Social Norms Play Important Role in Privacy Settings on Social Networking Sites

Social norms may play a role in the choice of privacy settings on social networking sites, according to research published in the Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace in 2010.

Previous research suggested there was a “privacy paradox” – although users of social networking sites reported having concerns about privacy, few of these users actually made their profiles more private. Subsequent research, in contrast, found that there was a growing “privacy movement,” which consisted of more and more users changing their privacy settings to be more restrictive.

To investigate the privacy paradox and possible privacy movement, Sonja Utz and Nicole Krämer conducted three studies that assessed the privacy concerns, impression management, dispositional trust, narcissism, and perceived norms of users of the social networking sites Hyves and StudiVZ. Both of these sites are popular European social networking sites, similar to Facebook.

While the personality traits of narcissism and trust did not seem to play an important role in users privacy settings, the measures of privacy concerns and perceived norms did. The authors also found that many users recently changed their default privacy settings to be more restrictive. This finding supports the existence of a “privacy movement.” As the authors explain,


became mainstream, the first negative consequences occurred. People were fired or did not get a job because of party pictures on Facebook. The word about these events spread, within the, but also in the media. As a consequence, awareness of the dangers grew. At the same time, users got more experienced and learned how to deal with new technologies.”


Utz, S., & Krämer, N. (2009). The privacy paradox on social network sites revisited: The role of individual characteristics and group norms. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 3(2), article 2. Full text: