Theme : Identity and Privacy

This section wrangles together most statements by respondents that relate to concern over their privacy or (representation of) identity.

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Respondent 1

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I: yeah actually I have a Facebook, I had no idea how to make it either, so right before school started, maybe a week or two before school started, they convinced me that it was a good idea to have it, I don’t know if I was against it or anything like that, or if I just was standing up to a social norm, I don’t know I’m not sure. Umb… umb… but they actually made it for me but I quickly started to like it and used it a lot and now I have… fifteen hundred pictures and [laugh]

J: Are those all your pictures personally or just does it include ones you were tagged in? That’s a lot for just one person to put up.

I: Yes, exactly. Yeah no I don’t…


J: That almost leads into another… people have that invisible audience right, because they’re not sure who’s looking at their profile, but everybody has a conception of who their invisible audience is. 

I: And there are controls for Facebook, right?

J: Yes, more so now, you can custom-tailor who that audience is, but previously it was you know, just could be anybody from your school.  Any one of your six hundred friends or whatever it is.  So who would you—oh we’re outa of time—if you were to guestimate, who would your invisible audience typically be?

I: Well, I have not utilized those new controls, so [laugh], so umb…

J: So you haven’t forced it down, you really do have to guess

I: Ah well, and if I get tagged in a compromising picture I’m gonna untag it.  So umb, and if there’s something obnoxious on my wall I’m not gonna keep it there either, I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t like to look at it either.  I mean I try to keep an image of myself that I would like to be portrayed as, so I’m not gonna have stuff on there that’s gonna get me in trouble.

J: So it may not matter that much as to who looks at it and who doesn’t?

I: Yeah, cause I guess, yeah it can’t matter because everyone can look at it on my network I guess,

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Respondent 2

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J: If you started joining groups right when you joined Facebook if you kept all of your group since then you’d have a track record of groups, but some people don’t do that—they look over their groups and prune them, they’ll see something and be like “oh this is stupid” and delete it and keep it to just stuff they’re really in or about.  Which are you, more of a history person or a group pruner?

I:I was one of the just the – in all of them, and then I went down and I was like “what am I really in this?” What is this, crazy stuff, what was I thinking when I joined this group? So I started going down on that only because one of my mentors on this campus, she said, she has a new thing, that I am now my profile, and umb, she said because stuff like Facebook and MySpace you can get on there, and people get to see all of the things you’re part of and all of the things you’re acting on another’s profile, and then they think they can see, I know, who this person is even before I meet this person.  So like thinking about that, so what if one of my church members gets on my page and they’re like… what?  Know what I’m sayin?  If I don’t even know I’m in this group, I didn’t click on it, and I’m just in it because… all doin’ they’re readin’ it.

J: So you just like excepted it without reading it and then it ends up on your thing and it might not really be who you are?



J: So like gossip and stuff.  So does anything then ever become official once it’s on Facebook?

I:Oh it used to but it doesn’t, that’s another thing that changed in college.  Because like in high school people used to get upset with their boyfriends and girlfriends for not putting up their relationship status on Facebook but now in college it’s like a lot of people don’t want it on there, because once it’s on Facebook it’s drama attachment – everybody is gonna be on your page and be like ‘Is he with you or is she with you’ you know and ‘why where they here’ and people want to keep their business as private as they can, and it’s hard because the black community population here is so small so everybody don’t put it on Facebook.

J: So there’s privacy functions right? How do those work in to this?  You can run it right down to the individual person right?

I:Right, yeah, limited profile.  Like my best friend he umb broke up with his girlfriend when it got to college, and she was all on his page, and a lot of the girls he talks to were on his page, like any girl he talked to you would friend, and he got a girlfriend, and they had status and everything, but nobody could see though on limited profile, so he had to remove all of these girls he talks to and take them off his page and add them again on limited profile.

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Respondent 3

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J: Would you want certain people looking at your profile instead of others?

