Exploring Privacy Management on Facebook: Motivations and Perceived Consequences of Voluntary Disclosure



This study examined the perceived motivations and consequences of voluntary disclosure of Facebook active users using a survey administered to college students in a public-speaking course. College-age students who took the survey were motivated to use Facebook because they perceived their relationships improved with friends and family, although using Facebook could become negatively habit forming. The research suggests that users of Facebook use it more for disclosing to distant friends rather than to close friends, which is divergent from most early disclosure research that equates disclosure with intimacy. This research utilizes Communication Privacy Management Theory for the theoretical framework.


Interpersonal disclosure used to be something that was intimate and private. Facebook has changed that perception. June 1, 2010, was designated as a day of protest against the social networking site potentially involving its 500 million users (Facebook Statistics, 2010) after new Facebook privacy policies were adopted, yet most users did not protest and simply continued using Facebook. The reason for the day of protest was Facebook company executives changed privacy laws after The Wall Street Journal cited instances where Facebook users' personal information was being shared with advertisers without the users' consent and subsequently raised questions about Facebook's security (Steel & Vascellaro, 2010). Ironically, these new privacy policy changes made the user's privacy less secure.

The debate over Facebook privacy was highlighted by the Office of the Privacy of the Commissioner of Canada (2010) who launched 24 allegations ranging over 12 distinct subjects such as default privacy settings, collection and use of users' personal information for advertising purposes, and collection and use of nonusers' personal information. According to the Canadian Assistant Commissioner, default privacy settings, third-party applications, account deactivation and deletion, accounts of deceased users, and advertising that collected users' information, all warranted corrective measures by Facebook. Concurrently, 15 American consumer groups and a plethora of European countries complained about Facebook either to the Federal Trade Commission or to Facebook directly.

In this study, the researchers focused on the digital generation known as millennials who use Facebook more than other generations (“Inside Facebook,” 2009) and who view technology as integral to their lives (Merritt & Neville, 2002). The study explored what motivates millennials' disclosure on Facebook, how these users perceive the consequences of such disclosure, and if there is any gender difference in the degree and manner in which private information is disclosed. A Harris poll (Burchill, 2010) found that about 85% of millennials understand they are giving up some privacy when taking part in a social networking site. Concurrently, 51% do not trust a social network site or company at times. This study applied communication privacy management theory (Petronio, 2002, 2007) and administered surveys to active Facebook users with the intent to fill a gap in contemporary communication research by exploring disclosure and its consequences and laying the groundwork for a better understanding of social networking privacy issues.

Facebook as a Social Networking Site

Advancement in broadband technology has parabolically increased accessibility to the Internet. It is now cheaper, easier, and more convenient for people to communicate globally. Studies about traditional face-to-face communication have expanded accordingly to different areas of computer-mediated communication (Becker & Stamp, 2005). In the past 4 years, social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace have grown with exponential popularity. Facebook (Facebook Factsheet, 2010, para. 1) defines itself as:

a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. The company develops technologies that facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph, the digital mapping of people's real-world social connections. Anyone can sign up for Facebook and interact with the people they know in a trusted environment.

Facebook is currently the most popular, highly trafficked social networking website on the Internet with over 500 million active users worldwide (Facebook Statistics, 2010), drawing the attention of academic researchers who perceive the need to better understand this phenomena (Ellison et al., 2007).

Online Privacy Management

Social networking websites have provided a new way for people to establish, re-establish, and maintain relationships through online interactions. This newly created convenience has unintended consequences. Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA), an organization that collects cyber-stalking statistics, reported in 2007 that there was an increase in online harassment from traditional media such as e-mails or message boards to other mediums such as social networking websites like Facebook or MySpace (Andersson, 2008). Jones and Soltren (2005) explicate several risks to privacy for university students on Facebook. They assert:

University administrators or police officers may search the site for evidence of students breaking their school's regulations. Users may submit their data without being aware that it may be shared with advertisers. Third parties may build a database of Facebook data to sell. Intruders may steal passwords or entire databases from Facebook (p. 4).

A study of Facebook privacy concerns determined that users practice poor privacy control of their information and third parties were consistently trying to obtain users' information (Jones & Soltren, 2005). Dwyer, Hiltz, and Passerini (2007) found that when comparing the privacy practices of MySpace users to Facebook users, those who used Facebook were more trusting of the website and therefore more likely to disclose identifying information on their profiles.

