1 Internet and Higher Education 5 (2002) The relationship between social presence and online privacy Chih-Hsiung Tu* Educational Technology Leadership, Department of Educational Leadership, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, 2134 G. St., NW, Washington, DC 20052, USA Received 3 May 2002; received in revised form 19 August 2002 Abstract Online privacy may critically impact social presence in an online learning environment. This study examined how online privacy affects social presence in online learning environments and whether e- mail, bulletin board, and real-time discussion affect online privacy. Mixed methods were used to examine the relationship between social presence and privacy. The participants rated computermediated communication (CMC) with a high degree of social presence, but the quantitative correlation between social presence and privacy failed to reach significance. Participants shared personal information on CMC knowing that it was risky because the medium lacked security despite the perceived high levels of social presence. This contradictional phenomenon can be explained as risktaking behavior. Among three CMC systems, was ranked as the most private and followed by one-to-one real-time discussion, then many-to-many real-time discussion. Bulletin board was considered to afford the least privacy. D 2002 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved. Keywords: Online learning; Computer-mediated communication; Social presence; Online privacy; Social environment * Tel.: ; fax: address: (C.-H. Tu) /02/$ see front matter D 2002 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved. PII: S (02)
2 294 C.-H. Tu / Internet and Higher Education 5 (2002) Introduction Social presence is the degree of person-to-person awareness, which occurs in a mediated environment. Multiple publications (McBride & Bazley, 1997; Rice, 1993; Spears & Lea, 1992; Towell & Towell, 1997) have emphasized that social presence is an important construct for future study. Recent studies have shown that social presence impacts online learners online interaction and learning (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997; Tu & McIsaac, 2002). Short, Williams, and Christie (1976) indicate that social presence is the most important perception that occurs in social context and is an important key to understanding person-to-person telecommunication. Later, Rice (1993) concluded that social presence appears to provide a useful, consistent, meaningful, stable, and discriminating way to characterize computer-mediated communication (CMC). Gunawardena (1995) argued that social presence is necessary to enhance and improve effective instruction in online learning environments. When the level of social presence is low, interaction is also low (Garramone, Harris, & Anderson, 1986). In fact, a lack of social presence may lead to a high level of frustration, a critical attitude toward the instructor s effectiveness, and a lower level of affective learning (Rifkind, 1992). When one perceives an online learning environment to be less private, or they are unable to maintain their privacy online, they would naturally be less interactive in his/her learning process. In other words, privacy may be a critical factor influencing the level of social presence. Therefore, a need exists to examine the relationship between social presence and privacy in an online learning environment Social presence Social presence is defined as the degree of awareness of another person in an interaction and the consequent appreciation of an interpersonal relationship (Rice, 1993; Walther, 1992; Walther & Burgoon, 1992). Biocca (1997) declared that, The amount of social presence is the degree to which a user feels access to the intelligence, intentions, and sensory impressions of another. Tu and McIsaac (2002) redefine it for online learning environments: Social presence is the degree of feeling, perception, and reaction of being connected on CMC to another intellectual entity. Factors that contribute to an appreciable degree of online social presence are social relationship, trust, learners characteristics, learners perceptions on online environments, attributes of communication media, learners computer literacy, use of emoticons and paralanguage, communication styles, task types, privacy, etc. Several studies (Leh, 2001; Polhemus, Shih, & Swan, 2001; Swan, Polhemus, & Shih, 2002) have shown that perception of the degree of social presence in an interaction will vary among users. Therefore, social presence should be viewed as a subjective quality that depends upon the objective quality of the medium (Walther, 1992) Social presence concepts in social psychology Two concepts in social psychology grounded in face-to-face settings are related to social presence are intimacy (Argyle & Dean, 1965) and immediacy (Wiener &
3 Mehrabian, 1968). Traditionally, these two concepts are difficult convey in an online learning environment. Intimacy is a function of eye contact, physical proximity, topic of conversation, etc. Changes in one will produce compensatory changes in the others (Short et al., 1976). A communication with maintained eye contact, close proximity, body leaning forward, and smiling conveys intimacy (Burgoon, Buller, Hale, & deturck, 1984). Equilibrium theory (Short et al., 1976) explains how humans balance the degree of intimacy. In a face-to-face setting, people tend to avoid maintained eye contact and they increase physical distance if personal topics or topics with which a person is uncomfortable are to be discussed. People try to maintain an optimum level of intimacy. That is, when an uncomfortable degree of intimacy is encountered, the participants of the conversation will attempt to alter their behavior to maintain the degree of intimacy at an optimal comfort level. The interaction is unpleasant if behavior cannot be altered to allow an optimal degree of intimacy. Equilibrium theory