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CITP Lunch Seminar: Ashley Gorham – Social Media is Not a Context: Protecting Privacy Amid “Context Collapse”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm


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Despite initiatives on behalf of the platforms themselves as well as political undertakings designed to improve the situation, privacy online seems to erode more each day. While there are many reasons for concern, it is in relation to social media in particular that some of the most serious concerns have been raised. One of the most pernicious effects of social media is “context collapse” or the confusion of social contexts and their associated privacy norms. The confusion is only heightened by the burdening of each individual, separately, with complex privacy settings and take-it-or-leave-it “clickwrap” contracts. Communities on social media, in fact, are frequently oriented around common interests, aims, and values and, as such, can be understood as participating in respective social contexts. Distinctive privacy norms associated with these contexts are readily manifest as expectations about what information flows, appropriately, to whom and under what conditions. Because there may not be complete agreement in a given online group, often due to the divergent needs of platform mediated contexts, there remains a need for deliberative mechanisms.

Drawing on Albert Hirschman’s framework of “exit” and “voice,” we argue that the facilitation of voice in, rather than simply on, social media platforms is a promising approach, representing both a more nuanced, and potentially more effective, way of counteracting “context collapse” than the prevalent exit-based alternatives. Further, by supporting voice institutions and procedures, the resulting rules will have greater legitimacy than those that social media platforms impose unilaterally (even with good intention).

Article co-authors: Helen Nissenbaum (Cornell Tech), Madeline R. Sanfilippo (Princeton University), Katherine J. Strandburg (New York University), Mark Verstraete (New York University)


Ashley E. Gorham is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Values and Public Policy, affiliated with the Center for Information Technology Policy in the Woodrow Wilson School. Her research uses political theory to examine a variety of topics related to the internet, including hacktivism, algorithms, and platforms. Ashley recently defended her dissertation, “Information and Democracy: Lessons from the Hacktivists,” in the political science department at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2018-19, she was a research fellow at NYU’s Information Law Institute and an affiliate of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

CITP Lunch Seminars are open to Princeton faculty, staff, and students only. Members of the public who would like to attend a particular talk should contact Jean Butcher at .

In an effort to support sustainability at our events, attendees are encouraged to bring reusable items for their personal use.

To request accommodations for a disability, please contact Jean Butcher, , 609-258-9658 at least one week prior to the event.