Social un-distancing: Understanding self-privacy violations in online communities during the Coronavirus pandemic

Anna Squicciarini
Sarah Rajtmajer

Sponsoring Agency
National Science Foundation


Perceptions of privacy evolve over time as concerns about security and privacy are tied to the day’s events, and the longer arc of shifting norms. Little is known more specifically about the unique evolution of privacy attitudes during crises, but understanding this is consequential. We posit that self-privacy violations during acute events can leave individuals susceptible to deviant actors at times when, critically, these individuals are most vulnerable. We know that victims of Hurricane Harvey sought assistance through social media, in some cases revealing their full names and addresses online. But what we are witnessing in the case of the Coronavirus pandemic is inherently distinct from previous crises in important ways. COVID-19 is a global, relatively protracted acute threat. Unlike natural disasters or military engagements, the pandemic has left communications infrastructure intact. Digital outlets have become lifelines. We posit that self-privacy violations during the Coronavirus pandemic can help individuals feel more socially connected during a time of anxiety and physical distance. Yet, this benefit may leave them susceptible to risk when, critically, these individuals are most vulnerable. In this project, we propose to study online self-disclosure during the Coronavirus epidemic. This research will help us detect acts of self-disclosure in online settings and learn how oversharing is expedited or even encouraged during the coronavirus crisis.

Research Area
Artificial Intelligence and Big Data
Privacy and Security