is applied very differently in online situations. In online environments, learners are authorized to master their online communications to determine when they would like to communicate and about what via certain ideal CMC forms. The attributes of CMC allow learners to manipulate the level of intimacy as they wish, a phenomenon that may lead learners to react to online intimacy with extreme behaviors, embarrassing, flaming, dropout, or lurking (eavesdropping in silence) etc. The second psychological concept involved in social presence is immediacy. This is the psychological distance a communicator places between himself or herself and the recipient of the communication. It includes eye contact, smiling, vocal expressiveness, physical proximity, appropriate touching, leaning toward a person, gesturing, using overall body movements, being relaxed, and spending time with someone. Online immediacy becomes very difficult to deliver because CMC lacks social cues and nonverbal cues, however, this does not negate online immediacy or its importance. Human are social beings and immediacy is still necessary for social contact among online learners. In fact, immediacy in online learning environments is even more critical to affect interaction than in face-to-face learning environments Degree of social presence C.-H. Tu / Internet and Higher Education 5 (2002) Social presence is a dynamic variable. The degree of social presence is based upon the characteristics of the medium and the user s perception. People discern different amounts of social presence in various types of media. Goffman (1959) contended that humans construct their self-presentations and carry them off in front of others either intentionally or unintentionally. Hence, social presence is the internal image the perceiver evokes of a moving, expressive body. Normally, the users are asked to assess the degree of social presence. Short et al. (1976) measured social presence through the semantic differential technique with a series of bipolar scales with a seven-point assessment, sociable/unsociable, personal/impersonal, sensitive/insensitive, and warm/cold. A higher level of presence in a medium confers the attributes of being more sociable, more personal, more sensitive, and warmer.
4 296 C.-H. Tu / Internet and Higher Education 5 (2002) Online learners can cultivate social presence by facilitating introductions of the CMC communicators to each other in the initial learning sessions (Johansen, Vallee, & Spangler, 1988). This allows the participants the opportunity to become better acquainted and to develop a trust relationship early in the course. Also, it can be used by the leader to encourage participation by all of the members of the discussion. Gunawardena s (1995) study suggested the student s perception of social presence is impacted by the instructor s skilled use of interaction techniques in initiating online conversations with introductions and salutations that will impact. Consequently, instructors, or moderators, should develop interaction skills that create a sense of social presence Three dimensions of social presence Tu and McIsaac (2002) define social presence into three dimensions: social context, online communication, and interactivity. These three dimensions function as a theoretical framework for research in online social presence Social context Social context is constructed from the CMC users characteristics and their perception of the CMC environment. Social contexts, such as task orientation (Steinfield, 1986), users characteristics and perception on online environment (Steinfield, 1986), recipients/social relationships (Walther, 1992; Williams & Rice, 1983), trust, availability of CMC, CMC access locations, and social process (Walther, 1992) etc., contribute to the degree of social presence. If the participants are unfamiliar with each other and the conversation is task oriented and more public the degree of social presence will degrade. Walther (1992) proposed that different social processes, settings, and purposes are components of social context and affect social presence Online communication Online communication is concerned with the attributes of the language used online and the applications of online language, such as attributes of CMC, computer literacy skills, online immediacy, and online language skills. Because of the technology and its text-based format, CMC requires that users possess some level of computer communication literacy such as typing, reading, and writing. People without these skills develop communication anxiety (Gunawardena, 1991) when text-based communication is required. Therefore, it is suggested that text-based communications should be initiated with some light or casual topics, like introductions. Training students to use the medium and making them comfortable using it is crucial to the success of collaborative learning. Garramone et al. (1986) and Perse, Burton, Kovner, Lears, and Sen (1992) examined students perceptions of social presence and concluded that the degree of social presence on computer bulletin boards was perceived as higher for users who were more interactive than for those who were not. Perse et al. (1992) found a positive relationship between social presence and the student s perception of their own computer expertise. Paralanguage and emoticons used to compensate lacks of social/ nonverbal cues have impacts on social presence. Tu (2001) concluded that students who
