“And somehow it ends up on the Internet.” Agency, trust and risks in photo-sharing among friends and romantic partners
Keywords:visual communication, photo-sharing, norms, ethics, media etiquette, social relationships, responsibility, agency, trust
Photographic practices and photo-sharing have become pervasive routine communicative acts in everyday life. Photo-sharing can be beneficial for maintaining and strengthening social relationships, but it also requires a careful reflections of trustful disclosure, intimacy, privacy and vulnerability. Several scholars have found that conflicts regarding photo-sharing arise when assumptions regarding the “shareability” of pictures and an “appropriate” amount of photo-sharing differ. This demands for further insights into which practices are considered appropriate or inappropriate and for which reasons. The present study explores norms and rules of taking and sharing pictures and examines how these norms are defined in close relationships, more precisely in romantic partnerships and friendships. It is based on 34 repertoire-oriented, semi-structured interviews that are combined with creative visual methods. The analysis shows that trust, confidentiality and consent are the fundamental conditions for photo-sharing in close relationships. However, when it comes to negative causes and consequences of photo-sharing, trust and confidentiality are at the same time considered as unreliable and fragile constructs. Usually, the image-makers are held responsible for unintended sharing and re-sharing. Further responsibility is ascribed to invisible agents and insecure technological structures, while other involved persons are not described as accountable agents. This implies that the fragility of trust in relationships needs to be anticipated in sharing processes. We argue that this necessitates further critical discussions of responsibilities, agency and trust in order to sustain the value and importance of close relationships in current digitally networked societies.
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