Understanding Disclosure of Embarrassing Information on Social Network Sites: A Neutralization Perspective

探究社交網站尷尬信息披露﹕基於中立化視角

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date20 Jan 2020

Abstract

Internet users frequently disclose embarrassing information about others (e.g., a photo showing a physiological defect or misbehavior). This behavior is referred to as disclosure of others’ embarrassing information (DOEI). A DOEI paradox on social networking sites (SNS) has been noted in the literature: although SNS users feel shame and guilt when they harm others by disclosing their embarrassing information, many users still frequently engage in DOEI behaviors.

Drawing upon neutralization theory, this thesis aims to reveal the reasons why SNS users engage in DOEI. DOEI is widely recognized as a typical online deviant behavior. Neutralization is a psychological moral disengagement process that can remove the inner constraints of committing deviant behavior by applying neutralization techniques (NTs). The central premise of neutralization theory is that users apply NTs to justify or find excuses for deviant behaviors, such as DOEI on SNS. Both the acceptance of NTs and the applicability of NTs are expected to influence DOEI.

This thesis consists of two studies. Study 1 aims to identify and categorize the NTs accepted by SNS users for their DOEI and to examine the effects of the acceptance of NTs on DOEI frequency. Moreover, by integrating account theory with neutralization theory, a theory-based taxonomy of NTs is proposed.

Using a scenario-based design, Study 2 focuses on examining the effects of applicability of NTs on situational DOEI behaviors. It contributes to existing literature by distinguishing the different effects of NT acceptance and NT applicability on deviant behaviors. Per neutralization theory, there are two preconditions for an NT to be applied in a scenario: (1) individuals accept an NT in general, and (2) they are in a scenario where the NT is applicable. With a scenario-based design, Study 2 examines the effects of applicability of NTs on situational DOEI behaviors. Study 2 further extends neutralization theory by investigating the contingent effects of self-image goals and self-worth goals. Findings show that the effect of applicability of justification-related NTs on DOEI becomes weaker for users with higher self-image goal. For users with higher self-worth goals, the effect of applicability of excuse-related NTs on DOEI gets weaker, whereas that of justification-related NTs on DOEI becomes stronger.

This thesis is among the early research that endeavors to understand the phenomenon of DOEI on SNS. It contributes to the research on information privacy by extending the neutralization theory to the DOEI context. The thesis also contributes to neutralization theory by proposing and validating a theory-based typology of NTs. It also contributes to neutralization theory by empirically comparing the effectiveness of two representations of NTs, namely, the acceptance of NTs and applicability of NTs, in predicting DOEI. Finally, this thesis proposes two contingent factors (i.e., self-image goals and self-worth goals) that moderate the effects of applicability of NTs on DOEI.

    Research areas

  • Disclosure of Others’ Embarrassing Information, Neutralization Theory, Excuse-related NTs, Justification-related NTs, Self-image goals, Self-worth goals, Social Networking Sites