000 chat session and these were only the ones that were trackable. The company who owns FireChat in fact could only witness users who were online but once they wen off the grid, the actual number of people communicating was unguessable. More than 100,000 only in the first day had downloaded the app, with people using both for communication and to remain in contact with their families, as many of the early protesters were young people from the student community.
In protests like 2014 Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution the Internet, convergent technologies and social media not only offer a powerful tool to fuel initiative, aggregation and coordination but also creates a window onto this events: if repression, censorship, violence from governments against its own citizens do happen, the entire world would be watching.
Occupy Wall Street
The so-called Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest movement began in the late summer of 2011 in the Zuccotti Park, located in New York´s financial district and was mainly driven by online activism. The movement, which called for an end to the worldwide social and economic inequality and challenged the amount of corporate influence on government, increased its global attention and participation through the usage of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
As the movement occurred, the international banking and finance crisis belongs to the past since almost three years and the Arab Spring was running for nearly six months. Among others, those events can be determined as influencing factors of the protest emergence. Kalle Lasn, executive editor of the Canadian, anti-consumerist, pro-environment magazine Adbusters, initiated the call for the first protest on September, 17, in the Wall Street district via Twitter. Nearly 5000 activists attended but the police pretended them to bore their way to the finance district's Wall Street. Nevertheless, the opponents succeeded in arranging a camp in the nearby Zuccotti park which from then on functions as the base of the protests. The movement´s call for a more fairly tax system and diminution of the gap between rich and poor was supported by the slogan “We are the 99%“. This referred to income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population that was stated by the economist und former chief economist of the World Bank, Joseph E. Stiglitz, a few months before. This first actions in September did not receive a large media or public attention. That changed on October, 1, as the police arrested more than 700 activists because of traffic obstruction during a demonstration that should lead over the Brooklyn Bridge. This intervention causes a worldwide reaction and a large media coverage which can be seen as the breakthrough of the movement. In the following the movement swapped over to other countries all over the world. On October, 15 European movement activists from Madrid called for worldwide demonstrations as they claimed for an extension of the movements claims on the international bank and finance level. Finally, they achieved it to encourage people in more than 82 countries to join and support the occupy movement in less than one month. The movement could not achieve a noticeable change as the objective reasons are not solved until now.
As described in Organisation/Mobilisation by Sandor Vegh, the movement was partially but most importantly based on social networks to mobilise its activists for the off-line actions. Peter Dahlgren points out significant advantages or key tools as those platforms served the extent that occupies reach to other locations and turns out to become a component that facilitated an extensive web-based engagement, with much discussion or global linkage.
By this, the usual kind of social media content consumer shifts to a “producer”, as they are consuming information of the social media platforms but also produce own content user-generated content. The sharing of YouTube content via Twitter or Facebook and the sharing of current cell phone footage as well as historical archive materials were central to the developed social media practices. From Septmeber, 17 to October, 10 the platform Twitter generated the following traffic.
At the end of October “approximately 70,000 results, including contributions from the OWS movement itself, as well as groups and individuals across a vast global political spectrum” were yielded on YouTube.
Nevertheless, Dahlgren reveals that the actions of those political producers are involved in a continual process of adaptation while the user often ‘fast freeze’ the definitions of the mainstream. ” Based on this phenomenon, the critic of the activism being less effective arises due to the fact the most of the activism remains to “clicktivism” or “slacktivism”. This argument of the activism lose in the actual activism movement was reinforced as the Occupy Wall Street movement has not produced the anticipated results.
Collective Action Dilemma
Howard Rheingold, born in Phoenix, Arizona, is a critic, writer, and teacher who specialises on the cultural, social and political implications of media communication such as the internet. He attended Reed College where he began his studied of his lifelong fascination with mind augmentation and its methods. In his book Smart Mobs, he talks about the developments of the internet and he addresses the idea of Collective Action Dilemma, particularly in Chapter two: Technologies of Cooperation. He states that Mizuko Ito enable him to understand different behaviours regarding teenage groups and the use of mobile phones. He wanted to know how this type of activity could mean for entire societies, and so the majority of the chapter is based on a conversation he had with friend and colleague Marc Smith. He defines the Collective Action action dilemma as the perpetual balancing of self-interest and public goods. It’s a situation which would benefit many individuals but various factors such as cost and space prevent it from happening to one individual. The ideal situation is then that the cost is shared amongst others and creates a balance between this and public goods, which is a resource from that all can benefit from, regardless of whether they help create it or not. Public goods increase in value the more people share them.
He also states that people who enjoy a public good without contributing anything towards it are called free riders. Rheingold quotes Smith who describes more about free riders: “If everyone, acting in their own interest, free rides, then the public good is never created, or it is over consumed and goes away. Everyone suffers. There’s your dilemma. What’s good for you can be bad for us."
Elinor Ostrom studied the way that people shared forestry in Japan and pasturelands in Sweden. Rheingold states in Smart Mobs that she defined eight ‘design principles’ of Common Pool Resources (CPRS’s)
|Group boundaries clearly defined||Rules governing use of collective goods matched to local needs||Most individuals affected by rules play part in modification||Rights of community to devise own rules accepted by Government|
|Community undertake monitoring to ensure rules are adhered to||Graduated system of sanctions used||Community have access to low cost conflict resolution mechanisms||CPRs in larger systems provision, monitoring and conflict resolutions are organised in multiple layers of nested enterprises|
These cope with free riding and have since been expanded to include a number of additional variables believed to affect the success of self-organised governance systems.
Privacy on digital media
In an increasingly digital world, privacy is becoming a thing of the past. True privacy in the traditional sense, in the "real" or "physical" world is something that a lot of people strive for and previously were able to achieve. However, with the introduction of the internet we are given the illusion of privacy but seldom do we actually get it.