Every individual has different levels of concern about his or her own privacy “based on that person's own perceptions and values” (Joinson & Paine, 2007, p. 244). Privacy is impacted when on the Internet (Rust, Kannan, & Peng, 2002; as cited in Joinson & Paine, 2007), yet this does not keep individuals from frequently using it. Advancements in technology have made sensitive information (e.g., financial and credit history, medical records, purchases) easily and cheaply collected, stored, and exchanged. The Internet is the pinnacle of this problem of obtaining sensitive information illegally, as one of its prime features is that of connectivity (Joinson & Paine, 2007).

In spite of the risks, individuals continue to choose to disclose personal information on the Internet (Lee, Im, & Taylor, 2008). Andrejevic (2002) acknowledges, “Indeed, opponents of corporate surveillance seem unable to provide a compelling rationale for privacy protection in an era when consumers remain surprisingly willing to surrender increasingly comprehensive forms of personal information in response to offers of convenience and customization” (p. 233). Potential employers are taking advantage of this by using social networking websites like Facebook as a way to screen and do background checks on applicants and employees (Brandenburg, 2008). Brandenburg (2008) cites a study done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers that “approximately one in ten employers report they plan to review potential hires' profiles and information posted on social networks” (p. 2). Firing employees because of questionable use of social media is also on the rise, with 8% of companies firing social media offenders who post pictures of themselves in risk adverse behavior or using foul language online (Carr, 2010). Currently, there are no laws that specifically address privacy concerns on social networking websites like Facebook (Brandenburg, 2008); nevertheless, there are laws to protect minors such as the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (Brandenburg, 2008; Turow & Nir, 2000), the Children's Privacy Protection and Parental Empowerment Act (Brandenburg, 2008), and the Student Privacy Protection Act (Brandenburg, 2008; Youn, 2005).

To manage privacy, Facebook allows users to change their personal settings to control who can view their profile and what other information is viewable. Still, some companies find ways to navigate around these barriers, such as integrating into as many networks as possible, using current employees to infiltrate networks in which they already belong, and using pre-existing contacts with other users that employees share with potential new hires (Brandenburg, 2008). Even with privacy controls provided by social networking sites, privacy is not guaranteed. For example, Facebook implemented new default privacy settings that make more of the user's data visible on the Internet. If users apply Facebook's “recommended” default settings, this presumably would allow their name, profile picture, current city, gender, networks, and fan pages to be public information.

Communication Privacy Management Theory

Communication privacy management theory (CPM) (Petronio, 2002, 2007), the theoretical framework for this study, “offers a privacy management system that identifies ways privacy boundaries are coordinated between and among individuals” (Petronio, 2002, p. 3) and “suggests a way to understand the tension between revealing and concealing private information” (Petronio, 2007, p. 218) between and among those individuals. Privacy is “the feeling that one has the right to own private information, either personally or collectively” (Petronio, 2002, p. 6). Five principles support this theory: private information, privacy boundaries, control and ownership, a rule-based management system, and privacy management dialectics (Petronio, 2002). The first principle, private information, maintains that disclosing is identical to revealing private information. CPM notes that disclosure and intimacy are not the same, as intimacy is simply one goal for revealing private information. This concept is divergent from much early research that equated disclosure with intimacy (Parks, 1982). This principle works well with Facebook usance, since one of the first lessons learned is not to be intimate when posting on the Wall (i.e., the place of public discourse on Facebook). The second principle is privacy boundaries, which refers to the metaphorical borders of public and private information that can be either personal or collective. Personal boundaries handle a person's private information, while collective boundaries handle information that is private to a larger group, such as a dyad, organization, or family. The third principle, control and ownership, contends that each individual owns his or her private information and controlling this information is a right managed by revealing and concealing private information.

