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Wednesday, July 13 • 10:46 - 12:15
Watching me watching you: How observational learning affect self-disclosure on SNS

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG02, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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  • Tamar Ashuri, Department of Communication, Tel Aviv University, Israel
  • Shira Dvir Gvirsman, Department of Communication, Tel Aviv University, Israel
  • Ruth Halperin, Oranim College of Education, Israel

This study analyzes the motivations of Social Networking Sites (SNS) users to disclose personally identifiable information on SNS. The rationale for the study stems from the fact that information disclosure is critical to sustaining the popularity and value of SNS. Indeed, without massive production and consumption of identified personal information, SNS will not be able to fulfill users’ attentiveness needed to secure their loyalty (Chen, 2012). Because information disclosure is of strategic value on SNSs, SNS providers employ various tactics to encourage users to disclose information about themselves.

A variety of approaches have been used to explain an individual’s willingness to disclose personal information on SNS. It has been reported that anticipation of benefits, such as enjoyment and social acceptance, motivates users to disclose personal information (e.g. Sledgianowski and Kulviwat, 2008). However, it was noted that the choice to disclose is also affected by the information owner’s perceptions of risks, such as harassment, tracking of browsing history, third party usage of personal data and identity theft. Thus, while perceptions of usefulness offer people a reason to disclose personal information on SNS, perceptions of risk tend to play the opposite role. Acknowledging the push and pull between such conflicting elements, researches introduced the privacy-calculus concept to denote the risk-benefit assessment that users make in deciding how much to disclose (e.g. Dinev et al., 2006).

While providing valuable insight into the effects of risk-benefit assessment on self -disclosure behavior, most of the existing studies overlook the significant role played by reciprocal features of SNS to users’ disclosure motivations. The present study, aims to understand how users’ ability to view and traverse other users’ actions, as well as the rewards and snags they receive, impinge on their privacy-calculus and resulting self- disclosure behavior. Recognizing that SNS provide an environment conducive to social observation and social learning (Zhang and Daugherty, 2009), we develop a model of self-disclosure that draws from the theory of observational learning (Bandura, 2009) and the concept of privacy calculus (e.g. Dinev et al., 2006).

We proposed the following hypotheses:

H1. Perceived gains tied to SD behavior will be positively associated to SD behavior online.

H2. Perceived risks tied to SD behavior will be negatively associated to SD behavior online.

H3. Perceived SD by others will be positively associated to SD behavior online.

H4. Others’ perceived gains due to SD behavior would be positively associated to ones’ perceived gains due to SD.

H5. Others’ perceived risks due to SD behavior would be positively associated to ones’ perceived risks due to SD.

H6. Others’ perceived gains due to SD behavior would have a mediated influence on one’s SD behavior.

H7. Others’ perceived risks due to SD behavior would have a mediated influence on one’s SD behavior.

         We empirically tested our model and associated hypotheses using data we collected through an online survey (N=742 Jewish Israeli Facebook users). The sample was designed to be representative of the Jewish Israeli population of Facebook. We began our analysis with a general assessment of the privacy calculus. The distribution of gains and risks was fairly normal and centered around a small negative mean (M=-2.5, SD=7.7), we found that for themselves, people see self disclosure [herein after: SD] as an activity that involves both risks and benefits. For their Facebook friends [hereinafter: ‘others’], the result was almost identical (M=-.55, SD=7.5). The difference between perception of self and others is small but significant (t1,592=-12.0, p<0.01). In addition, we wanted to test whether people tied SD to risks and gains. That is, if people understand that in order to benefit from SNS, SD is required, but also, that SD on SNS expose them to risks. We found a positive relation between SD behavior and perception of gains, both in the case of ‘self’ and ‘others’. When it comes to risks, however, the pattern is slightly more complex. We found no significant relation between one’s SD behavior and perception of risk. In the case of perception of other’s SD behavior, perceived risks are positively tied to SD behavior. The correlations found suggest that in general, people connect SD behavior to both risks and gains. However, the relations are more noticeable in the case of gains, compared to risks. Be that as it may, in all cases the relations are positive. The pattern found supports the logic of the privacy calculus concept. To test our hypotheses we used SEM. The model was assessed with SD actions and sharing information creating a latent variable of SD behavior, both for self and other. The theoretical model yielded satisfactory results in terms of goodness of fit indices. We obtained a chi-square to df ratio (CMIN/DF) of 1.52. The model fits the data extremely well (χ2  = 24.0, df  = 26, p  = .58; RMSEA = .00, CFI = .998).

Our hypotheses were confirmed with one exception. With respect to gains: Other’s perceived gains were positively associated with perceived gains for self, which were, in turn, positively associated with SD behavior. In addition, other’s perceived gains has a positive and significant indirect effect on SD behavior. As for risks: perceived risks to others were positively associated with perceived risks to self. Others’ former experience - that is, whether or not others were harmed - was associated with perceived risks to self, yet the relation was negative. Contrary to our hypothesis perceived risks to self had no bearing on SD behavior. Importantly, being harmed in the past was positively associated with SD behavior. More so, although perceived risks to self had no effect on SD behavior, perceived risks to others did – negative relation between the two was found. Lastly, perceived SD behaviors of others was positively associated with SD behavior. 

The model we developed enabled us to observe a net positive effects of perceived risk and perceived benefits on personal information disclosure. We found that information regarding SD behaviors of one’s Facebook friends, and the rewards they receive, have a powerful effect on one’s benefits perceptions and by implication on his/hers disclosure behavior. We thus argue that voluntary disclosure on SNS is tied to the usefulness that users attribute to online social networking activities – a perception that is based on their own experiences as well as on the experiences of others actors whom they constantly observe.  


Bandura, A. (Ed.). (2009 [1974]). Psychological modeling: Conflicting theories. Transaction Publishers.

Chen, R. (2013). Living a private life in public social networks: An exploration of member self-disclosure. Decision Support Systems, 55(3): 661-668.

Sledgianowski, D. & Kulviwat, S. "Social Network Sites: Antecedents of User Adoption and Usage" (2008). AMCIS 2008 Proceedings. Paper 83.
Retrieved from: http://aisel.aisnet.org/amcis2008/83

Dinev, T., Bellotto, M., Hart, P., Russo, V., Serra, I., & Colautti, C. (2006). Privacy calculus model in e-commerce–a study of Italy and the United States. European Journal of Information Systems, 15(4), 389-402.

Zhang, J., & Daugherty, T. (2009). Third-person effect and social networking: implications for online marketing and word-of-mouth communication. American Journal of Business, 24(2), 53-64.

Wednesday July 13, 2016 10:46 - 12:15 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG02 Goldsmiths University, Building 2

Attendees (6)