On the internet everything we do is tracked, all our information is stored and can be brought back at any point. Even if the user tries to delete it. Everything from our locations to our shopping habits is tracked and stored, and can be bought by companies. Although many users prefer not to be private at all and see digital media as a great outlet to publically post about their lives, many users who feel like they have the option in actual fact do not. Privacy online has become something of an oxymoron because the two are completely incompatible with each other, this topic in the following sections will go on to describe how users cannot achieve real privacy in any form online.
Privacy rights and Awareness of Privacy Settings
When you are online, you tend to provide information about yourself almost every step of the way; this might range from your name to your address. The information you provide online is one similar to a puzzle with pieces of information that need to be connected before the full picture is revealed, for example, information you may provide when signing up to Facebook may be combined with information you may give when online shopping. When this information is all gathered together you may be surprised at how much one person can find out about you.
Global surveillance disclosures triggered a debate about the right to privacy in the digital age so it seems relevant that our privacy rights are explored in greater detail.
In one way or another we are all concerned with our privacy and our privacy rights online, as we all have aspects of our life we want to protect from others. So much so that it has become a fundamental human right and we have a duty to protect our rights. This article gives an in depth understanding of our privacy rights online.
In order to get an understanding of our privacy rights online it is important to consider the following things:
Social Networking- how do we utilise privacy settings in order to improve or distort our public selves
The three main ways in which you are likely to access the Internet are as follows; An ISP, a mobile phone carrier or a Wi-Fi hotspot. Every computer that is connected to the Internet has a unique IP address (Internet Protocol Address) and it is that number that actually allows you to send and receive information over the Internet. When you visit a website, the site can see your IP address which can in turn let the site know your geographical region. Moreover, there are ways in which you can block your IP address such as the website Tor Project
Furthermore, as technology is continuing to advance many of us now access the Internet via our smartphones. In this way you access the Internet using a data plan, which is tied to your phone service (Vodaphone, Three, T-Mobile). Your phone provider collects data about your usage. Wi-Fi hotspots present serious security issues and it is crucial the terms and conditions are read before you set up a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Using Search Engines
Search Engines such as Google and Yahoo have the ability to track each and every one of your searches. They have the ability to record your IP address, the time of the search and the search terms used. Major search engines have weighed in on this debate by saying IP addresses need to be accessed in order to provide a better service and to combat fraud quickly and effectively. Google and Yahoo have now shorted the time they store this information from one year to 9 months.
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that “does not collect or share personal information” so there are other options available to us if you are concerned about your IP address bring tracked. They are not widely talked about though so if you didn’t know about them you probably didn’t think sites like DuckDuckGo ever existed.
Using Mobile Apps
Mobile Apps can collect all sorts of data and transmit it to the app maker or third party advertisers, which can then be shared or even sold. By installing an app you are allowing it to access certain data on your phone. Obviously, the first question, which many people ask is what data does it collect? These answers would normally be on the privacy terms and conditions, however, many mobile apps do not provide these terms and conditions. The data collected can include things such as; your phone contacts, call logs, Internet data etc.
What do the majority of us all have in common? If you are one of the hundreds of millions of people using social networks, then there is a strong chance that you are linked to them through an online relationship. The information you share with your contacts online completely depends on you. However, you cannot control what other people do with the information you post online, and it is this secondary use of information that is posted online that is a major problem.
This website http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/05/21/teens-social-media-and-privacy/ goes into detail about the percentage of Facebook users that actually use their privacy settings and how aware of them they are.
By adjusting the privacy settings on your social media accounts to the highest level it can limit the amount of information leaked by secondary users, however, it does not stop it altogether. This brings up some debates surrounding how we utilise our privacy settings online to maybe improve the image of ourselves. For example, our online identity may be narrative or it may be real, online presence seems to construct a story of us but in many ways it also portrays a real view of ourselves. We need to ask ourselves, do our actual identities align with our online identities? Or do we utilise the privacy settings to to create a narrative of our life.
Facebook Tagging and Facial Recognition
One thing that social media users may be unaware of is that by tagging people in photographs on Facebook, many users may be unaware that not only are they making the pictures visible to an increasingly wide audience, but also helping to contribute to Facebook’s database and improve facial recognition technology. Not only an invasion of privacy to many, but an abuse of people’s understanding when it comes to the repercussions of tagging, which are not made clear to users. This application of cognitive surplus, using the by-products of social media users seemingly harmless tagging, is contributing on a wider scale to invasions of people’s privacy and private spheres on a global scale. By (for the most part unwittingly) assisting Facebook to improve facial recognition technology in this way, it becomes increasingly likely that the online activity of individuals may become interconnected against their knowledge or wish, through what they are tagged in. Tagging could also become automated which would take away part of the control the user has over how their image is displayed in the public sphere.
The ability for such technology to recognise a person from a single picture  could lead to individuals being searched online at random by someone who may, for instance, pass them in the street and snap a photograph. Putting this on the internet could bring up any amount of connected personal information they may have shared online, bringing the concern for safety and privacy offline as well. Management of settings or the ability to opt out can always curb these things but the lack of communication between providers and users is the main issue here- many are most likely unaware of how their activity may impact themselves and their circle in the near future, because this information is not widely circulated and is certainly not common knowledge despite the number of people it affects worldwide.
Beyond facial recognition even is the growing ability for Facebook to recognise and suggest tags for people by other characteristics such as their hair, their clothes or their body shape. Individuals wishing to keep their physical identity private by declining to share or be tagged in pictures of their face for whatever reason are now having to jump through more hoops to maintain their privacy when they may only want to use the network to reach contacts rather than portray a full image of themselves online.
