To disclose or not: publicness in social networking sites

Patrick J. Bateman (Williamson College of Business Administration, Youngstown State University, Youngstown, Ohio, USA)
Jacqueline C. Pike (Palumbo‐Donahue School of Business, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA)
Brian S. Butler (Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA)

Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Publication date: 1 March 2011



Social networking sites (SNS) are changing the methods of social connectivity – and what it means to be public. Existing literature hints at competing perspectives on how the public nature of these sites impacts users. The question of how the perceived publicness of SNSs influences users' self‐disclosure intentions is debated in the literature, and the aim of this paper is to answer this debate.


This paper theorizes competing perspectives on the role of publicness on self‐disclosure. Competing perspectives are tested using data collected via an online survey.


The study finds support for the perceived publicness of a SNS negatively influencing users' self‐disclosure intentions. Additionally, exploratory analysis of self‐disclosure items ubiquitous to most SNSs found that perceived publicness negatively influences users' intention to self‐disclose items related to users' likes and affiliations.

Research limitations/implications

Variables of the study were self‐reported and, as such, are subject to the typical limitations of cross‐sectional, survey‐based research. Future research should seek to examine how perceived publicness and other variables impact self‐disclosure in SNSs over time.

Practical implications

Business models utilizing social networking technologies rely on users' willingness to engage in self‐disclosure. This research provides a theoretical link between the public nature of a social networking environment and users' willingness to self‐disclose. Highlighting perceived publicness as an important aspect of an environment could be one way to address the need to elicit and manage users' self‐disclosure.


The paper utilizes a unique, but established, method of competing hypotheses to understand the role of the public nature of SNSs.



Bateman, P., Pike, J. and Butler, B. (2011), "To disclose or not: publicness in social networking sites", Information Technology & People, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 78-100.

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