Facebook: How private is it?

In the article titled “Mass Interpersonal Persuasion: An Early View of a New Phenomenon” BJ Fogg explores the role mass interpersonal persuasion (MPI) plays in social networking sites. Fogg believes MPI, a new form of persuasion, emerged when Facebook launched its Facebook Platform in May 2007. The new platform allows third parties to create and distribute web applications to all members of the site combining interpersonal persuasion with the reach of mass media (2).

He explains a course he created at Stanford University teaching the psychology and metrics of Facebook applications. Students were instructed to test various options and use data to create and distribute their applications, competing against big companies and professionals to attract users (3).

Fogg describes the six components of Mass Interpersonal Persuasion. An important point to note is that these components have existed before the Facebook Platform, however, they had never been used all together until now.

The six components are:

1. Persuasive Experience: An experience that is created to change attitudes, behaviors, or both. As Fogg states, “MIP focuses on changing people’s thoughts and behaviors, not simply amusing or forming them. So this is point number one: Success with MIP hinges on a persuasive experience (4)”. MPI relies on various methods of social influence in messages such as direct request, moral appeal, deceit, complements, favors, competition etc. to gain users (5).

2. Automated Structure: Digital technology structures the persuasive experience.  Software and code allows consistency and continues the persuasive experience over and over. These technologies also make it easier for people to share the experience with others by clicking a few buttons, making it more likely to be promoted (6).

3. Social Distribution: The persuasive experience is shared from one friend to another. An example of this is getting invited to an application, inviting 10 friends, and then those friends invite 10 friends and so on distributing it through the social channel (6). This gives the persuasive experience more credibility because people trust their friends and feel safe inside of the website. Inviting friends and accepting invitations becomes easier because users do not need to go to a different website or register for a new account (7).

4. Rapid Cycle: The persuasive experience can be distributed quickly from one person to another. Facebook makes awareness instant causing momentum and enthusiasm. Facebook notifies members of quickly growing groups via Newsfeed creating a buzz and attracting more users (7).

5. Huge Social Graph: The persuasive experience can potentially reach millions of people connected through social ties or structured interactions. For example, Facebook connects millions of people linking together different users and creating extensive distribution paths (8).

6. Measured Impact: The effect of the persuasive experience is observable by users and creators. Fogg states, “for example, people need to see how many people have joined the group in the last 24 hours, or how many people have installed the app today, or how much money has been raised in the last month” (8).  This means that the measurements are actual and not potential. Facebook allows all users to see basic information about and stats on all apps. There are also websites such as,

http://statistics.allfacebook.com/applications that give more extensive stats as well.

Availability of stats are important and facilitates MPI in three ways. First, because it gives feedback on the success of inviting ones friends and increases motivation for people taking part the experience (8). It also creates buzz because if you see a lot of your friends joining an application you might develop an interest to check it out as well.  Finally, it allows creators to improve their persuasive experience by testing different approaches and options to find what works best (9).

Fogg explains the difference between MIP and viral adoption. It is true that both MPI and viral adoption involve social distribution and persuasive experience; however, the other four components of MPI are not required for viral adoption (10). He compares MPI to other genres such as viruses, forwarding emails, network marketing, chain letters, and gossip however the difference is that none of these have all six components as MPI does (10). The things that do not matter in MPI are the technology used, the topic, and the initial intent of the creator (12). Finally, Fogg states that the landscape for mass media is changing and the power of persuasion is no longer centralized as everyone can impact others with blogs and videos (12). He optimistically thinks we can use MPI to benefit society and praises it’s potential.

In “Social Network Sites” Danah Boyd aims to address “ how the architecture that frames social life is changing and what it means for a generation growing up knowing that this shift is here to stay” (1). She begins by explaining the way that new social technologies today are changing the meaning of what is private and public. This is similar to the Notaro reading “The Lo(n)g Revolution” as she claims blogs too remove private and public barriers.These new technologies are changing social interaction and information distribution among teenagers.

Boyd explains the way in which social network sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Bebo work. A user creates an account, uploads pictures and information to represent them, adds friends, and comments on other profiles. Users can either add a small private network of close friends or add thousands of random public friends with similar interests. Boyd believes social network sites are the latest generation of ‘mediated publics” or places where people can gather publicly through mediated technology. Public spaces allow people to make sense of the social norms that regulate society, let people express themselves and learn from the reactions of others, and let people make certain expressions real by witnessing them (2).

The four unique properties of mediated publics are:

  • • Persistence: What you say will always be there
  • • Searchability: Anyone can be found and actions can be seen in pictures
  • • Replicability: Digital media such as pictures and conversations can be copy, pasted, and altered.
  • • Invisible audiences: “In mediated publics, not only are lurkers invisible, but persistence, searchability, and replicability introduce audiences that were never present at the time when the expression was created”.