Data and Traffic Tracking
When using the Internet in the 21st century, individual privacy online is of key importance to users. In a recent study, it was reported that approximately 89% of Internet users are becoming increasingly worried abut their online privacy. However, most individuals do not realise that most of their online activity is tracked through various methods, and that very little online activity is private. Data tracking, otherwise known as Behavioral targeting, is not new, yet;
"Most people have no idea this is going on" - Sharon Goott Nissim, Electronic Privacy Information Center
Websites, companies, and web browsers store personal information in a variety of different methods, and for a number of different reasons. Mostly, this is used to tailor the user's online experience to the things they want to see. However, as the specifics of information collected through these online data tracking methods is rarely publicised outwith the collector, it is difficult to know whether that is all that our personal data is being used for.
Encryption is a form of protection widely used by companies to protect personal data which they collect. Encryption can be used to protect data "at rest", such as information stored on computers, storage devices, and mobile phones. Encrypting personal data which is at rest in online storage helps protect it should any physical security measures fail.
Encryption is also used to protect data in transit, for example data being transferred via networks, e.g. the Internet, e-commerce, mobile telephones, Bluetooth devices and bank automatic teller machines.
This method of protection is now commonly used in protecting information within many kinds of civilian systems. For example, the Computer Security Institute reported that in 2007, 71% of companies surveyed utilized encryption for some of their data in transit, and 53% utilized encryption for some of their data in storage.
Cookies are small bits of data which are collected and stored by websites, web browsers, and social media sites whilst the user is browsing. Each time a user logs on to an account or clicks onto a website, the browser sends the cookie back to the server to notify the user's previous activity. Cookies were originally designed to tailor users online experience, by allowing websites to remember important pieces of information about their activity. Cookies can also store passwords and form content a user has previously entered, such as a credit card number or an address; for example, Google AutoFill and similar tools are powered by cookie storage.
From cookie storage came the development of advertising tracking and advertising recommendations. By analysing the stored data of what websites individuals look at online, what they put in their shopping baskets on Amazon etc., and what pages they like on Facebook, sites such as search engines and Facebook are able to promote certain products which they think the user would buy/enjoy, based on this previous activity.
All of these methods blur the distinction between public and private spheres online. What individuals deem as 'private browsing' is, in most cases, not truly private. Individuals private browsing history, then seems to bleed into what are deemed as public domains, such as Facebook News Feed's and 'Recommended' YouTube videos. Although it is only the individual who can see things such as Advert Recommendations, it outwardly appears to be public as it is on a public medium. Not only that, but the fact that individuals browsing activity is already stored and shared by companies in the first place makes this information somewhat public.
Tags and Privacy: How They Shape Online Performance
On the internet, tagging can mean a lot of different things, but is generally used as a way to link different pieces of information to either certain topics, or specific people. The most famous use of tagging is from Twitter with hashtags going viral, but there's also using tagging to gain visibility and therefore increasing how "public" a person or their content is. Tagging and Privacy settings are often conflicting each other, as one is used to gain attention and the other is used to get less attention, especially from the public.
Tagging represents an online connection between people and a digital relationship or aquaintance is made. This is a common feature of multiple social media platforms and acts as a way to bring users together and provides interaction. However, privacy can be a barrier for this interaction, limiting the content allowed on pages and the types of people accessing it.
Tagging is one of the basic features used in social media. Facebook uses this tagging element to enhance the feature and interaction with other users. This commonly used feature of Facebook helps users to feel part of something rather than a sole user. Social media can create a different identity of ourselves and can "negotiate social boundaries".
Tagging represents an online connection between users and is seen to create social acceptance. Tags automatically involves
other people and so this photo/video/status appears across all the pages. However, this is where tagging can be very problematic. One user has control over the content being displayed and have the power to select the users to be tagged and the caption to go along with the content. The structure of technologies (their function and availability) can impact on our own self image and the world we live in.
Through tagging people can build up a persona online from the perspective of multiple other people, and it can often conflict with - and contradict - the persona and image that they are trying to create online themselves.
This factor of Facebook denies the users tagged any ability to control the image for example posted. However, Facebook does have a setting which users can approve the content being posted to their page, but Facebook does not promote this setting as it almost defies the use of the application.
Simply by including a tag in a picture, it creates opportunities to go viral. Whether a tag of a friend or a celebrity, this picture has the chance to be seen by a wider range of people. This is where the issue of publicity and privacy is introduced. Although a profile is private, a picture can be seen and available across platforms. This brings about the question - are we private even though we can be seen across many different pages because of a tag?
A tag also represents - for a user being tagged by someone else - a non mediated self. Since the image is controlled by one central user, all others tagged in a photo display a non selective version of themselves; one which could be different from the image shown by themselves. A digital photograph on social media can present a past experience, can be retold and can be an expression of our own identity. This creates an alternative and most likely more realistic image of a person online, breaking a barrier of them being so 'perfect' and 'idealistic'. This begins to create more judgements across social media and as Sherry Turkle says: "the risk that we come to see others as objects to be accessed".
In terms of online performance, this is affected in many different ways.
Tagging can either create a positive or negative effect on online performance. This reaction by the user is interesting to understanding the users’ morals but also identity.
Individual's personal profiles are mediated and carefully selected by them, in order to created a desired self. Any one 'tag' could alter the image and persona that the individual is trying to create online. Since tags are controlled by others, it alters the shape of online performance, as it may not have censored certain things that the individual does not want to appear online.
This online performance takes two sides:
- Desired image - one side of who is desired by others and a 'positive' image controlled by us.
- 'Real life' image - tags and posts by others which represent a more realistic, different side.
Privacy can create an inactive performance. It can limit the features of the app and so affects overall online activity and performance of users. Conventions on social media create boundaries of acceptable content.
Tagging could also be seen to be gendered as in an experiment on tagging in college students revealed women were higher than men for posting/tagging pictures and for comments.
Online performance is structured around activity which mainly involves tagging. Being private creates boundaries around Facebook's function and so when tagging is limited; the profile is less believable and appreciated.
