Connection is the watchword.
That’s what Facebook is about, if you haven’t heard. “My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in testimony before Congress in April, after tens of millions of Facebook users learned that their private data had been compromised and shared with the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
What Facebook is not about is data misuse. That, along with spam, fake news, and clickbait, are things that happen on Facebook, as a recent apology ad from the company put it, but they’re not what Facebook is about. What does Facebook do? It connects. What is Facebook? A community. What is Facebook for? It’s for friends.
Research shows that people become closer to each other through intimate self-disclosure. But there’s only so much connecting social-media platforms can do if people are too concerned about privacy to use them for the full breadth and depth of human communication. Paradoxically, these tools that were built to bolster relationships may, by their very nature, be keeping people at a distance from each other.
I recently conducted a survey, trying to determine how much people censor themselves on social media and whether the Cambridge Analytica scandal has changed their behavior on Facebook and other platforms. I also shared my survey results with Sauvik Das, an assistant professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Sarita Schoenebeck, the director of the Living Online Lab at the University of Michigan. They kindly performed basic analyses of some of the data.