We tend to assume social media is a threat to privacy, but sometimes it can increase privacy.
In most regions there is considerable anxiety about the threat to privacy posed by social media. But some of the largest populations in East and South Asia live in extended families with limited expectations of individual privacy. For them social media can be their first experience of this kind of privacy.
Traditionally, people assumed only bad things are hidden from public view, and even in the factories, workers live in dormitories where people do not knock before entering. So privacy on social media is, for factory workers, a new experience.
Trinidadians have a colourful language to describe finding out about other people’s business and quickly saw the potential of social media for facilitating this desire.
Social media gives people in rural China a chance to connect and interact with absolute strangers, which was previously much more difficult.
It is not surveillance by states or companies that worries people, but being seen by people they know. Women in particular celebrate the potential for interaction on social media outside the male gaze.
Public social media has become a serious threat to the private and intimate sphere that has always been carefully protected and shielded from the public gaze. However private social media, such as Facebook chat, has increased levels of privacy.
Social media disrupts an intense concern with the privacy of the home, as exemplified in the idiom 'an Englishman’s home is their castle', suggesting a protected and fortified sanctuary. The threat of an outsider being able to gaze inside causes considerable anxiety.
Even though they know about them, people do not use the privacy settings on social media, because Facebook is primarily a place for showing aspirations, not for revealing secrets or showing poverty.