With the majority of Twitter users being between 18–34 years of age and with a graduate degree  there seems to be a particular niche in who uses this form of media.
Trending on Twitter is used as a way of making other users see what is most talked about at that current time. Hash tags are used by users and if enough of the public all use the particular hash tag this creates a topic that is trending. Often these trends tend to be issues relating to the relevant lives of the people who have Twitter accounts such as shared experiences and events they are currently experiencing. Sometimes new words or phrases can be brought about through hash tagging if a hash-tag is particularly successful such as throwback Thursday where users reminisce over past memories but this hash tag has become a well known phrase in society. Even a few years ago no one would have known this phrase at all let alone used it as a hash tag. Politics is discussed less where as everyday events, common situations, sports or music tend to be what people are discussing more than in depth politics where opinions may be divided. Twitter tends to focus around common interests shared between users to do with entertainment and experiences for their particular niche rather than the discussion of major topics that affect people globally such as current affairs and politics. Users have created Twitter to be a place of entertainment and leisure rather than the use of in depth discussion which is aimed at a particular group of people.
Advertisers also use this hash tag system to their advantage. When Twitter first started advertising did not exist through the site yet today it appears through the live feed between user posts. Advertisers are aware of what is trending through participating in the site and it is a great way for them to get an insight into what people are talking about and the current topics people are taking an interest in and discussing. They can then use this information to target their adverts to the people who will see it and be viewing it specific to their interests. Twitter also organizes its top tweets in preference of its advertising clients rather than tweets that may actually be trending. This search for what is trending is actually not true and is manipulated in that Twitter rate celebrities and well known people get priority over people who are not known in the media and live generally normal lives. Therefore people with economic power will come out on top as the most popular but may not be most popular by true statistics of trending.
Tagging on Tumblr is primarily a way to categorise the content created and posted on the platform. Tumblr posts may include text, photos, audio, and videos, which all can be tagged. These tags are also used when users are searching for specific content, such as pictures of Scotland, so when they search "Scotland", they will see all the posts tagged with #scotland. They can also refine their search so that they can either see the most recent or the most popular post, and to see only one type of post. Tags are found at the bottom of a post, in a smaller grey font from the rest of the text on the post, with a hashtag symbol (#) in front of each tag.
Users can tag their own posts in order to make it searchable on Tumblr. If they don't include any tags, the only people who can see the post are their followers or anyone who knows the url of their blog, which may not be much. Therefore, if a user wants more people to see what they post, tagging their content in popular tags can increase their visibility.
If a user want to see more content with the same tag, they can "track" it. Tracking a tag creates a link on the user's dashboard so they can click that tag at any time to see what's new in the tag. This is similar to subscribing or following a tag rather than a person or a blog. This is often used for the user's own username to see if anyone's mentioned them in a post, or if a user is particularly invested in a fandom and wish to see everything that is being posted about that fandom. If someone is particularly active on a tag, they may gain followers, if not just attention, which in turn makes them more public.
People also can also create an uncommon tags if they only want to see specific things, or have a way of grouping a series of posts together. For example, if a group of users are creating a specific week to create lots of posts about something, such as an underappreciated movies, they will create a tag that no one else has used, like #underapreciatedcharacterweek, and everyone will post their content using that tag. This way, all those posts are in one place for easy access and increased visibility.
Tags are also used to organise the posts together on a user's blog so they can have easy access to them later, such as #selfies and #personal post, or even more specific, like a Disney-themed blog would have a page with a link to all the tags for the different movies and characters.
Users with private, password protected blogs can also tag their posts so they can easily search through their own blog, but their posts will not show up on anyone's dashboard or in the Tumblr tag search. A user with a public blog but making a private post can also tag it for their own reference, but no other user will see it on their dashboard, when they search for that tag, or when they go onto that user's public blog.
Tags can also be used to blacklist certain types of posts. A software extension is needed for this since Tumblr does not provide the ability to blacklist specific tags. Creating a blacklist prevents posts with these tags from showing up on their dashboards, but not other people's blogs. This is often used for possible "triggers" for people with certain fears or trauma, but also for things like spoilers or negative opinions. Although, as stated, Tumblr itself doesn't have a feature that lets users blacklist specific tags, it does use the #NSFW (Not safe/suitable for work) tag in order to filter what will show up in the safe search option. Additionally, if a user searches negative tags, such as #depression, users will see a message offering them advice and support instead of allowing them to view a huge array of negative posts that could potentially worsen their wellbeing.
In 2014, Tumblr introduced a new way to "tag" other users in posts, calling them "mentions". Now, instead of adding a hyperlink to their blog and tagging them in the bottom of the post and hoping they check the tag to see it (or sending them a personal message about it), users can type a username with an @ in front, and they will get a special notification that they have been mentioned in a post. Users often use this to show funny or important posts to their friends instead of sending them the link to the post, or if they are giving "shoutouts" or promoting specific users to their followers.
Instagram is a mobile social network platform mainly used and intended for the online sharing of photographs and videos. Users are capable of sharing their contents publically and privately, changing the security settings on the app. With over 300 million users as of December 2014, there are immense amounts of content generated every day, and must be administrated in some way.
Tagging on Instagram can be used in three ways: much like on Facebook, users can tag other users on their own photographs, and mention them on post’s comments so other users receive a notification and can view the same post: and much like on Tumblr, a user can tag a post by assigning it to a category related to what they are posting about, using the hashtag (‘#’, hence ‘tag’) symbol.
The first two ways of tagging mentioned have got more to do with the online social communication aspect of Instagram. Tagging someone who appears on a photograph will show up on their personal account, (under the section ‘photos of [username]’). This can be very controversial, since it can result in both positive and negative effects.
