The costs of bonding: negotiating personal information disclosure among Millennials and Boomers on Facebook
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Since early 2010, Facebook.com, the world’s most popular social network site (SNS), has come under a storm of media criticism over the commercial use of its users’ personal information. Yet even as more became known about the fact that Facebook sells publicly shared information to companies for advertising purposes, two years later the SNS amassed one billion members in October 2012. Based on in-depth interviews 30 Millennials (18 to 32-year olds) and 10 Boomers (48 to 58-year olds) that are daily users of Facebook, this dissertation provides a qualitative analysis of attitudes toward privacy and personal information disclosure on Facebook. What steps—if any—are being taken by users to regulate their personal information disclosure? How do users feel about the website selling their personal information to advertisers? What are the benefits of using Facebook and do they outweigh the risks of having one’s information used for commercial purposes? Or is it even seen as a risk at all? What are the sociological implications of users’ answers to these questions? I challenge prevailing conclusions that the intensity of Facebook use is associated with higher levels of social capital and that Facebook is especially useful for maintaining and building bridging ties to one’s acquaintances. On the contrary, among Millennials in my study, the website is used for maintaining bonding ties between close friends and family members, not bridging ties between acquaintances; that the maintaining of bridging social capital is by comparison merely a passive benefit. As well, while the Boomers in my study use Facebook to maintain bridging ties, maintaining social capital is not a consideration. In arriving at this conclusion, I thematically broke out the benefits of using Facebook as Facebook is my life online, Facebook is my primary connection to others, and Facebook is a convenient communication and information tool. As well, the perceived risks of using Facebook involve a lack of privacy and, to a lesser extent, issues of control. For the Millennials and Boomers in my study, the practical benefits of using Facebook outweigh the perceived risks, and the perception of control on the user’s part is a key factor in rationalizing their ongoing use of the website. As a practical application of my findings, I propose how the marketing research industry might apply these findings toward learning more about consumers.