We all live multiple lives on social media, oftentimes creating different personas on the social media platforms we use. We may share big life events and accomplishments on Facebook whereas we use Snapchat and Instagram to share the smaller and often times more frivolous events in our lives.
When we use social media platforms we must make decisions on what to share, how much information we should share and with who. These decisions are made on the fly every time someone posts on social media and a recent study found that our behaviors differ depending on the platform we are using.
The study, published in the Social Media + Society Journal, examined social media trends between Facebook and Snapchat for 273 college students in the United States. Compared to other studies investigating privacy decisions by social media users that focus on one platform, this platform compares individual privacy decisions by people across two very different platforms.
The participants are digital natives, those that were surrounded by advanced technologies as children and adolescents. Digital natives, compared to digital immigrants (those that adopt advanced technologies later in life) inherently interact with and define privacy differently in the realm of social media.
While the common story these days is that “only old people use Facebook,” 88% of digital natives use Facebook regularly compared to 78% use Snapchat regularly.
The participants of this study were in a unique part of their life where they transition from young adults under the care of their parents to testing out adulthood with greater autonomy and ability to decide what they do on a daily basis.
How We Interact Differently On Facebook Vs. Snapchat
The study found that, on average, networks were larger on Facebook compared to Snapchat and privacy concerns were greater on Facebook compared to Snapchat.
Interestingly, the study notes that individuals consider subsets of their network on each social media platform when deciding what and how to share information. For instance, you may have a network of 500 people on Facebook but you likely consider and think about a small handful of people and their potential response when posting on Facebook. This “imagined audience” versus “actual audience” impacts our privacy decisions differently and can change from post to post.
For example, if you post about college graduation your “imagined audience” could be those that are graduating with you in the same year and family members. In another scenario, if you post about a concert you recently attended your “imagined audience” could be people you recently went to other concerts with.
In general, as networks grew in Snapchat the user’s privacy concerns decreased, being more open to varied interactions with different people. This could be impacted by those that wish to grow their network on Snapchat and become mini-influencers of sorts.
The ability to grow your network and increase your following is dove-tailed with less privacy. One perfect example from Instagram is whether you set your profile to private or not. If you intend on being an Instagram influencer you very well must open your profile to any Instagram user. This, in change, limits your personal privacy and the privacy associated with posts.
Not surprisingly, women across the board are more privacy-sensitive than men. Women are less likely to disclose personal or contact information and are diligent at screening for potential “creeps” on social media.
Facebook’s Recent Privacy Issues
The results of the study could be impacted by the recent press and perception of Facebook as a company not concerned with your personal privacy. The FTC investigated Facebook in March of 2018 after they found out the social media giant was illegally collecting data from a personality quiz and selling that information to Cambridge Analytica.
The United States FTC passed down a $5 billion fine, a drop in the bucket compared to Facebook’s yearly revenue. In fact, after the fine was passed down Facebook stock jumped up and made founder Mark Zuckerberg even more rich. This did not send the intended message that Facebook once again skirted personal privacy for corporate profits and they should reconsider how they use personal data.
Should You Mistrust Facebook With Your Personal Information?
Facebook’s business and revenue model is straightforward, show targetted ads to its users and in doing so they make money every time someone either views or clicks an ad.
Similar to many social media and tech giants (From Google to Snapchat to Twitter) they make the vast majority of their revenue on advertising. These are the new age ad agencies. When you look at the many ways a company like Facebook can eke out a bit more revenue the key metrics are either 1: increase the user base or 2: increase the amount of revenue per user.
Facebook’s user growth has been increasing over time and that’s a good, healthy sign that people are still excited about Facebook and being on its platform.
What’s a bit more concerning is the significant growth in Facebook’s revenue per user over time. Check out the graph below by CNBC outlining how Facebook’s average revenue per user has grown from $9 in Q4 of 2014 to $27.8 in Q4 of 2017.
In 3 years Facebook’s revenue per user tripled. That means Facebook is getting better at monetizing its user. You may be wondering what this has to do with privacy. There’s a good chance Facebook tripled their revenue per user by getting better at targetting who you are as an individual and building a profile for what type of person you are.
Whether you want them to or not, Facebook’s key to success is knowing intricate details about every one of its user’s lives. Take that into account, along with the ongoing wakes from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and it should worry every Facebook user that the company will and does sell your information to the highest bidder. Perhaps that’s why Facebook users are more concerned with privacy than Snapchat. Facebook simply has shown repeatedly that profits are more important than its user’s privacy.