The fourth principle, a rule-based management system, is the construction of the two interrelated levels for understanding CPM, that of the personal and collective. The three management practices utilized within this principle are the privacy rule foundations, boundary coordination, and boundary turbulence. The last principle is privacy management dialectics, which is the idea that there is a tension between private/concealing and public/revealing. The dialectical tension is evident in how a person decides what to reveal or not reveal when disclosing. Petronio (2002) proposes that privacy and disclosure are opposing conditions that exist in a symbiotic relationship:

…disclosing implies that we are giving up some measure of privacy. However, disclosure cannot occur if there exists no private information that can be told to others. Correspondingly, CPM also accepts the contention that there is interactive unity for privacy-disclosure. Thus, privacy is a necessary condition that one protects or gives up through disclosure. (p. 14)

Connected to the five principles are certain rules that govern disclosure of private information. These privacy rules are based on five factors: culture, gender, motivation, context, and risk-benefit ratio (Petronio, 2002). The first factor, culture, explains how cultural expectations about privacy values influence the level of disclosure/privacy. The second factor, gender, relates to how male and female norms and perspectives contribute to the rule structures of privacy management. The third factor, motivation, depends on the person's needs/motivations (e.g., “low tolerance for ambiguity,” p. 39) for establishing and enacting the privacy or access rules which are mutually agreed upon, coconstructed, and established by individuals. Permeability of the rule boundaries is negotiated and refers to the breadth, depth, and amount of revealed information. Facebook users strategize how to regulate permeability, for example, by avoiding or choosing certain topics to disclose. The collective rule boundaries are jointly owned and if rules are violated, turbulence results, such as disclosing information about a taboo topic on the Facebook Wall. The third element in establishing the privacy/access rules is linking people together to become co-owners of information. On Facebook, this occurs when someone is “friended;” however, the link can be severed when a person is blocked. The fourth factor is context, meaning that the circumstance or situation can relegate how a person develops rules for privacy or disclosure. How a person applied the privacy settings for Facebook disclosure would be an example of context. Finally, the fifth factor, risk-benefit ratio, identifies that there is always risk and benefit involved with privacy or disclosure. Before disclosing or staying private, individuals determine the risks and benefits of that action.

Disclosure: An Overview

Disclosure is a fluid term that often changes among researchers. A reflective definition offered by Joinson and Payne (2007) explains that disclosure is “the telling of the previously unknown so that it becomes shared knowledge” (p. 237). This definition insinuates a recipient of the information must be present and that the recipient of the disclosure plays an integral role in the process itself. Rosenfeld and Kendrick (1984) found that the type of relationship that exists between those who are disclosing is significant. With a more intimate relationship (i.e., close friends), the reasons for disclosure typically involve relationship maintenance and development, reciprocity of information (Rosenfeld & Kendrick, 1984), self-clarification (Petronio, 2002; Rosenfeld & Kendrick, 1984), expression, and social validation (Petronio, 2002). Conversely, in less intimate relationships (i.e., strangers), the reasons for disclosure involve reciprocity of information and impression management (Rosenfeld & Kendrick, 1984). Derlega, Winstead, Mathews, and Braitman (2008) identified 12 reasons why participants did not disclose. The issue of privacy, ranked third in frequency, meant “not disclosing to maintain one's privacy and to avoid gossip and information dissemination” (p. 121). Privacy, along with the other 11 reasons identified, correlate with Petronio's communication privacy management theory (Derlega et al., 2008). Perceived negative consequences, rejection, and a potential loss of privacy, are all reasons to regulate disclosure (Greene, Derlega, & Mathews, 2006).

Disclosure on the Internet

Past research on disclosure contradicts the nature of information that individuals make available on the Internet (Lee et al., 2008). Youn (2005) explains this further by showing how a study done by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (see Turow & Nir, 2000) illustrated although a majority of teenagers are concerned about online privacy, they still disclose personal information for “instant gratification such as a free gift” (p. 90). This posits an interesting discrepancy between privacy and disclosure from the context of face-to-face communication to the context of non-face-to-face computer-mediated communication. It is possible that the Internet might change how people choose to disclose information and the consequences of disclosing that information; consequently, this research explores disclosure on the Internet, since computer-mediated communication can lead to more disclosure than face-to-face communication (Joinson & Paine, 2007).

Another growing area of research on disclosure focuses on the usage of blogs (Lee et al., 2008; Qian & Scott, 2007). Through a multimethod study using both quantitative and qualitative measures, Lee et al. (2008) identified seven motivational factors behind voluntary disclosure in blogs: “self-presentation, relationship management, keeping up with trends, storing information, sharing information, entertainment, and showing off” (p. 697). Of these seven, only relationship management correlates with Rosenfeld and Kendrick's (1984) relationship maintenance and development. Furthermore, this link between the two concepts is strained at best, because whereas Rosenfeld and Kendrick's notion of relationship maintenance and development concerned the relationship between friends, Lee et al.'s (2008) concept of relationship management does not restrict itself to just friendship. In addition, Lee et al. identified three consequences of voluntary disclosure, which are relationship management, psychological well-being, and habitual behavior.

