How much do you share with your family on social media? | Kent State University
image of Jeff Child presenting research

How much do you share with your family on social media?

Interim Director of Communication Studies Completes Research on Social Media Privacy Management within Families

Are you friends with your parents on Facebook? Or have you blocked all family members from seeing what you post?

Interim director of Kent State University’s School of Communication Studies Jeff Child, Ph.D. recently provided his expertise on privacy management in the book Family Communications in the Age of Digital and Social Media, edited by Carol J. Bruess.

Child’s chapter in the book is a state-of-the-art review on what is known about how individuals tend to view privacy settings when it comes to interacting with their families on social media. His current research focuses more on privacy management on Facebook, because so many different generations of the family now use this medium.

Child contends that being more aware and proactive about managing privacy online can reduce potential privacy breaches.

“Some people don’t do any regulating on social media, and they come to the conclusion it's because what they have to share is so benign that the information won’t harm anyone, or they just don’t care at all what people think about strong opinions that they might share with others online,” Child said.

A majority of the population, however, make modifications to what they have shared about things going on in their lives through social media. Many people delete previously posted content that may have stirred conflict, adapt privacy settings that may have been too open, or limit the audiences who can view content, Child said. Older generations tend to mark more things as private, whereas younger audiences are more open with what is being shared.

Child provided some tips for students to follow for managing their privacy on social media platforms:

  1. Be aware of the broad audiences that exist on your social media. Your networks most likely contain your family, friends and co-workers. Certain posts may not be appropriate for different audiences.
  2. Don’t use the default settings on social media websites. This would include the share with “all my friends” setting on Facebook. The defaults are set to ensure the least amount of privacy ---companies make more money this way. Make sure your settings are set up so your posts don’t pop up when people conduct a simple Google search.
  3. Activate the review setting on Facebook to review any posts friends may have tagged you in. It’s important to know what is out there about you online because you may not want certain things tied to your identity.
  4. Do not post anything unless you would be comfortable with your boss seeing it. Be more proactive about reviewing the content you are posting before you post. We never know how certain audiences will perceive different posts.

The general population typically learns about the privacy settings different social media platforms have after they have experienced an incident which stirred up conflict, Child said. After Facebook and Twitter users experiences unpleasant interactions, they know about who cannot be trusted with certain information and adjust their privacy settings respectively. Sharing information on social media is necessary for being social in today’s society, but it also makes users vulnerable having to open up to other through interactive media.

“After students experience a privacy breakdown, they should be adults about it,” Child said. “Most people have a diverse network on their social media, so they need to look at who affects them in their daily lives and interact only with those who won’t stir conflict – which can be learned through trial and error.”

Child collaborated with Sandra Petronio from Indiana University-Purdue University to write this chapter for the book, titled “Privacy Management Matters in Digital Family Communication.” Petronio, the creator of the Communication Privacy Management Theory, spent years studying how people regulate the sharing of their private information.

“My work is rooted in taking her theory, which is grounded in mostly face-to-face interaction, and testing the elements of the theory in a mediated communication environment,” Child said. “I’m applying what she did, but with an eye toward how her theory is useful for understanding the communication problems of the digital age of communication.”

Early studies in Child’s career focused more on blogs like Myspace. Compared to blogs, microblogging sites like Twitter allow for a more open and public platform, Child said. 

Child has also published more than 30 scholarly pieces that advance the understanding of communication in three main areas: 1) communication technologies and human interaction, 2) interpersonal and family communication from diverse cultural perspectives, and 3) instructional communication effectiveness.