Asymmetric Disclosure in Social Networks

A thought in process…

In a social network, under what conditions should relationships between individuals be publicly discoverable?

So for example, if I am a member of a social network that supports private groups and I put You in one of My private groups, and You put Me in one of
Your public groups, should Our relationship be publicly disclosd on Your profile?

A ‘real world’ version of this (?maybe): suppose You have a problem. You ask Me for a chat about it over coffee in a public coffee shop. Under what circumstances should I be able to disclose in public that You and I had that coffee together?

I haven’t got a proper definition of what I think I mean by asymmetric disclosure yet, but what I (think I) want is to find a way of representing (or at least, talking about) public and private relationships between individuals that allow us to reason about whether friend of a friend connections that are private might end up being disclosed in public just because it’s too complicated to work out whether something is, should, or might ‘reasonably’ expected to be, public or private…

So here’s where I’m at: an asymmetry can be thought of arising if one party in a relationship can reveal information about the other that the other believed they had disclosed to the one in a “private” way, or at least, not in a public way.

This all becomes relevant when we start thinking about ‘friend of a friend’ based friend recommendations or social search and potentially unwelcome disclosures that might result. It might also provide a way of helping us reason about situations where information flow can route around “privacy blocks” via network connections we might not be aware of?

PS here’s another example of possible asymmetric disclosure, this time taken from Twitter. Suppose @A, who has 50 or so followers, tweets “It’s my birthday”. If B, who is one of A’s followers, responds with “@A Happy Birthday”, that response will only appear in the feed of people who follow both A and B, although it can also be seen on B’s public page. If C, who has 1,000 ‘unmoderated’ followers (that is, C never blocks anyone) tweets “Hey, Happy Birthday @A”, all of C’s followers (which let’s assume are mainly spambots and social phishbots(?)) see the message. C has amplified A’s birthdate details. (Admittedly, A had already made that information public, but their intention may only have been to declare that fact to their 30 or so followers. So what we have here is potentially a case of unintended amplification…?)

See also: Brand Association and Your Twitter Followers

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

7 thoughts on “Asymmetric Disclosure in Social Networks”

  1. This reminds me of “lurkers” in a network where initially they may give a little but also may “take a lot” from that network and then over time open up and share their personalised curated network contacts & knowledge etc. with the wider network when confident with the “rules” of that network.

    By “publicly” doing this they are saying that they know “X” and that they are willing to share their relationship with “X” with the wider network but based on their understanding of the “rules” of the network.

    If the “rules” are not known before this sharing of contacts then I personally think that there is a risk of the “lurker” forever remaining a lurker due to mistrust in the network and it’s “rules”.

  2. I think of lurkers as more positive than that.

    eg in various “communities of practice” we have used them to carry out what we call “social knitting” there they define relationships between existing people, knowledge & discussions in a mainly anonymous way and once they feel that they are ready they then contribute in a more public manner by starting discussions, contributing knowledge etc.

    1. So are there economic theories about passive or sleeper agents in a market that can also be used to describe the behaviour of lurkers in a knowledge economy?

Comments are closed.