Social Networking Sites: College Students' Patterns of Use and Concerns for Privacy and Trust by Gender, Ethnicity, and Employment Status

Social Networking Sites: College Students' Patterns of Use and Concerns for Privacy and Trust by Gender, Ethnicity, and Employment Status

Lydia Kyei-Blankson, Kamakshi S. Iyer, Lavanya Subramanian
DOI: 10.4018/IJICTE.2016100106
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Social Networking Sites (SNSs) are web-based facilities that allow for social interaction, sharing, communication and collaboration in today's world. In the current study, patterns of use of social media among students at a public Midwestern university are examined. In addition, students were surveyed regarding concerns for privacy and trust and whether concerns differed by gender, ethnicity, employment and relationship status. The survey data gathered from students suggest that students mostly used SNSs from less than one hour to about 3 hours a day and for communication and maintaining relationships. Students also had academic uses for SNSs. Even though concerns for privacy and trust exist, they did not differ by gender, employment and relationship status and students are still willing to use SNSs. The findings from this research have implications for various stakeholders especially instructors who may be considering the use of SNS for academic purposes.
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In the last ten years, the online world has changed dramatically with the advent of Web 2.0 technology and a rapidly evolving field of social media. Today, social media have made our world a smaller place to live in, connecting us virtually through invisible threads. Social media are used by individuals across the globe and in a variety of professional fields and disciplines to expand their network, meet people, and as platforms to provide support to each other. It is important to note that while the terminology of “social media” and “social networking sites” (SNSs) or “social network sites” are used interchangeably by most in the literature, there are some who view social media to encompass social networking sites (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). Yet still, others regard social networking sites to be the umbrella term for all things social media and computer-mediated communication (Davis, Deil-Amen, Rios-Aguilar, & González Canché, 2015).

Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) describe the six types of social media as collaborative projects (e.g., Wikipedia), blogs, content communities (e.g., YouTube), social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), virtual game worlds, and virtual social worlds (e.g., World of Warcraft, Second Life). Trusov, Bucklin, and Pauwels (2009) define social media as web-based facilities that “allow individuals to build a profile identity and generate subjective associations and connections among themselves, and communicate them at a central location” (p. 92). On the other hand, according to Boyd and Ellison (2008), SNSs are a form of computer-mediated communication that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (p 211). SNSs provide a platform via the Internet where people can interact and share their lives using messaging, blogging, and multimedia tools in the form of videos and audio. A number of SNSs media sites are widely used today. These include LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Each of the afore-mentioned tools has their own use. “LinkedIn is for people you know. Facebook is for people you used to know. Twitter is for people you want to know” (Social Media Quotes, n.d.). Key features of SNSs include personal profiles, privacy settings for limiting the amount of personal information one would like to share, and a friend’s list or list of contacts. Boyd (2007) describes the four properties of SNSs as: persistence, searchability, replicability and invisible audiences. Irrespective of one’s preference for terminology- social media or SNSs, the basic point agreed upon by all is that these social technological tools have exploded in the last couple of years and have pervaded the lives and daily practices of millions of users. Perryman (2011) describes social media as a noun and social networking, a verb or doing word. According to Perryman, “Social media websites offer products or services that allow users to social network. Thus, the action of social networking results from individuals using social media to allow people to communicate with each other” (p. 3). Here on, and in the current study, SNSs and social media will be used interchangeably and as an umbrella term for social communication tools used in an online environment.

The motives individuals offer for using SNSs is that they are important modes of social surveillance and peer communication (Arum & Roksa, 2011; Panek, 2013). SNSs help in creating virtual communities that allow for connection and easy communication (Ha & Shain, 2014); eliminating feelings of loneliness and helping enhance social wellbeing and social capital through self-disclosure and social support (Chang, Lin, Lin, Chang, & Chong, 2014; Ellison, Steinfield & Lampe, 2007; Lee, Noh & Koo, 2013). Other positive attributes associated with the use of SNSs include the creation of a more aware, and globally knowledgeable society while negative effects include people losing their privacy, and adopting bad behavior as a result of what they view on other people’s statuses (Fournier, Hall, Ricke & Storey, 2013; Srivastava & Bhardwaj, 2014; Szwedo, Mikami, & Allen, 2012; Westgate, Neighbors, Heppner, Jahn, & Lindgren, 2014). The addictive nature of SNSs in general also goes without mention (Turan, Tinmaz, & Goktas, 2013).

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