A user’s online performance can be very influential on their personal life and mental health, and since Instagram is specifically an online photo-sharing service, it focuses largely around personal image in most cases. There is a certain self-management and management of the online performance in order to not create any negative images and representations of the self. Because of this, many users have felt the need to digitally modify and manipulate images of themselves. However, when a someone uploads a photograph of another user (usually without their explicit permission) and tags them on it, they are stripping them off of every right to edit their appearance and shape their own online identity in concordance to how they wish to be perceived by others.
Since photographs are not always a realistic representation of the physical self, some photographs might largely deviate from the desired public image and online identity that a user may have. This can usually create many issues for users; mental health issues like anxiety, depression or self-loathing, as well as other issues that can also be indirectly damaging to one’s mental health, like cyberbullying (see 1.7.4) .
On the contrary, being tagged on someone’s photograph or tagging another user on one’s own can broaden an individual’s social circle and enhance their own personal experience in photo-sharing with this app.
The search function for tags on Instagram was meant to be used in a certain way in order to connect with people who have the same interests. For example, tagging a photograph with #sunset will appear on the tag’s own feed and therefore will be shown to people searching the same tag. Usually, this is how users can discover and ‘follow’ people that share the same interest in sunsets. However, with the growing popularity of Instagram, it’s abundance of daily content and the cultural desire of being popular within the platform (which is usually measured in terms of ‘likes’ and ‘followers’), users have developed new ways of getting in other user’s feeds and creating the opportunity of gaining more popularity.
This is usually through the misuse of tagging. In order to get as much visibility on their post as possible, users have wrongly tagged their photographs with tags that are not related to the content they are posting. These tags are usually “trending”, that is, many users within the Instagram community have used it recently and consequently the page for the tag has a larger viewing audience, (like for example, tagging a photograph or a ‘selfie’ with the tag ‘#oscars’ during the Academy Awards will create a higher chance for users to see and ‘like’ a picture and perhaps ‘follow’ the user, rather than tagging it with a more unusual, less visited tag). Users can find out which tags are trending by searching a specific tag, and Instagram shows the exact amount of photographs tagged with it, or through specific websites or apps (like Instag) that list the trending tags. This abuse has created a rather crowded environment in the tagging service of the app and an ‘information overload’, which consequently dilutes the desired content within each tag when searched, and generates an inconvenient photo-sharing experience in the app’s search function. This is also a problem on other social media platforms mentioned, like Tumblr and Twitter.
Nothing Created or Destroyed
|“||The Internet's not written in pencil, Mark, it's written in ink.||”|
The Internet is enormous and ever-changing. So much information is floating around on the web and sometimes it is not wanted. Sometimes it is taken without permission or used out of context. With such a vast amount of information, it is all but impossible to try and control it, especially on a personal level. It takes whole governments to try and contain, remove, or censor online information, and even then it does not totally work. An example of someone failing to control what happens on the internet is Barbara Streisand. She tried to sue a photographer to have a photo of her house taken off the internet and the result was an explosion of copies, re-posts, and mirrors of that photo being spread all over the internet, effectively making it impossible to get rid of. This became known as the Streisand Effect and is an example of the volatile and uncontrollable nature of the web.
The average young person spends up to 27 hours per week on the Internet . The result of this huge amount of time spent on the Internet is an equally large digital footprint, meaning that most people nowadays cannot escape leaving their mark on the Internet. The average person spends most of their time on the Internet on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. These sites have become huge hubs of information with over 500 million tweets being posted each day. Many see these websites as a harmless way to communicate with friends and family, however posting too much information on these websites can be dangerous. As they may appear to give you the option to delete posts as you please, nothing on the Internet is ever fully removed and the digital footprints that we leave stay there forever.
With that in mind, one has to distinguish between:
1. two kind of information sharing with
- the companies, providing the wanted service, in order to be able to create an account and to use the platforms and the connected services - often the contact details are mandatory and it is in our interest.
- circle of acquaintances, e.g. on Facebook, where one can actively create the online identity, or via messaging services to stay connected via interpersonal interaction.
2. and two types of shared information
- with our consents, meaning we actively decide to share the information by typing them into a form for instance, or
- without our knowledge via tracking of the companies providing the platforms I use - this also contains individual-related surfing habits, transactions and connection data. Hence they can create an online profile about us e.g. about our likings via our "online fingerprint".
Sherry Turkle  talks about people forgetting how much of a footprint we leave behind as we browse the internet "the experience of being at ones computer or cell phone feels so private we could easily forget our own circumstance: with every connection we leave an electronic trace". Most of us happily give over information to websites like Facebook and Twitter when signing up, however what we do not realise is the information that is gathered from us as we move around the internet, without us realising it at all. Our information is sold to large companies often without our consent or without us even knowing about it, this is why for example if you have been browsing an online shop you will find advertisements for that shop popping up all over the internet as you browse. Facebook does this often and specifically tailors the advertisements on it's page to you and what you look at when you use the internet.
All this information is stored, partly for commercial and market research purpose, but also partly due to data retention laws and they are saved by many parties such as DSL providers (i.e. Vodafone), applications (i.e. Google Chrome Browser), devices and operating systems (i.e. Apple's iphone and iOS) and finally websites (i.e. Facebook). En plus through the data retention law the government has access to part of this information amount for many years; thereby the methods for crime solving shall be enhanced, but at the same time everyone is any time under general suspicion of having committed a crime.
Even if there are also laws about deletion of personal data, as the example above shows, information online can never truly be deleted. With this in mind it raises the question if there really is such a thing as privacy in the digital world. Even users who choose to remain anonymous and can be traced back using their IP address meaning that, when it comes to the internet and everything digital the traditional ideas of privacy are non existent.
An example of this is the Ashley Madison Data Breach, Ashley Madison was a site in which users were able to conduct and organise affairs. The website retained every users personal information, which included all of their real names and details as users used fake names. This website was hacked and all of the private details of the users were released and made available to the public. Users of the site truly believed that their personal information was protected and so was their privacy, but with this and with most other cases on the internet private information is never truly private, and can be obtained and released very easily.