The first motivational factor for voluntary disclosure in Lee et al.'s (2008) study of bloggers is self-presentation, i.e., using behaviors to intentionally present oneself to others in a favorable style (Goffman, 1959). The second factor, relationship management, is interpersonally developing and sustaining relationships with close friends and the third factor of keeping up with trends emerged from disclosers that do not want to be perceived as old-fashioned. Consequently, blogging helped the disclosers feel up-to-date. Storing information is the fourth motivational factor, with bloggers in Lee et al.'s study wanting to record their personal information for their daily lives in-depth in a defined space. The fifth factor of sharing information was perceived as somewhat benevolent, since interviewees typically disclosed expertise or knowledge about a specialized topic on their blogs so that readers could benefit. Entertainment is the sixth factor, with bloggers revealing that voluntary disclosure was enjoyable and brought pleasure and the seventh factor is showing off which appears from a blogger's need to demonstrate popularity or ability such as increasing the number of visitors or posting pictures. Lee et al.'s three consequences of voluntary disclosure are relationship management, psychological well-being, and habitual behavior. Bloggers' positive consequences included being more effective in managing relationships and relieving stress (i.e., psychological well-being). The one negative consequence was that some bloggers were habitually involuntarily blogging.

This study applies Lee et al.'s (2008) blog factors and consequences of disclosure to Facebook research. Since both blogs and Facebook are Web 2.0 applications and social media tools, blogs and Facebook share some similarities. Both blogs and Facebook have limited privacy, both have a “page” that is created by one person online who wants to share personal experiences, and both have a function for comments by readers. Because of these similarities, the reasons why people disclose online and the consequences of disclosing on both Facebook and blogs could be analogous.

Having defined the foundation of this study, the first research question is proposed:

RQ1: What are the motivations for disclosure by users of Facebook?

Some users disclosing on the Internet are aware their actions can have real-world consequences because of the risk of identification (Lee et al., 2008; Petronio, 2002; Qian & Scott, 2007; Youn, 2005). Half of all social media users in one study chose not to engage in complete disclosure online because of the associated risks (Qian & Scott, 2007). Petronio (2002) argues that what is perceived as a highly risky privacy disclosure for one person might not be perceived as risky for another person. It is quite ironic that “privacy is particularly important for understanding disclosure… [It] is a prerequisite for disclosure, and yet, the process of disclosure serves to reduce privacy” (Joinson & Paine, 2007, p. 244).

Looking through the lens of a cost-benefit analysis it is possible that disclosure and intimacy are both attainable without an increase in vulnerability or a loss of privacy (Joinson & Paine, 2007). The costs of disclosing are increased vulnerability and less privacy. Alternatively, the benefits of disclosing are increased trust, rapport, and reciprocation, which could outweigh the costs (Joinson & Paine, 2007). Youn's (2005) study examined the correlation between a teenager's perceived risks (i.e., costs) and the expected benefits of disclosing personal information online. Results showed that when the teenager perceived a high level of risk in disclosing personal information, the less likely he or she would disclose, whereas if the benefits were appealing, the more likely he or she would disclose. Ultimately, benefits trumped risks (Youn, 2005). Petronio (2002) identified types of risks that went beyond comprising identity to other issues, such as physical safety or safety of others, stigmatization, embarrassment, integrity of relationship, or role of personal power. In addition, control is a major factor in online disclosure. Individuals want control over what and how their private information is collected and with whom it is shared (Joinson & Paine, 2007). Control over personal information is extremely difficult online, since it can be relinquished without the user knowing it.

Therefore, the second research question of this study is posited:

RQ2: What are the perceived consequences of disclosure by users of Facebook?