I:I don’t mind people looking at my profile unless it’s someone I don’t know.  It’s not—in my case—my friend who went to Jamaica with me, had pictures of herself in her bikini and these random guys were sending her messages everyday like ‘hey you’re hot do you want to come out with me sometime?’ kinda pickup lines.

J: Do you think that’s a common thing, that women receive that kind of harassment?

I:I think so, it doesn’t happen to me much, but my friend is really pretty so I think she gets it more.

J: Do you think guys run into that sort of thing too? Like a really attractive guy?

I:Sure, I guess so.  Not as much because it’s easier for guys to approach girls, but I think good looking guys would have the same problem.


J: So easier to approach—how do you think Facebook changes how easy or hard it is to approach someone?  Is it easier on Facebook than in person?

I:Yeah, some people like I meet them and I run into them on the street and we kind of ignore each other, it’s awkward, we stare at each other but we don’t say hi, but on Facebook we’re still friends. It’s weird.

J:Do you think it’s because one of you is afraid to talk to the other or it would be awkward?

I:I don’t know, it depends on that kind of person, I think it’s more about the other person being awkward, because I’m really open.  I think those people are shy and build a new identity online.

J: Alright, so if you meet a person playing soccer, you know they like soccer, but that’s really the extent of their identity that you know.  But then you can Facebook them and really see all the things they do, who they’re friends with, and stuff.  So is that picture painted of them on Facebook a pretty good picture of who they are?

I:Sort of, because you get to know what that person is interested in and involved in, but you don’t get to know the deep inside of that person, so like more stuff on the outside is more revealed I guess.

J:Has that changed how people meet each other?

I:I don’t think it’s changed all that much, because even if that person adds you on Facebook, the next time you meet, unless you had a connection the first time it’s still awkward.  So you might ignore or forget about that person anyway, but you still might have that person as a friend.

J:Is there a reason to keep them on your friends list then?

I:Not really, people add me anyway, and I accept them.  I wouldn’t reject them—that’s rude—unless that person is really creepy.

J: So it’s a lot easier to say yes than it is to say no?

I:I usually say yes to anybody who goes to U of I, but if they’re random then I might reject them.

J: So it’s an expectation of reputation then?


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Respondent 4

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J: so it might indicate more about their personality?

I:yeah and that’s why I don’t um I don’t know I guess like what I said about groups, I don’t want to add a group if just like oh that sounds kinda cool, I’ll add it and support it because if someone sees that and they’re like oh they don’t agree with me, I don’t want them to think that I’m like, if they didn’t already know something about me in real life, then I don’t think its something I need to tell them, like tell people on Facebook because if I actually support a cause or feel strongly about something then people that know me in real life will probably already know it and can think, that that’s just what I think.


J: You joined after the newsfeed was in place?

I:No, before

J:oh you came in before it, so what was your experience when the newsfeed was added?

I:everybody freaked out like its an invasion of privacy and like all I ya know deeper secrets are being

J:revealed but how did you take it?

I:I just thought it was annoying. I don’t even remember what the home page looked like before it was here anymore and there are all these groups that are like don’t let Facebook take your privacy away and Facebook is creepy. Facebook has always been creepy, like nothing is ever a secret. If you did something on your page then if somebody went to your page they’d see it, so what’s the difference if they see it like on their homepage, pretty much? I thought it was kind of annoying but I mean, get used to it and get over it, pretty much. Cuz either it would change it can stay.


I: well my profile isn’t public, it’s just my friends and I like I said I wouldn’t think that people I don’t know very well would be looking at it just because if they’ve ever seen it before it’s probably the same it just isn’t very interesting something that people would spend you cant really look at a profile with 8 pictures on it and minimal information about me for very long, without getting bored and moving on to someone else.


J: have you ever untagged yourself in pictures?


J:have you ever tagged yourself?