Anonymity in the Private Sphere
Online communication on the Internet is commonly described as 'anonymous' when users do not post any personal details, and often use a username instead. There are many different levels of anonymity (lack of identifiability, visual anonymity and dissociation of online and real identities), that are thought to have different components of interpersonal motivation, which are able to influence self-conception. Morio and Buchholz (2009)  have suggested that someone can essentially become a different person by creating a new online identity, allowing space to create and adopt different values and personalities, and even, in some cases, a new age, gender or race. Luppicini and Lin (2012) argue that this is because “online anonymity allows there to be (in varying degrees) a dissociation of real and online identities where someone’s online behaviours are not directly tied to that person’s physical self”. Due to this type of dissociation, there is usually less accountability for how users behave online in comparison to how they behave in their ‘real’ lives.
Social media platforms like Tumblr, YouTube, Twitter and Yik Yak can be said to belong in the private sphere of digital media, due to the fact that these websites mainly operate with the use of a username, and so a user does not necessarily need to give away any of their personal details. These websites have become largely popular among its audiences because users find a certain type of reassurance on keeping their ‘real’ identities private by hiding behind a username.
The use of anonymity in online platforms has subsequently created one of the largest (and on-going) problematic conundrums in the social use of present day Internet, resulting in positive and negative outcomes. An anonymous online identity can be empowering for a user because it allows them to explore the depths and different aspects of their own identity, occupy different social roles and positions and embrace their own diversity in ways that might be impossible to realise in real life. On the other hand, online anonymity can also lead to many problematic issues like cyberbullying, information and identity theft, 'catfishing' and defamation. The following sections will explore the positive and negative aspects of online anonymity in more detail.
Freedom of Expression in Private Spheres of Social Media
As mentioned above, some social media platforms belong in the private sphere due to the fact that users may choose to remain anonymous, and operate through the website while using a username. This can possibly motivate users to ‘speak their minds’ and publically express (while remaining anonymous) their passions and interests, and personal opinions on a specific topic of choice. While some individuals might be demotivated to do so in public spheres (like Facebook) because they might fear contributing to a type of information overload, where they could flood other user’s feed with their lengthy posts, or because they might fear if their public identity and image might suffer if given certain opinions, the anonymity of private social media platforms might encourage users to write without holding back.
It is quite interesting to compare how both types of platforms (public and private) can motivate or mute an individual’s expression. It is also known that some artist social media users feel more comfortable with posting their artwork in websites like Tumblr or Deviantart due to the fact that their contribution will remain completely anonymous. In terms of artistic abilities, an individual can be particularly sensitive to critical evaluation and exposure, especially if they are still in the earlier still-developing artistic stages of their own skills. For this reason, users might feel too shy or insecure to upload this type of very personal content into public social networks like Facebook, where they might feel like open visibility to all of their friends might be too much exposure.
Uploading this type of content on public networks can also contribute to an individual’s anxiety due to the ‘liking’ concept; where they can become obsessed with a number and with the thought that ‘likes’ are equivalent to an individual’s worth. On the other hand, this can also be applied to private social networking platforms like Tumblr, because most of social media platforms nowadays operate with the use of ‘likes’, ‘followers’ and ‘shares/reblogs’. However, it can also be argued that an anonymous user (through a username) liking or commenting on an individual’s post is certainly less impacting and less personal than an individual’s personal profile doing the same thing. Because of the fact that no one necessarily knows anything of a user from their username alone, it feels less so like a person evaluating an individual’s creative work.
It is also interesting to link this to David Gauntlett’s  work on ‘Web 2.0’ , where he states that Web 2.0 is ‘harnessing the collective abilities of the members of an online network, to make an especially powerful resource or service. But thinking beyond the Web, it may also be valuable to consider Web 2.0 as a metaphor, for any collective activity which is enabled by people’s passions and becomes something greater than the sum of its parts.’  This way we can understand the idea behind the desire for users to contribute in private spheres of social media in regards to their own interests; to feel part of a larger community which may form a part of their identity.
Altered Narratives of the Self
An individual’s online behavioural patterns and online performance tend to deviate largely when in the private sphere in contrast to when in the public. Depending on the website or social network being used, a media consumer will create and manage a different narrative or identity to adjust to how they would like to be seen within the platform’s society. Because of this, one could argue that different online platforms are made of different societal norms and have a certain appeal to a specific target audience; therefore, a specific type of behavioural pattern is expected from each user. This is also enhanced by the privacy each platform within the private sphere provides. Social media networks like Tumblr and YouTube  operate with usernames (unlike Facebook), providing the option for users to completely remain in anonymity by only using a username (or in case of Tumblr, a URL ), instead of giving away any of the user’s personal details. It is important to note that, while users do have the complete liberty to give away their personal details if they wish to do so, it is a rather unpopular mode of action since most users find a larger appeal and a certain type of reassurance in staying completely anonymous with the use of a username.
Having this type of liberty in terms of self-management and online identification and expression have lead to many different usages of anonymous narratives in social media.
The Private sphere as an empowering tool for self-identification.
|“||We judge on the basis of what somebody looks like; skin colour, whether we think they’re beautiful or not. That space on the Internet allows you to converse with somebody with none of those things involved.||”|
An anonymous online identity can be very beneficial in terms of self-exploration and self-identification. It can be an empowering tool for individuals to embrace their diversity and explore the identity they are most comfortable identifying themselves with, or as Gies (2008) writes, “ anonymous online settings are empowering because they facilitate identity exploration, or occupying identity positions which may be difficult to occupy in real life”.