Finally, a discrepancy of disclosure by gender is addressed. Youn's (2005) research concluded that females were more worried about risk from disclosure while males were more concerned about receiving benefits and thus more willing to disclose information. Gender could play a part in vulnerability to privacy issues (Youn, 2005). This contradicts research done by Rosenfeld and Kendrick (1984) who found that gender and setting (group or dyad) did not influence the discloser when communicating with the recipient. Although there are conflicting results from previous literature in disclosure, these conflicts may be because of the way that disclosure is measured varies from study to study (Petronio, 2002). This proposes the last research question to understand this discrepancy:

RQ3: Is there a difference between males and females who disclose private information on Facebook concerning the four motivation dimensions (i.e., information sharing, information storage and entertainment, keeping up with trends, and showing off) and the two consequence dimensions (i.e., relationship management/psychological well-being, and habitual behavior)? (Note: only these dimensions remained after the principal component factor analysis was completed).


Sample and Procedure

The relevant sample is respondents who have a Facebook account and have logged in to navigate the website within the last 30 days from the day the survey was administered. This, according to Facebook (2010), designates the subject as an active user. One of the researchers asked several instructors to administer the survey to students enrolled in the introduction to public speaking courses at a large university in the Midwestern United States. The surveys were prefaced with an informed consent form, which briefly defined voluntary disclosure, the purpose of the survey, and any mandatory information required. The university IRB process had been completed and approval was given for this study. The survey was voluntary and anonymous for the participants who had the choice to stop or contact the researcher and withdraw from the study later. Participants received no incentive or gift for taking the survey (e.g., class bonus points, money).

Fifty-nine completed surveys were collected through convenience sampling for a 19% response rate. Of the sample population, 36 respondents were female (61%) and 23 were male (39%). Participants were required to be above the age of 18. The average age of subjects was between 19 and 20 and all participants were undergraduates. Ninety-five percent of the subjects were active users who navigated Facebook within the last week. Eighty-three percent of the subjects used Facebook within 24 hours before the survey was taken. Two of three respondents who were not considered active users of Facebook happened to be the two oldest participants of this study; ages 26 and 48 respectively.


Lee et al.'s study (2008) provided the questions for the quantitative survey tool. A 7-point Likert-type scale of 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree was used to measure the motivations and consequences of voluntary disclosure with a total of 33 questions. Twenty-three of the questions were measured along seven dimensions to determine the motivations of voluntary disclosure. The seven dimensions are Self-Presentation, Relationship Management, Keeping Up With Trends, Information Sharing, Information Storage, Entertainment, and Showing Off. The final 10 questions were measured along the three dimensions of Relationship Management, Psychological Well-Being, and Habitual Behavior to determine the consequences of voluntary disclosure. Examples of the survey statements are: (1) I disclose to present myself in a realistic way; (2) I disclose to present my ideal self; (3) I disclose to present my individual characteristics; (4) and I disclose to keep a close relationship with others. One of the researchers slightly modified some questions because the survey was originally designed to measure voluntary disclosure in blogs. The survey included a section of demographic questions to measure the gender and age of the participants, as well as how recently they used Facebook. Those participants who had not used Facebook within the last 30 days were asked not to proceed with the survey. The reliability and validity of the original survey measures were confirmed by Cronbach alphas, revealing that all measures were reliable: .79 for degree of disclosure, .77∼.91 for motivations of voluntary disclosure, and .78∼.83 for consequences of voluntary disclosure.


This study used a principal component factor analysis with Varimax rotation and Kaiser Normalization to compare the factor structure of the current data from Facebook to Lee et al.'s (2008) prior data about bloggers. For the variable of motivations, a factor loading value of .6 was used as the factor interpretation. A 6-factor solution with 18 items emerged from the results and five items were excluded, since they did not meet the loading value of .6. These five items were identified as questions 2, 6, 8, 9, and 20. Validity for the revised survey used in this study examined 23 questions that measured the motivations of disclosure with a reliability of .90.

Reliabilities were checked for each of the six factor solutions that emerged from the analysis of motivations. Cronbach alphas confirmed that the first factor, “Information Sharing,” which included questions 12, 13, 14, and 22, was reliable at .85. The second factor, “Information Storage and Entertainment,” which included questions 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19, was reliable at .86. The third factor, “Keeping Up with Trends,” which included questions 10 and 11, was reliable at .95. The fourth factor, “Self-Presentation,” which included questions 1, 3, and 5, was unreliable at .6. Therefore, this factor, including the three items associated with it, was excluded from further analysis. The fifth factor, “Showing Off,” which included questions 21 and 23, was reliable at .76. The sixth and final factor, “Relationship Management,” which included questions 4 and 7, was unreliable at .52. Therefore, this factor, along with the two items associated with it, was excluded from further analysis.