5 appreciated uses of paralanguage and emoticons perceive higher level of social presence, even they do not utilize them Interactivity Interactivity includes the activities in which CMC users engage and the communication styles they use, such as responsive time, communication styles, task types, topics (Argyle & Dean, 1965; Walther, 1992), and size of groups. The potential for feedback from the other also contributes to the degree of salience of the other person in the interaction. Immediate response is another component of interactivity. In asynchronous CMC response occurs at a different time, so it takes longer to obtain a response from the other party. When an immediate response is expected and is not received a feeling of low interactivity is created, thus, diminishing the level of social presence. However, Garramone et al. (1986) found that interactivity, allowing for feedback, contributes to the social presence of an electronic bulletin board. Gunawardena (1995) differentiates interactivity and social presence, arguing that social presence requires user s to add one more step to awareness of interactivity; in short, when users notice and appreciate it, there is social presence. In other words, interactivity is the design and strategy to stimulate social presence. When learners appreciate it, ideal social presence is perceived and has a great deal potential to generate interactive learning Privacy Privacy affects the degree of social presence. Research has shown that privacy has an impact on human interaction in media-based communications (Champness, 1973; Christie & Holloway, 1975; Steinfield, 1986; Tu, 2000; Weisband & Reinig, 1995). If a medium is perceived more public, a sense of less privacy will be generated and vice versa. Therefore, the level of privacy is determined by the users perceptions in addition to the actual quality of security. Witmer (1997) identified two factors, feeling of privacy and system privacy, which affect level of privacy. Researchers have been examining the causes of perceived difference in levels of privacy. Illusion of privacy (Neumann, 1995), self-awareness (Archer, Hormuth, & Berg, 1982), nonchalant attitude (Friedman, 1990; Tu, 2001), social norms (Markus, 1994), self-disclosure (Weisband & Reinig, 1995), and risk-taking behaviors (Tu & McIsaac, 2002; Witmer, 1997) have been applied to explain online users different levels of perceived privacy. Weisband and Reinig (1995) examined how affects online users privacy and concluded three majors factors: (a) technology and users knowledge and experience; (b) management policies in an organizational context; and (c) the psychological effects of that encourage self-disclosure, development of interpersonal ties, and new norms of social behavior. These three factors correspond to feeling of privacy, system privacy, and social norms Feeling of privacy C.-H. Tu / Internet and Higher Education 5 (2002) Feeling of privacy refers to online users perception of privacy psychologically, mentally, culturally, or conditionally rather than the actual security. Generally speaking, online users
6 298 C.-H. Tu / Internet and Higher Education 5 (2002) perceive different communication media with different levels of privacy in different circumstances. A less private setting results in a decreased perception of social presence by users. In a videoconferencing environment, Champness (1972) reported that users felt more public and perceived less social presence. By and large, a camera in operation may be seen as intrusive. Attitudes toward the use of TV in public broadcasting may carry over into the laboratory causing concerns of electronic eavesdropping and producing negative reactions (Ryan, 1976). Steinfield (1986) examined the social presence of in organizational settings, and reported that users were reluctant to employ for confidential matters. Feeling of privacy may be an unstable and dynamic factor because it is subjective and socially constructed in online communication messages. Weisband and Reinig (1995) argued that online communications could result in two different areas, individual and organization levels. However, Finholt and Sproull (1990) concluded that it was difficult to distinguish work-related message from nonwork-related ones because users mixed subjects during communications. Although these two studies resulted in different arguments, both studies agreed with that CMC allows online users to modify the social constraints by reducing the social context cues, such as information about social hierarchy, social differences, social relationships, and personal meaning and implications of interaction (Sproull & Kiesler, 1986). Online users tend to lose the sense of self-awareness and perceive they are invisible and anonymous because of the absence of social context cues and visualization; therefore, they felt free to express themselves and allow self-disclosure System privacy System privacy refers to the actual security of CMC technologies and considers the likelihood that someone may read, send, or resend a message to or from you. Some users are not familiar with CMC system security and think that CMC technologies are private because in some cases user s name and password are required to conduct online communication, such as communications. In Kerr and Hiltz s (1982) study, it was found that more than a third of the online users agreed with the statements that information can come into the wrong hands and outsiders can see private messages. Generally, online users who have better knowledge of computer systems and CMC technologies will perceive low privacy because of the systems not being secure. It appears that online privacy cannot be predicted because of the many complicated human psychological and social behaviors that are difficult to explain. A few activities have been examined by researchers and are discussed below to facilitate a better understanding of the relationship between online users behaviors and privacy Illusion of privacy Convenience may override privacy risk because users are unable to visualize the negative impacts although less private environments may decrease user s tendency to online interaction. This is called Illusion of Privacy (Neumann, 1995). Oftentimes less communication cues are presented; therefore, users lose the sense of who else is in the virtual environment