Because there is a lack of identifiability, users can feel free to explore their own personal identities (like sexual orientation and gender) and interests without the pressure that usually comes with the public sphere of digital media and maintaining a public image with its open exposure to the public. Martin Heidegger argued that it is only in the private sphere that one can be one's authentic self, as opposed to the impersonal and identikit They of the public realm. It is also important to understand that different types of social media audiences shape an individual’s online identity. While, for example, on public social media like Facebook an individual’s audience tends to be their ‘friends’ (which can be constructed of actual friends, family and acquaintances), on private social media like Tumblr the audience can be composed mainly of strangers. This creates a more comfortable sharing environment because of the minimal intensity of the public sphere’s exposure. While someone could be more comfortable exploring their sexual orientation in a private, anonymous platform, it is highly improbable that they would feel comfortable doing so openly to, for instance, family members. It is also very common to not reveal an individual’s username in private spheres of digital media to friends and family. While some people do share this, it is most likely shared to an audience they trust deeply, like close friends, rather than, for instance, a parent.
On the other hand, Turkle (1996) noted that the Internet allows individuals to hide parts of their identity which could lead to discrimination (for example, race or gender). Due to the visual anonymity that social media within the private sphere provides to its users, key features to one’s personal identity are not always visible, or rather, not necessarily (unless the user has specifically chosen to share them). This can create a more accepting environment for users, particularly in the case of exploring one's identity without being pulled back by stereotypes associated with certain identities, perhaps to do with gender, race or sexual orientation. However, it could also be argued that this can have negative psychological impacts on an individual's state of mind in regards to their own identity; having different public reactions when showing different aspects of an identity than when showing none might have discriminatory connotations and could motivate an individual to feel ashamed of their identity.
Idealised versions of the self and Alter Egos in the Private Sphere
While pressures to maintain a specific online identity are more common in public spheres (like for example, pressures to ‘prove’ one’s social life and reassuring one’s role within a social circle, and pressures to create an acceptable and aesthetically pleasing impression of an individual’s physical identity), a user of a private sphere social media can also form idealised versions of themselves. Because all that an audience needs to necessarily know about each user is a username, they could become anyone they have always wanted to be.
When adopting an anonymous online identity there is a type of dissociation of an individual’s real and online identities. This way, they have absolute freedom to create an identity and ‘perform’ themselves online how they want to be seen, without this identity being associated with their physical selves.
An interesting aspect of this dissociation would be the use of alter egos in social media. While at a first glance could seem like a public profile that belongs to the public sphere, the original user (and therefore, the real identity) remains anonymous, and more often than not, completely dissociated from it. This way, it can be argued that alter egos blur the boundaries between public and private spheres, since an individual can never know for certain if the identity presented online is an individual’s ‘real’ identity rather than an alter ego.
The most recent and relevant example of the use of an alter ego to blur the lines between public and private spheres would be in the case of Instagram star Amalia Ulman . Ulman created and performed in a staged social media experiment, where she created the alter ego of a girl perusing the dream of becoming an ‘It girl’ in Los Angeles. Her performed self had dyed blond hair and a stylish wardrobe, underwent breast-enlargement surgery and was self-consumed and narcissistic. After months of continuous posting and gaining of followers, Ulman announced the reality of her performance by uploading one last picture captioned ‘the end’. When confronted her experience, she says:
"Everything was scripted. I spent a month researching the whole thing. There was a beginning, a climax and an end. I dyed my hair. I changed my wardrobe. I was acting: it wasn’t me.”
Another example of creating an idealised version of oneself is through virtual reality. Users of a virtual reality website or online social platform often have to create a character of sorts that replicates and tries to imitate their personal selves, known as their avatar. Due to an individual's natural desire for aesthetic perfection, they tend to design these avatars as idealised or perfected versions of themselves. These avatars later interact with other user's avatars and people usually tend to take the visual representations of said avatars as a very realistic representation of how the individual's physical self might resemble. This can create many problematic issues, like affecting user's expectations of real life beauty making them unrealistic (which could lead to problems associated with mental health problems and sexism) and catfishing.
Catfishing is when an individual uses deceiving techniques in order to adopt a different identity (through identity theft, usually by posting another person's photograph as their own and pretending to look that way physically). The modern term originates from the 2010 American documentary Catfish. The usual purpose for this is to engage in an online romantic relationship with someone else across the Internet. Reasonings behind this include self-loathing of one's physical appearance, attempting to increase the number of potential love candidates by increasing the physical aesthetic appeal and presenting it as their own identity and/or other psychological reasons.
Because public social networking sites are so popular and more often than not they provide a realistic representation of one's true self, a large majority of people are likely to trust and believe in the reality value of a public profile if it meets the following expectations;
- A numerous or acceptable quantity of pictures of the same individual
- A large number of these pictures that seem personal or have been taken by themselves (for example, 'selfies' ) and with other social media users
- A large social circle of friends (which all seem to meet the above as well)
However, because of the numerous personal pictures of many different individuals available online (which can be found with a simple google images search), it can be extremely easy to create a fake online social network profile. This way it can be argued that there can always be anonymity in the public spheres of social media, since there can never be real proof or a real reassurance of someone's online identity being their 'real' identity.
Anonymity in Help Forums
When using any medium online, not only social or digital media platforms, it can become obvious that any degree of anonymity afforded to a group or an individual can alter their behaviour, causing them to present themselves differently to how they may when they bear their real name or personal details, and this can be both positive and negative. One manifestation of the help forum where anonymity is a key element is any one of a number of mental health chat forums, where individuals can anonymously and confidentially seek help, advice or just to feel they have someone who will listen to them, and have a trained professional on the receiving end to assist them. The anonymity in this instance is crucial as visitors to these sites may feel ashamed, embarrassed or insecure about their issues to the point that they cannot communicate with or seek help from those around them, or talk to a local healthcare professional for fear of, for example, family members becoming involved. They are there to provide support to anyone who cannot seek it anywhere else due to time or money restraints, or if they are perhaps part of a culture that is not very supportive of mental health issues. The anonymity encourages users to be more open and honest, and helps them to receive the specific support they may require.