One of the challenges of mediated spaces is that it is more difficult to determine the context of something as well as who you are speaking to. Teenagers on social sites speak according to the norms they find acceptable among their peers often times showing off and just hanging on. There are also two other audiences consisting of parents, teachers, bosses, and authorizes, and then marketers, scammers, and spammers. It is difficult to reach a large scale through these sites; however, there are cases where videos spread all the way though a network into the mainstream.

A major risk with these public profiles is how easy it is to track down almost anyone. This becomes a problem because often times these profiles are not “adult approved” (4). Teens deal with this by “resume-ifying” their profiles, using fake names, and denying access of adults to “their space” (4). Boyd asks, if it’s so easy to access information is it always ok to do so? She claims it is foolish to assume that society will hold restraint. As she rightly states,  “College admissions officers and employers will continue to try to get a portrait of the ‘real candidate’. Smitten admirers will continue to try to uncover any juice on their crush. And the press will continue to treat any digital data as fair game when publicly destroying someone’s character” (4).

The idea of others accessing seemingly private information also appears in “Scroogled” a piece of fiction by Cory Doctorow. In the story a Google employee learns that the Department of Homeland Security and the American government are working with Google to track search histories and track threats. The employee completely loses his privacy to Google. Teenagers, like regular search users do not even realize the amount of information they are giving to the websites they use. Although this story was exaggerated, it could act as a wake up call for naïve teenagers. Teenagers on Facebook tend to forget about the four properties  (persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisibility) and feel as though Facebook is a safe private space for them and their friends. They do not think that putting personal data and images on their pages will have any repercussions but it is important to remember that Facebook owns all of their information. Even when you completely delete your Facebook account instead of your content expiring Facebook can do whatever they want with it. As their terms of service state:

“You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof”.

Although we may feel safe in our networks and groups we must still be aware of the information we are putting on the Internet. Similarly, as Notaro states, “Blogs are vehicles to express our experiences, feelings, firm beliefs and frustrating uncertainties, however these are not just personal preferences but originate and are defined within broader political and social settings.” This is true to Facebook because people forget exactly who is accessing their information, photos, and status updates. Yes, we can set privacy settings and only add people we really know, but even still one sometimes does not realize the sensitive information they are putting out there, how hard it is to completely remove it, and who actually owns it.

Boyd stresses the importance of educators should understand how social networks and mediated publics work and shift the lives of the youth. She advises educators to engage, discuss consequences, educate through conversation not power, explain mediated and unmediated pblics, and discuss morals (6).


2 responses to “Facebook: How private is it?

  1. Danah Boyd and BJ Fogg focus on the societal impacts of relatively new social networking platforms that have emerged within the past five years in their articles “Social Network Sites, Public, Private or What?” and “Mass Interpersonal Communication: An Early View of a New Phenomenon,” respectively. While Boyd and Fogg offer new insights into a modern and digitized realm of social networking, I believe that only our current generation (people born around the year 1985-ish and later– presumably many years after the authors’ birth years), the generation that has lived and experienced these public spheres of connection from the very get-go can fully grasp how such networking technologies have evolved based on their (the popular masses of digital communities) demands and needs.

    Boyd focuses an attention to the rise of the “mediated publics” that our current generation has joined through digital networks like Facebook and Myspace. While Boyd argues that these mediated publics incite users to feel as if they have a control over the interconnectedness of the digital society they collectively join (and the quote from page 2) I argue another point. While Boyd is clearly well learned in digital social networking realms, she is not of the generation that has grown up with such technologies. I argue that a twenty year old who has been using Facebook since it was FIRST introduced could vividly describe the feelings/excitement of the very day (and hour) the previously separate college Facebook network and high school Facebook networks became one. Ten bucks says Boyd didn’t even have an account back then.

    In his article, Fogg is also concerned with the effects of social networks on mediated publics. However, he hones in on the idea of the persuasive experience carefully crafted to cater to the digitally connected masses. He utilizes the concept “Mass Interpersonal Persuasion” (MIP) and the 6 fundamental components that convince social network users to join, like or use new social applications and platforms within the network’s framework. What I found most interesting was the first component, the persuasive experience. He claims, “MIP builds on an experience designed to change attitudes, behaviors, or both… MIP focuses on changing people’s thoughts and behaviors, not simply amusing or informing them. So this is point number one: Success with MIP hinges on a persuasive experience” (pg. 4-5). Earlier in the article, he describes iLike, a Facebook application that was an MIP that caught on like a wildfire and millions of users were persuaded to add the music generator to their profiles. I had iLike on my Facebook for several months during my senior year of high school. However, I would urge Fogg to consider that these MIP fads lose their appeal after a relatively short time period and the users will eventually move on to newer options, sometimes forgetting the old ones… Jetman? Graffiti? BumperSticker? Oh how I (don’t) miss you dearly, you sweet little application tricks of MIP!

  2. Pingback: Failure is Free « Introduction to Digital Media

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