I:no I don’t think so

J: So it’s only gone one way

I:yeah I don’t know I um like only having a couple pictures and usually they’re pretty bad so like new pictures that are tagged of me are pretty bad so I don’t really like having them tagged so I’ll untag them and then oh this happens a lot, someone will tag you in like a really embarrassing picture and you’ll untag yourself and then someone else will tag you in it and they’ll be like no like this is a really good picture, I’m taggin you and you’ll be like no I don’t want sort of like go back and forth and ridiculous. I’ll always win.

J:because what you have final say or you’re just more tenacious?

I:because you find out when you’re tagged but you don’t find out when someone untags you.

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Respondent 5

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J: Have you ever not known how you know a person?

I:Yeah, I had like an issue with this girl who was using my Facebook for like 7 months. I have a story, I’ll just tell it now.  The weekend of unofficial I woke up on Sunday morning—I live in a sorority house—and I go downstairs and there’s this box that has my name on it.  And I open it up and there’s all these love letters from this girl and like stuffed animals and presents and pictures of me from my Facebook that I posted.  I was really confused and I thought it was a really cruel joke and they took everything and investigated everything and they found out eventually—2 days later—that there was a girl who I was friends with who was from the U of I network who I never met before, but she requested my friendship last summer before I ever even came here and I accepted it thinking—Oh you know, it would be really cool to get friends from U of I and stuff so I remember accepting her request.  Apparently for the past 7 months she’s been using my Facebook, like with all of my pictures—my profile pictures—all my picture albums, she uses friends from home what they write on my wall, my whole about me section, my interests, my favorite movies, my favorite books.  And she made a fake MySpace of my identity, and had lesbian relationships with, like, I think several girls over the internet.

J:Remember when you said there weren’t any sexual predators on Facebook?

I:Oh, yeah, well I mean, it wasn’t like 40 year old creepy man. It really, really opened my eyes.  I never thought that someone would do that.

J:Did they figure out motives?

I:Well yeah, campus security talked to her, she said she didn’t feel like her appearance was good enough, so she hid behind mine.  She said the first time she used my pictures was to create this fake MySpace to stalk her x boy friend because he deleted her friendship and she wanted to check up on what he was doing on MySpace so she used my pictures and made a fake one and requested him and so he thought it wasn’t her and then some girl commented on one of her pictures and she went along with it and eventually developed a relationship with this girl—and she would talk to her on the phone.  That’s how they found out who she was, cause the girl that I had the ‘relationship’ with or whatever gave them the number.

J:Why did she send things to you? The box that showed up?

I:One of the girls that she had a relationship with, I guess they broke up, and she drove 7 hours form Ohio to drop off this stuff at my house, because she knew my address because I put on Facebook that I live in this house, yeah.  And she knew my home address too, because when you go on the UIUC website you can find your home address and home number. So she knew all of that stuff too.

J: So she’d have to be pretty clever to make up lies. You would change things that would be unaccountable…

I:I talked to the girl that she had the relationship with, and she was like “I’m so sorry, like I’m really embarrassed you got all that stuff” because she found out it wasn’t the real person, and I was like “No it’s okay, I understand, I feel more bad for you because you had to deal with this for the past 6 months or whatever and I had no idea.” And she told me that this girl would literally tell her—my sister goes to [non-UIUC public university] she’s a senior there, and it says where you go to school next to your name.  So she would make up lies, like she would say “Oh my sister is so upset about the [tragic event that happened] I’m going home this weekend,” and you know like status updates?  I would have something stupid, like [interviewee name] is excited for going to [nearby Midwest state] this weekend, because my boy friend goes to [nearby Midwest state university] and I visit him a lot.  And she would take that into consideration and wait for me to add pictures from [nearby Midwest state] and she would just make up all of these stories, from my pictures, from what people write on my wall, my status updates, like this girl completely stalked my Facebook.