Traditional help and advice forums such as Yahoo Answers work simply by users around the world, with usernames or pseudonyms and cartoon avatars as their icons, asking questions and in turn helping others. This model can also more recently be seen in the social media application and website YikYak, where anonymity is not optional to users, and the default feed presented is of content posted by users within a certain geographical radius. Users have the option to ‘peek’ at other locations around the world but posting and replying is limited to the local area. It was developed for college and university campuses in America as an anonymous way to interact with peers about local events or news, but has subsequently been banned and restricted from school campuses with younger pupils due to bullying.
Though it may not necessarily be the intended function nor the primary use of YikYak, advice seeking and provision is nonetheless present on the site. Amongst the humorous observations, jokes and other relatable content, users can take the opportunity to seek the opinions, wisdom or support of those around them, widening their online social sphere without letting anyone in. The anonymity afforded by YikYak may also be empowering users with a kind of confidence they may not have online otherwise, and gives them a place to ask questions or express thoughts or feelings they may be afraid or embarrassed to on a platform where they are connected with and known to their peers offline. Questions of health, sexuality, romance, mental illness, and other topics that the individual may not feel comfortable talking about openly elsewhere online are discussed freely, and like those posing the questions, users with answers are also more free to share these, creating a kind of help network. This positive use of anonymity on social media is an example of users extending their private sphere to people they do not know in order to gain or share something, within the public sphere as it is visible to many others in the local area and shared and stored online. The disinhibition experienced by users of YikYak, though, may be hindered by the ever-possible notion that you may be conversing with somebody whom you know in real life and would never dream of discussing such topics with.
Along with genuine requests for help and appropriate answers and discussions, there are inevitably people who use their anonymity for less than favourable reasons and behaviours. Though they do not know who exactly they are targeting, individuals may direct abuse or insults at people regardless of what they may have originally posted, it can be entirely unrelated and unprovoked. The option to hide all content from a specific user is available in the instance of such behaviour but, because of the anonymity and the way commenters are unable to be traced between threads, it is unclear just how many users at one time may be acting in this way; one individual could pose as many, or vice versa. The creation of multiple user names for the purpose of trolling is a similar phenomenon on help forums, where anonymity, though beneficial for some, is used in a negative way in the public sphere while protecting the user’s privacy.
Bullying is a serious social problem. It can happen anywhere at any time, from the workplace to your bedroom, however its all-encompassing reach is only a recent development. Spitzberg and Hoobler have stated that the digital and information revolution has merged into a communications revolution: as a result messages can now reach you anywhere. Therefore the potential for bullying via electronic communications has grown with the advancement of communications and technology.
Cyber bullying is a modern form of bullying usually practiced through electronic or online forms of contact e.g. SMS, Social Media, Youtube. Cyberbullying has been perceived to be worse than traditional bullying for a number of reasons in reference to the consequences for the victim. The consequences can be seen as worse because of the larger audience that may be privy to the abusive content online, for instance leaving a comment on a Youtube video is available to be seen by everyone. Most importantly there is also an increased potential for anonymous bullying online.
|“||An aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself.||”|
Social media websites such as Facebook have the potential to create fake accounts where the bully can anonymously harass their victims. The anonymous nature of the harassment can have a different psychological effect to that of regular bullying upon the recipient due to the insidious nature of abuse. The unknown identity of cyberbullies can cause fear and distraction for the victims and our online privacy is therefore damaged by the anonymous nature of cyberbullying, eliminating the sense of security one can feel online.
The security of hiding behind an online URL or user name also encourages bullying. Aricak’s studies have shown that electronic communications associated with anonymity have been shown to promote cyber bullying behaviour. Tumblr, which has an anonymous messaging service built into the website, confirms these studies due to the many instances of online “hate mail” users receive through the anonymous messaging service. This has become commonly known on the website as “anon hate”.
Cyberbullying exhibits all the characteristics of not having a face-to-face communication/experience – facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice and reactions ect.- which can reduce the emotional responsibility and social accountability the bully would normally experience, this consequently makes them feel less guilty when taking part in vindictive or hostile communications. Additionally, the potential for anonymity online in private and public spheres can produce bullies who would never normally take part in traditional face to face bullying – feeling empowered by their anonymous profiles.
Cyberbullying therefore thrives off the potential for anonymity created by the internet as well as the continued evolution of technology into a more connected age. Even though it may seem less harmful to bully through the cybernetic world in reality it can be far more destructive than traditional bullying invading both our private and public spheres of communications.
Digital self-harm is the act of abusing one-self anonymously online. In 2010 Dr. danah boyd published an online article about "digital self-harm" describing "teens who are self-harassing by 'anonymously' writing mean questions to themselves and publicly answering them" This phenomenon was initially uncovered by the staff at a website, Formspring (now known as Spring.me) which investigated some cyber bullying and found that the alleged victims had actually posted the cruel comments against themselves.
A study by Elizabeth Englander at the Massachusetts Agression Reduction Centre labelled the phenomenon as "Digital Munchausen" as the process undertaken by these teens mirror certain symptoms of the psychiatric disorders Munchausen Syndrome and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. The syndroms primary characteristic is the patients infliction of self-harm in a quest for sympathy, attention and admiration as they attempt to cope with their victimization. In 2011 a study was undertaken that discovered that 9% of teens took part in digital self-harm - making a cruel comment anonymously against themselves or cyber bullying themselves: a higher proportion of boys (13%) admitted to this than did girls (8%). About half of these “digital self-harmers” had done this only once or very infrequently; the other half reported that they had cyber bullied themselves more regularly or had one, ongoing episode which lasted at least several months.