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Information  2011 

The Online Construction of Personal Identity Through Trust and Privacy

DOI: 10.3390/info2040594

Keywords: trust, privacy, personal identity, social networks, informational norms, contextual integrity, accountability, offline/online realities

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Abstract:

Constructing a personal identity is an activity much more complex than elaborating a series of online profiles, which are only digital hints of the Self. The construction of our personal identity is a context-mediated activity. Our hypothesis is that young people are enabled, as digital natives and social network users, to co-construct the “context of communication” in which their narrative identities will be interpreted and understood. In particular, the aim of this paper is to show that such “context of communication”, which can be seen as the hermeneutical counterpart of the “networked publics” elaborated by Danah Boyd, emerges out of the tension between trust and privacy. In other terms, it is, on the one hand, the outcome of a web of trustful relations and, on the other, the framework in which the informational norms regulating teens’ expectations of privacy protection are set and evaluated. However, these expectations can be frustrated, since the information produced in such contexts can be disembedded and re-contextualized across time. The general and widespread use of information technology is, in fact, challenging our traditional way of thinking about the world and our identities in terms of stable and durable structures; they are reconstituted, instead, into novel forms.

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