7 and the size of the audience, such as lurkers (people who only observe activities and never participate in them). Users feel psychologically secure in their communication. It is difficult for some users to consider negative consequences that they can t actually see in their minds, and the sharing of information about them is hard to visualize. Therefore, people do not ask themselves what negative things could happen to them as a result of people possessing knowledge about them. Consequently, the illusion created is that users think their communications are much more private than they really are. In other words, certain users think that they are invisible if they participate in the online activities. Online users continue to say things that they wouldn t say in regular communication settings, even though they are warned (Denning & Lin, 1994) Social norms CMC technologies change rapidly; therefore, few social norms are speculated for different circumstances and environments. CMC applications are influenced by social norms in organizations (Markus, 1994) and the adoption of CMC policies (Weisband & Reinig, 1995). If organizations fail to articulate organizational CMC policy to employee, it may lead CMC users to believe that they are allowed to express whatever they want to. Additionally, CMC users observe online communication of what seems to be private disclosure of others or the free expression permitted online, they perceive that such open communication is the norm, not the exception. Adopting appropriate social norms is necessary and perhaps as users become more acquainted with the computer systems and CMC technologies, social norms will stabilize and management policies will be more effective Self-disclosure Some users express personal and sensitive information online because it is easier to disclose when no one is present to respond to the communication. Archer et al. (1982) concluded that it is more unpleasant for subjects disclosing in the presence of a large mirror than disclosing without a mirror in a psychological experimental study. This experimental result can be explained as reduced self-awareness online due to the absence of social context cues; as a result, users feel safe to express private matters and personal information. In other words, other users have potential opportunities to alter/foster selfdisclosure benefits such as through esteem support, informational support, instrumental support, and motivational support (Derlega, Metts, Petronio, Hendrick, & Margulis, 1993) Nonchalant attitude C.-H. Tu / Internet and Higher Education 5 (2002) Some educational online users express nonchalant attitudes towards online privacy because they think that all class-related communications are class work, nothing personal (Friedman, 1990) or confidential. Online students take for granted that no one would be interested in their personal information, even though they do deliver it online. In fact, by
8 300 C.-H. Tu / Internet and Higher Education 5 (2002) collaborating and examining each other s work, some instructors thought that students learned from each other, teacher actively structured students computer use so that files were largely public (Friedman, 1990), such as applications of online student publishing and peer evaluation (Tu & Blocher, 2000) Risk-taking behavior Online users possess conflicting perceptions of online privacy. This phenomenon is explained as risk-taking behavior (Witmer, 1997). It was found that online users feel personally and technically secure in CMC, and felt that they had little or nothing to lose if their activities were discovered by unintended others. This, then, indicates that the perceived risk is low among users who engage in risky CMC behaviors in these newsgroups. In fact, some users may think, it won t be me if it does occur More private, the better? Is a more private online environment always better? It seems that more private environment is always the desired level of social presence for a learning environment. However, some instructional strategies may disagree with it. Online student publishing and peer evaluation that situate students in more public and less private situation have positive impacts on students online learning (Tu & Blocher, 2000). In fact, in an extremely private online learning environment, there may be little interaction because of the lack of social interaction between learners and between teachers and students. In other words, the degree of online privacy is a dynamic variable; online learners may feel and need various levels of online privacy under different circumstances. 2. Research on impacts of social presence Recent studies have found that social relationship (Tu, 2002a), task types (Tu, 2002a), attributes of CMC, and confidence, choice, and involvement (Blocher, 1997) have impacts on the degree of social presence while social presence has impacts on online interaction (Tu & McIsaac, 2002), user satisfaction (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997), depth of online discussions (Polhemus et al., 2001), online language learning (Leh, 2001), critical thinking (Tu & Corry, 2002), and Chinese students online learning interaction (Tu, 2001). Different social relationships and task types demonstrated both positive and negative impacts on the levels of social presence. Love, information, familiarity, and trust social relationships exert a positive impact on social presence while service, status, assertive/ acquiescent, and conflict relationships exert a negative impact (Tu, 2002a). Task types, generate, choose, and social tasks appear to exert a positive impact on social presence while negotiating/conflict tasks exert a negative impact (Tu, 2002a). Online learners perceive different levels of social presence in various CMC systems, e- mail, bulletin board, and real-time discussion. Tu (in press) concluded that students perceived
