Department of Communication

ISF Project

Israel Science Foundation 

Grant No: 1385/13

The Opportunities and Risks of Online Self-Disclosure: Three Perspectives

Every day individuals around the world send about 47 billion (non-spam) e-mails, submit 95 million tweets on Twitter, and share 30 billion pieces of content on Facebook, much of it with personal connotations. This user-created information that carries with it personally identifiable markers has become a lucrative resource for third parties: For example, commercial firms collect and use personal information to enhance consumer experience as well as for their own profit; search engines and social networks grow equity by using individuals’ information to personalize advertisements; data aggregators sell access to personal and household information.With high degree of user identifiability becoming widespread, an important issue with theoretical and social implications is the growing phenomenon of lack of anonymity in people’s use of the web. An important question is what are the conceptions of users and their awareness of risks involved in online disclosure of personal information, and how do these compare to conceptions of experts and of stakeholders from both the commercial and the public sectors. This study seeks to contribute to the theoretical understanding and empirical investigation of the phenomenon of online self-disclosure as it relates to and differs from conceptions of privacy and its implications from an interdisciplinary perspective. It will examine both the benefits or opportunities and risks for users associated with disclosure of personal information online. The study has three interrelated research trajectories. The first will identify, map and integrate experts’ evaluations of the consequences of online self-disclosure. The second will be an analysis of news reports in mainstream media in order to characterize public discourse regarding online self-disclosure and its implications as reflected in Israel’s mainstream media (print and online newspapers and television). In the third trajectory, a structured questionnaire will be administered to a sample of Internet users in Israel to determine whether public perceptions about disclosing information online corresponds with the assessments made by experts (as ascertained in the first trajectory) and mainstream media practitioners (as ascertained in the second trajectory). By exploring and comparing the specific expositions of these three different groups regarding the conceptions of risks and opportunities involved in internet users’ self-disclosure, the study will contribute to the development of conceptual approach for understanding multiple perspectives regarding the consequences of online self-disclosure as they are brought to bear in the web 2.0 era. Its findings could also inform policy discussions on issues of privacy, risk communication strategy, and development of internet-use literacy on the disclosure of personal information online.