Rhetoric, Social Media, and Privacy

Open Access
Faris, Michael James
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 19, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Stuart Selber, Dissertation Advisor
  • Debra Hawhee, Committee Member
  • John L Selzer, Committee Member
  • Robert Lawrence Caserio Jr., Committee Member
  • Lynette Marie Yarger, Committee Member
  • rhetoric
  • social media
  • privacy
  • technology
  • digital media
  • literacies
  • digital literacy
  • writing studies
This dissertation investigates notions and practices related to privacy in social media environments. I argue for a social and rhetorical understanding of privacy in social media environments, involving attention to how the affordances of digital media affect how privacy is practiced in these environments. For example, the aggregation of data in digital media means that control over access to information is thoroughly distributed throughout one’s social network online: one’s privacy is as much dependent upon others’ practices and user settings as it is on one’s own. In order to explore privacy in these environments, I analyze popular discourses about privacy online, user interfaces, and user practices related to privacy in these environments. I explore four concepts interrelated to privacy: materiality, identity, intimacy, and sociability. Chapter 2 explores the material practices of managing privacy in public spaces using objects, including mobile phones and laptops, arguing that despite popular narratives that users do not have a sense of place when cocooned behind devices, that people use these devices in contextual ways in order to engage in their environments and manage privacy. Chapter 3 explores how identity shifts in online environments: Identity now becomes a series of digital traces that people use in order to construct others’ identities through their private information posted in various locations online. Private information is now externalized and less secure online. Chapter 4 explores the moral panic around sexting, the sharing of nude or sexually provocative images and text through text messages on mobile phones. This chapter argues that the moral panic blames young girls and women for their indiscretions disproportionately compared to those who violate privacy by forwarding images on. Privacy is incredibly gendered, and our culture has yet to extend the sorts of expectations and rights of privacy to women and girls as it extends to boys and men. In Chapter 5, I argue that grand narratives about declining sociability ignore the situated material and embodied practices of sociability in environments. I argue that in order to understand how shifts in privacy practices affect sociability, scholars need to attend to the specific architectures and embodied practices of users within specific ecologies. This project concludes with a heuristic for digital literacies of privacy in social media environments, outlined in the concluding chapter. I argue for a set of practices that involves functional, critical, and rhetorical literate practices that can be practiced in a variety of contexts.