The same procedure was followed for the perceived consequences of disclosure on Facebook, conducting a principal component factor analysis with Varimax rotation and Kaiser Normalization to compare the factor structure of the current data from Facebook to Lee et al.'s (2008) prior data from bloggers. Once again, a factor loading value of .6 was used as the factor interpretation. A two-factor solution with nine items emerged from the results. Only one item was excluded from the analysis that did not meet the loading value of .6 and was identified as question 27. Validity for the revised survey used in this study examined 10 questions that measured the consequences of disclosure with a reliability of .90.

Reliabilities were also checked for each of the two factor solutions that emerged from the analysis of consequences. Cronbach alphas confirmed the first factor, “Relationship Management/Psychological Well-Being,” which included questions 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, and 30, to be reliable at .92. The second and final factor, “Habitual Behavior,” which included questions 31, 32, and 33; was reliable at .85. After completion of the principal component factor analysis for the motivations and consequences of disclosure on Facebook in conjunction with reliability checks for each factor, four factors remained (i.e., information sharing, information storage and entertainment, keeping up with trends, and showing off) containing 13 items for motivations, and two factors remained (i.e., relationship management/psychological well-being and habitual behavior) containing nine items for consequences.

From these results, similarities and differences between the motivations and perceived consequences behind disclosure on Facebook versus blogs emerged. The findings reported in Table 1 illustrate several conclusions about motivations and perceived consequences of disclosure on Facebook. From these results, this research suggests that much like bloggers, those who are active users of Facebook disclose for the following reasons: perceived information sharing, information storage and entertainment, keeping up with trends, and showing off. These results show that disclosure on Facebook has significant perceived consequences in relationship management/psychological well-being as well as habitual behavior, similar to the results for bloggers.

Table 1. Factor Loading Values
Variable DimensionsFactor NameItem NumberLoading Value
MotivationInformation Sharing12.81
MotivationInformation Storage and Entertainment15.66
MotivationKeeping up with Trends10.90
MotivationShowing Off21.77
ConsequenceRelationship Management and Psychological Well-Being24.78
ConsequenceHabitual Behavior31.83

To answer research question three, a one-way analysis of variance was conducted to evaluate the relationship between the gender of the subjects and each of the six remaining dimensions. The independent variable, gender of the subjects, included two levels: male and female. The dependent variables included the four motivation dimensions: information sharing, information storage and entertainment, keeping up with trends, and showing off. The other dependent variables included the two consequence dimensions: relationship management/psychological well-being and habitual behavior.

Of the six ANOVAs conducted, only the motivation dimension of information storage and entertainment was found to be significant, F(1,54) = 15.63, p < .05. The strength of the relationship between the gender of the Facebook user and the motivation of information storage and entertainment, as assessed by n2, was strong, with the gender difference accounting for 22% of the variance for the motivation information storage and entertainment. The following variables were found not to be significant: motivation dimension—information sharing, F(1,54) = .66, p > .05; motivation dimension—keeping up with trends, F(1,54) = .49, p > .05; motivation dimension—showing off, F(1,54) = .49, p > .05; consequence dimension—relationship management/psychological well-being, F(1,54) = .39, p > .05; and consequence dimension—habitual behavior, F(1,54) = .25, p > .05.

Follow-up tests were not conducted because there were only two groups for gender: male and female. However, there was a significant difference in the means between the females (M = 5.21) who were more likely to agree that they were motivated to disclose on Facebook by information storage and entertainment reasons than were males (M = 3.88). For the other five dimensions, no significant difference in the means between males and females was discovered. Finally, the only significant difference found between males and females who disclose on Facebook was females were more motivated to do so through information storage and entertainment than were males. This is shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Group Means and Standard Deviations for Disclosure Dimensions by Character Sex
Gender DimensionsMeanSD
  1. Note: *Mean for females differs significantly from mean for males at p < .05.

