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Students' Facebook 'friends': public and private spheres

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Friendship is highly significant during the university years. Facebook, widely used by students, is designed to facilitate communication with different groups of 'friends'. This exploratory study involved interviewing a sample of student users of Facebook: it focuses on the extent to which older adults, especially parents, are accepted as Facebook friends, and the attitudes towards such friendships and potential friendships and what these reveal about notions of privacy. Parents were rarely reported to be Facebook friends, and there was a view that in general they would not be welcomed. The reasons were related to embarrassment, social norms, and worries about mothers. Underlying these were various notions of the private and the public. Students did not appear to conceive of there being two distinct realms: indeed, the 'public' appeared to be the individual's private social world. A level of sophistication is apparent, with nuanced understandings of concepts, suggesting that social networking sites such as Facebook are associated with new ways of construing some of the notions surrounding the traditional public/private dichotomy. Notions of what is private and what is public are fuzzy, with no clear-cut public/private dichotomy. Computer-mediated communication appears to make this fuzziness more apparent than has hitherto been the case.

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