Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Eileen Wood

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


Use of social networking sites has grown exponentially over the last decade. Facebook, a popular social networking site, currently boasts membership of over 500 million users ( In the present research, four studies were conducted to examine factors that impact on self-disclosure and privacy settings use. The primary goal for Studies 1 A, B and C involved developing methods for organizing and understanding the information that individuals disclose through social networking sites. Specifically, in Study 1 A, a scoring tool was developed in order to comprehensively assess the content of the personal profiles. In Study 1 B, grouping categories (default/standard information, sensitive personal information, and potentially stigmatizing information) were developed to examine information pertinent to identity threat, personal and group threat. Finally, in Study 1 C, an alternative grouping strategy was developed to include all information present in Facebook, organized as a function of the content that was presented. Overall, these studies indicated that approximately 25% of all possible information that could potentially be disclosed by users was disclosed. Presenting personal information such as gender and age was related to disclosure of other sensitive and highly personal information as well as greater disclosure. As age increased, the amount of personal information in profiles decreased. Those seeking a relationship were at greater risk of threat, and disclosed the greatest amount of highly sensitive and potentially stigmatizing information. Study 2 examined whether giving participants stories to read that did or did not alert participants to potential dangers of disclosure and the media context (electronic or hard copy formats) impacted on disclosure and privacy settings use. In addition, the predictive power of gender and the virtual other (the audience in mind) was also examined. Females disclosed less sensitive information than males after reading a personal privacy invasion story. Disclosure was less when the target for whom the information was being posted was the same gender as the participant, and more when the target was the opposite gender of the participant. Disclosure of specific content areas also differed by gender of the discloser. Only 20.3% of participants employed privacy settings. When a virtual audience consisting of referents other than friends or the self was in mind, use of privacy settings increased. Lastly, participants who filled out Facebook profiles on paper-and-pencil disclosed more as compared to their online Facebook counterparts. Overall, these findings shed light on some of the factors that may be related to over-disclosure, and help to identify those users who are at particular risk when online. In addition, these studies examined a relatively novel but highly important area, privacy settings and the factors that relate to use. The notion of the virtual other is one that demands further examination and may prove useful in understanding how and why people choose to share highly personal information online, and most importantly, employ privacy settings.

Convocation Year


Included in

Psychology Commons