 Information Sharing3.881.22
 Information Storage and Entertainment*5.211.05
 Keeping up With Trends2.651.57
 Showing Off2.651.57
 Relationship Management and Well-Being3.162.16
 Habitual Behavior1.991.15
 Information Sharing4.181.53
 Information Storage and Entertainment*3.881.46
 Keeping up With Trends2.341.62
 Showing Off2.341.62
 Relationship Management and Well-Being3.391.53
 Habitual Behavior2.171.51


The results of this study concluded there are four main motivations for active users of Facebook who disclose private information. The first motivation of those who disclose is using Facebook to share information with others, or in some cases, envision sharing private information as a fun and enjoyable activity. Another motivation is users tend to see it as a way to store information that is meaningful to them or often use it as a form of entertainment. Third, some individuals reported that they were motivated to disclose in order to keep up with trends. The fourth and final motivation was users disclose to show off their popularity or publicize events to one another. From these results, this study inferred the following conclusions when compared to the Lee et al. (2008) study of bloggers. This study found that only keeping up with trends was exactly the same motivation for disclosure on Facebook as that of bloggers by Lee et al. The other three motivations, although sharing similar qualities, differed from Lee et al.'s results of their survey on bloggers. Individuals, who used Facebook to disclose, considered information storage and entertainment to be very similar motivations, whereas those who used blogs to disclose found these two motivations to be distinctly different. Both studies found information sharing to be similar, although bloggers frequently disclose to share expertise or knowledge concerning the blog topic, which is not typically the motivation for Facebook users. Finally, although both studies found showing off to be a primary motivation for disclosure, those who used Facebook reported that they did not show off for the same reasons as did those who used blogs. However, bloggers had several other motivations that were not found to be significant for active users of Facebook, namely relationship management and self-presentation.

Interestingly, the factor of “Relationship Management,” found unreliable in this study's analysis, is the one factor that corresponded with one of Rosenfeld and Kendrick's (1984) reasons for intimate relationships, that of “relationship maintenance and development.” Since this factor in the present study was unreliable, it could suggest that users more likely use Facebook for distant relationships (i.e., strangers) than for intimate relationships (i.e., [close] friends). The reliable factor of “Information Sharing” is similar to one of Rosenfeld and Kendrick's reasons for distant relationships, that of “reciprocity of information,” which supports this suggestion.

The two significant results of the perceived consequences of disclosure on Facebook have very similar findings for this study. The first perceived consequence was positive: Individuals using Facebook to disclose felt this helped them better manage relationships and improve their own psychological well-being. The second perceived consequence was negative: Individuals using Facebook to disclose often found they often spent too much time on it. When comparing these results to those of bloggers found by Lee et al. (2008), it is clear that much like motivations, there are similarities and differences of perceived consequences. Whereas Lee et al. (2008) found that those who used blogs perceived three distinct consequences, namely the constructs of relationship management, psychological well-being, and habitual behavior; results from this study found that users of Facebook perceived the two constructs of beneficial consequences of relationship management and psychological well-being as the same construct. The construct of consequence of habitual behavior was the same by both the users of Facebook and bloggers, with an understanding that habitual behavior of using Facebook is not necessarily the same as an addiction to using Facebook.

This study provides further empirical support for gender discrepancy of disclosure. The single conclusion from these results is that females were more motivated to disclose private information on Facebook for storing information or using it as a form of entertainment than were males. Males were much less likely to see these motivations as reasons for disclosing on Facebook. Males and females tend to regard their motivations and perceived consequences of disclosure on Facebook as being similar, since only one distinct difference emerged.

These results should be evaluated carefully. The original study by Lee et al. (2008) had some inherent flaws. The seven motivations and three consequences that these researchers found to be present from the disclosure of bloggers were developed using a factor analysis. Typically, researchers use a factor loading value of .6. However, the Lee et al. (2008) study used a value of .4. This could account for some of the discrepancy in the differences between results of the motivations and consequences in the two studies. The use of the accepted .6 loading value in this study could have changed the dynamics of several of the dimensions. Second, Lee et al. assumed that the subjects treated motivations and consequences as two different and distinct concepts; however, there was no empirical backing to support this assumption. This study has limitations. The subjects were limited to a sample of college students. While the majority of Facebook users may fit into this age range, the inherent limitations on external validity are still present. The sample size, although sufficient, could have been larger. The instrument used (i.e., the survey) was not empirically backed by several studies, but rather just one. For the purposes of this study, the instrument performed all required functions as was needed. Since the study itself was designed to mirror that of Lee et al.'s (2008) study, it focused on a few specific dimensions of an otherwise very dynamic concept.