9 C.-H. Tu / Internet and Higher Education 5 (2002) one-to-one with the highest social presence followed by one-to-one real-time discussion, one-to-many , many-to-many real-time discussion, and one-to-many bulletin board. From a learner-centered aspect, Blocher (1997) concluded that confidence, choice, and involvement had impacts on the levels of social presence. When learners feel more confident, are able to make learning choices, and actively are engaged in learning activities, it demonstrated higher level of social presence. While researchers have identified different various variables that affected the level of social presence, they also examined how social presence affect various online learning effects, such as online interaction, satisfactions, language learning, critical thinking and Chinese online interaction, etc. Tu and McIsaac (2002) studied the relations of social presence and online interaction and concluded that three dimensions of social presence (social context, online communication, and interactivity) have impacts on online interaction. Additionally, it was concluded that social presence had influences on Chinese students online interaction (Tu, 2001). Social presence is a significant predictor of the user s satisfaction of CMC (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997). CMC provides the students with the ability to use emoticons to create socioemotional experiences although some learners do not use them. It is suggested that the teacher/moderator must create a sense of social presence, which greatly impacts the user s satisfaction of the medium used in the classroom. Polhemus et al. (2001) studies the relations of social presence and complexity of online discussions and the findings revealed that postings with a high degree of social presence were likely to initiate more complex discussions than postings with a low degree of social presence. To foster high-level social presence to promote complexity of online discussion, researchers suggest that online instructors should develop a rapport with learners by creating a trustworthy community-like environment with use of high amount of affective languages. These strategies will encourage and motivate learners to model similar online communication. Social presence additionally was found as a critical factor that affects online language learning. Leh (2001) examined Spanish learning via pen-pal design with native Spanish speaking learners. She concluded that higher social presence would enhance students to learn Spanish via various CMC forms. In preliminary analysis, Tu and Corry (2002) found that there was a relation between social presence and critical thinking. Three dimensions of social presence (Tu & McIsaac, 2002) related to five factors of critical thinking (Bullen, 1998). However, the exact relations were not reported in this study. Further examinations are indicated to examine what the relations between social presence and critical thinking are and whether social presence is a critical factor affecting learners critical thinking. Social presence has impacts on non-english speaking learners in English speaking classroom. Chinese students responded that social presence has impacts on their online interaction; even they were unable to gather nonverbal cues, like in traditional communication (Tu, 2001).
10 302 C.-H. Tu / Internet and Higher Education 5 (2002) Research questions By examining the learner s perception of social presence and privacy in three CMC systems, , bulletin board, and real-time discussion, the following questions were asked: 1. What are the relations between social presence and online privacy? 2. Do , bulletin board, and real-time discussion affect online privacy? 3. Method Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to gain a better understanding of the relations of between social presence, privacy, and text-based CMC ( , bulletin boards, and real-time discussion). Fifty-one students enrolled in a graduate level course at a 4-year university in Southwest of the US were the subjects. The course was offered in two formats, one was televised and the other was face-to-face. Both classes were taught by the same instructor with exactly the same course content, lectures, assignments, and class requirements Qualitative method Participant observation was used to understand the issues social presence, privacy in three CMC forms from the student s point of view. FirstClass, a computer conferencing system, was used for class communication among the instructor, teaching assistants, and students. It provides , bulletin board, and real-time discussion functions. Each student was assigned a username and a password to access FirstClass. Pseudo identity was not allowed. Participant observation was the primary procedure used to capture the students perceptions of social presence and privacy and as a way to determine how they make sense out of the class activities in which they participate via different CMC systems. The data were collected through casual conversation, in-depth interview, direct observation, and document analysis. The casual conversation was conducted between the researcher and the subjects in different settings, the researcher s office, the classroom, or any convenient location. The questions were casual, free flowing, and unencumbered by preconceptions of how the topics should be discussed. Observations were conducted in the classroom, the computer laboratory, and through online asynchronous and synchronous class discussions. At the 12th week of the semester, eight semistructured in-depth interviews were conducted with participants to explore particular concepts in social presence and privacy to collect elaborate and comprehensive details. Document analysis included all messages delivered on FirstClass and outside received by the instructor and the teaching assistant. The analysis began after some of the data was acquired which gave the researcher a better idea of where to focus further data collection. This helped to develop interview questions and to decide which students to interview.