J:It’s a weird perverse…

I:I know it’s so weird, and I was so scared, it was really disturbing for me.  I can’t believe I was so closely watched.  Like all through the internet I couldn’t believe that would ever happen.  So I went through all of my friends and just deleted people I didn’t know.

J: So out of this, I would expect most people to be inspired to delete everything and be like “I’m done with this” but it doesn’t sound like you didn’t react that extremely.

I:Yeah I know, I mean I’m not gonna cut my Facebook usage just because one person stalked me.  I mean for a few days afterwards I was so scared of Facebook, I deleted my wall, like I dunno, there were certain things I did, but I just mainly went through all of my friends and deleted half of them. And a lot of my friends did too because they were freaked out by my story.

J:Did the amount of time you spend increase or decrease?

I:Maybe for a week after it happened I was kinda less.


J: Alright, so you also mentioned you joined before the newsfeed.  How did you feel about it when they added it?

I:I hated it at first, because I was like “I don’t want people to see what I did” like whose wall I wrote on.  I think the very first time they put on the newsfeed you couldn’t like delete it off your minified or whatever.

J:Well when they first released it you had little control over what it tracked and announces.

I:Yeah, now you can control completely what goes on. I don’t think I did any of those controls—like what goes on the main newsfeed, but I always delete everything I do.

J:Did that change as a result of the incident with the girl you talked about before or did you do that before then?

I:No I’ve always done that from the beginning.  I didn’t want people to see what I was doing exactly.

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Respondent 6

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J: Alright, getting back, so what kinds of friends group communities do you have on there?

I:Well there’s certain groups that have been made specifically as inside jokes.  But they never really develop, you just join them, and then you never leave them because it would be weird if you left it.

J:Well do you think most of your groups are reflective of organization stuff or more inside jokes and identity traits?

I:It’s definitely more inside jokes and identity traits, I guess I’m not very active on campus. And every once in a while I’ll go through these groups and find the ones that I never look at and get rid of them.

J: So you group prune, it’s not really a history of you and what you’ve done but more like what you’re in immediately, who you are now.

I:Most of the groups I join are more like a knee-jerk reaction, I’ll be like “oh, yeah, I’ll join it.”  I just did that today for something.  There was some petition against an artist, who called it art, having dogs starve chained up, or something, and I was like “that’s bad” and I joined that group.  And I know a year from now I’ll go look back at it and be like “what is this?”

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Respondent 7

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J: You mentioned the people you talk to vs. the strangers thing.  Some people on Facebook are good friends of yours, some people might be people you don’t know well.  How do you determine if you’d friend someone, or accept a friend request from someone, on Facebook?

I:Usually if someone adds me, I’ll go and check their profile first and check their mutual friends, I’ll see like if we have a lot of mutual friends, and I’ll just add them.  Some people are like my friends I know, I don’t even like her, ignore her.  I’m not that strict about it, if she doesn’t look like a creepo I’ll just accept it but usually I have to have friends in common and they have to be living in the Chicago area. Something that we have in common.  Not just like from Tennessee like, I’ll ignore you, if I just have no idea of who you are and I can’t get to know you.  But if it’s some type of something in common I’ll say yes.

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Respondent 8

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J: So you’ve mentioned a couple of times of “If you were actually worry about it” –what would bring something to a point when you might worry about it?

I:Just because it’s the internet, you don’t know who exactly is going to be on it at all times.  I put all of the privacy restrictions on Facebook and everything, so it’s supposed to be only my friends can see it anyway, but just in case someone else gets on, I don’t want information that I don’t want other people to see to be on there anyway.  I only put information that I don’t really care who sees it on Facebook.

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Respondent 10

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J: What’s your take on the newsfeed then?

I:The newsfeed… I think it’s creepy.  I don’t think they should have people’s—that you can see what they wrote on people’s walls.

J:How come?

I:I don’t know it’s just creepy.  Or you can click on wall-to-wall and see what they’ve been talking about like the entire school year.  It’s like everything they write you know people are going to look at. People can see things.