Friday, 3 November 2017

Accidental Disclosure in the Online Medium

This blog is written by Ana Latia, a student at Cardiff University. She has been studying relevant sociological theories and methods for how we can understand the digital society and how the Internet shapes our everyday lives.

To what extent does the performance on Facebook distorts someone’s identity and how is their privacy put in danger?
I am writing this in order to contribute to the conflicting debates concerning privacy on social media. This will examine individuals’ behaviours and performances on Facebook while having the concept of ‘accidental disclosure’ as its main focus.
A large number of academics started recently to address problems such as users’ sense of privacy when using digital media. I find it very interesting how the digital world is very distinctive when talking about countries all around the world and findings may differ. For instance, there are individuals who are not aware of the fact that the content they share on Facebook can travel long distances in the online medium. The memes phenomenon is the most accurate example of people that are found on Facebook doing unconventional things and then their images, videos or texts are transformed into a meme that circulates all around the internet. This also raises questions regarding privacy and also the extent to which people are aware of accidental disclosure.
The information that we provide on social media can now reach a very large number of individuals within seconds. With regard to Facebook, identity is performed by interacting with other people, through pictures, videos, or over messenger, comments and likes. Social practices become permanent and reachable once they are performed online (Solove 2007). Accidental disclosure in this case refers to the unintended reveal of personal information; when a user posts sensitive information about themselves on a social networking site such as Facebook, or when someone provides confidential material without the user’s authorization. This is important in social media as people cannot monitor everything they share as they are not only evaluated by what they post online, but also on their peers’ actions (Jerningan and Mistree 2009).
Perceptions about privacy and practices on Facebook have developed over time (Vitak 2017: 636). According to Chakrabortly et al (2013) and Madden et al (2013), younger users on Facebook tend to disclose a lot more information; they also have less restrictive attitudes on the issues of sharing personal information.
In May this year I conducted a small research project in order to understand individual’s opinion about accidental disclosure and how this concept shapes their performance on Facebook. The methodology used involved semi-structured interviews and visual methods in the form of images (collected from Facebook), while the sample was composed of three undergraduate students from Cardiff University.
Analysing these interviews and photos as social performances demonstrated the extent to which apparently ‘private’ experiences of the self are manifested by means of displaying photos on social media. All three interviewees admitted that they construct a self-identity on Facebook. Moreover, all of them claimed that at some point they would not share personal information if it will be seen by a large public. They were all fully aware that employers might look on their social media accounts and therefore, they divided their Facebook profile into two parts – close friends and general public.
A big impact that this study provides is that it has practical implication. The findings can articulate how constrained a person feels when constructing an identity on Facebook. Moreover, this can also provide advice for employers who use social media for selecting people and make them ask themselves: “Is this who X really is?”. For example, two of the respondents claimed that they do not feel that the identity that they construct on Facebook is accurate.
All of these represent a starting point for a better understanding of contemporary Facebook phenomena; studying individuals’ attitudes and behaviours on Facebook helps advance theory within social media studies.


·         Solove, D. 2007. The future of reputation: Gossip, rumor, and privacy on the Internet. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
·         Jernigan, C. and Mistree, B. 2009. “Gaydar: Facebook friendships expose sexual orientations.” In First Monday 14(10). Online. Available: 1/2302 [Accessed: 03.12.2016].
·         Vitak, J. 2017. “Facebook as a Research Tool in the Social and Computer Sciences”. In Sloan, L. and Quan-Haase, A. eds. 2017. The SAGE Handbook of Social Media Research Methods. Sage Publications. Online. Available at:  [Accessed: 08.03.2017].

Friday, 27 October 2017

Gender stereotyping used in the media for the recruitment of women to the British Army

This blog is written by Paige Salvage, a student at Cardiff University. She has been studying relevant sociological theories and methods for how we can understand the digital society and how the Internet shapes our everyday lives.
The recent development of government legislation allowing female soldiers into infantry positions has resulted in extensive sociological interest in the changing role of women in the Army. Stiehm (1988) suggested that women in the Army have fixed stereotypes, “whores or lesbians” suggesting that serving female soldiers have both sexual and sexuality foci. Assuming this is true, Goffman’s (1976:9) suggests that “gender displays […] reflect fundamental features of the social structure” in the Army. This study considered how images that have been used across social media, in particular the British Army’s Instagram page (@britisharmy), depict women who are already serving. In order to interpret the findings it was important to understand how women are stereotyped into roles society deem as typically ‘female’.

It is important to note that Stiehm’s (1988) stereotypical labelling of women in the Army is not only subjective but also unethical. However, Goffman’s (1976) work on gender displays balanced any possible disparity as he suggested that gender is a flexible and fluid notion. With Braun and Clarke’s (2006) guide to thematic analysis, this study aimed to probe the following two inductive themes:

1.       Masculine - those who are taking on a more masculine role or are taking part in a military activity that is stereotypically male      

2.       Feminine - those who take part in more stereotypically female activities
Data collection was limited to the British Army’s Instagram page (@britisharmy) after 8th July 2016 when women were officially allowed access to infantry roles. This period was considered significant as it was expected that more images of women in combat or infantry scenarios would be shared as a promotion of women into these roles.


Analysis of images in Instagram (@britisharmy) suggested that images of women are more likely to be depicted in masculine roles (Figure 1). This suggests that the British Army are attempting to break the down the assumptions that women in the military are the weaker sex. By providing the public with images of women taking part in arduous and dangerous activities, the British Army are promoting masculine roles for women.

However, this does not address the common stereotypes that depict women in the Army. Women who hold a more masculine physique in these images may be considered “lesbian”, as Stiehm (1988) noted that this label was linked more towards physical attributes rather than the sexuality of the individual. As some show masculine traits, these women become ‘othered’ by assuming a more male stereotype.


There are significantly less images in instagram depicting women in the army as feminine (Figure 2), suggesting that the British Army are biased towards using images to portray women in active combat roles. This is contrary to the acknowledged social role of women as homemakers and carers. Indeed, feminine images of women on @britisharmy tend to depict women in healthcare or domestic (eg chefs) roles, suggest that the British Army concur with the idea that women need less physically demanding  roles.

From this study, we can start to understand how masculine pictures of women are used as promotional aids to increase recruitment numbers, particularly into infantry roles. It appears that, following the 2016 policy change to allow females into infantry regiments, the British Army are now targeting women in their recruitment campaigns. However, it could not be concluded that female stereotypes were purposefully used to recruit certain types of women for these infantry roles.