Future Research Implications Using CPM

Communication Privacy Management Theory (Petronio, 2002) could serve as a theoretical framework for numerous studies about Facebook and other social networking sites. Examining other motivational factors for disclosures, such as reciprocation and loneliness as recognized in CPM, could extend the study. The type of relationship plays a role in disclosure when discussing the rules of CPM (Petronio, 2002) and influences motivation, such as a relationship of attraction, which would motivate a person to have particular boundaries for disclosure or privacy. The relationship of the participants to each other (e.g., gender, age, status), particularly how this relationship affects disclosure motivations and boundary privacy rules, could be investigated in future research. Research could explore how Facebook privacy preferences might be different between contrasting age groups utilizing CPM's boundary coordination (Petronio, 2002), such as how young adults possibly make different choices than their parents when disclosing online. The extent to which family values influence children's Facebook privacy orientation and socialization as well as what family protection/access rules apply when disclosing/concealing potentially stigmatizing information could be researched. Finally, comparisons and contrasts between disclosure and privacy issues of users of different Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, other social networks besides Facebook, social news forums, and wikis, could extend this research into other spheres.


This study found that college-age students who took the survey were motivated to use Facebook because they perceived their relationships improved with friends and family, although using Facebook could become negatively habit forming. The word “friend” has taken on new meaning, since users can easily have 300 or more “friends” on Facebook (Debatin, Lovejoy, Horn, & Hughes, 2009). This study suggests that Facebook users are in contact more with distant friends than with close friends. This is parallel to CPM's first principle (Petronio, 2002) about the concept that disclosing private information is not equivalent to becoming intimate, as intimacy is simply one outcome when disclosing. This study suggests that intimacy is not necessarily a desired outcome of disclosing on Facebook.

Users are motivated to disclose on Facebook to share information, store information and be entertained, keep up with trends, and show off. One positive consequence of disclosing is users feel somewhat in control of relationship management/psychological well-being. A negative consequence is users can spend too much time on Facebook. Motivations and consequences of disclosing are similar for males and females, except females disclosed primarily to store information and for entertainment, while males disclosed primarily for information sharing. This is somewhat similar to Youn's (2005) findings that males are more willing to disclose information because of the benefits, as compared to females, who are more concerned about the risk of disclosure.

CPM's five factors of privacy rule development (Petronio, 2002) are evident in Facebook disclosure. Facebook has a (1) culture of its own, as revealed in this research, with its own disclosure/privacy values followed by users. (2) Gender influences males and females differently in their motivations for disclosing. The four factors of information sharing, information storage and entertainment, keeping up with trends, and showing off contribute to the dimension of (3) motivations, providing insight as to how privacy boundaries and rules are created and regulated when disclosing. The (4) context of Facebook affects the privacy boundaries and rules that develop. Finally, the (5) risk-benefit ratio comes into play since previous research found benefits of disclosure trump the risks of privacy loss (Debatin et al., 2009).

To resolve the dialectic of keeping personal information private or disclosing it on Facebook, users could keep in mind that Facebook is essentially a business and “Facebook remains, at heart, not a community, but a Silicon Valley startup, always hungry for exponential growth and new revenue streams” (Bankston, 2009, p. 2). Even though Facebook currently is a privately held company, in early 2012, it has announced plans to grow by tapping into the capital markets through an initial public offering (IPO) and become a publically traded company. This planned expansion of its already formidable size will intensify the incentive to grow earnings and increase shareholder value beyond what it is already doing. At this time, the unintended consequences are unknown. Regulating communication security issues on the Internet is still in its early stages, and now is the time to resolve the privacy debate (Steel & Vascellaro, 2010).

About the Authors

Susan Waters (Ph. D., University of Kansas) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism at Auburn University. Her teaching interests are public relations integrating service-learning and gender communication. Her research interests are social media networks, social media and public relations, and service-learning assessment.

Address: 232H Tichenor Hall, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849 Email: swaters@auburn.edu

James Ackerman (B. A., Missouri State University) is a financial aid representative and adjunct instructor in the Department of Communication at Ozarks Technical Community College. His research interests focus on communication across social networks, online communities, and using emerging media technology in public relations.

Address: Ozarks Technical Community College, 1001 E. Chestnut Expressway, Springfield, MO 65802 Email: ackermaj@otc.edu