Transnational Saudi Arabian Youth and Facebook: Enacting Privacy and Identity
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Theories of privacy and identity in relationship to the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) have been a topic of research for decades. However, little attention has been paid to the perception of privacy and identity from the perspective of Muslim Arab technology users. Privacy and identity in the context of the Arab world is highly influenced by the Islamic religion and the deeply rooted Bedouin cultural traditions. I examined the use of social media, specifically, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, by 34 transnational Saudi Arabian young adults (ages 18-35). The aim was to understand how they conceptualize and enact privacy and self-presentation as transnationals, that is, during back-and-forth movement from Saudi Arabia to the United States. Specifically, I employed a qualitative cross-sectional approach from three different points in their transnational experience: before coming to the US, during their time in the US and after their return to Saudi Arabia upon graduation. Resisting the culturally hegemonic form of privacy, this study provided culturally-inclusive and expansive design insights from an understudied user group to address some of the questionable privacy models in current social media design. I also provided empirical data that revealed new findings regarding Saudis’ sense of privacy and identity, their concerns with the design of current digital media technologies, and how they appropriate these platforms to accomplish their own privacy and identity needs. After experimenting with other methods, including standalone interviews, my study involved the development of what I called design sessions that included a combination of three qualitative methods: background questionnaire, in-depth interviews, and a collage construction activity. This method was powerful in eliciting value conceptualization, concerns, and emotions that I synthesized through a thematic analysis. I used this qualitative approach to provide a deeper, more nuanced understanding of this understudied, and often misunderstood, population in design and research. My dissertation addresses three research questions: RQ1: How do transnational Saudi youth conceptualize privacy (and other relatedly important values) while using social media during their transnational experience? RQ2: How do Saudi youth use and imagine using social networking sites before, during, after their extended study abroad? a) What are the daily privacy concerns associated with the use of Facebook – if any? b) Where concerns are present, what workarounds and privacy protection tactics do women and men employ, respectively, to the current privacy and security controls to serve their cultural-based needs? RQ3: What are the design insights and principles needed to guide the technical design of privacy aware and culturally-sensitive technologies? My dissertation goals include: 1) Enrich and expand the understanding of the specific culturally grounded practices of privacy and identity with regards to social media in general, but with recourse to an Arab context, using the transnational analytical lens. 2) Demonstrate how privacy is required, demanded, and experienced by a Muslim population going through the transnational journey of privacy across two cultural contexts vis-à-vis social media. Furthermore, from my empirical data, I theorized the concept of transnational privacy; the idea that transnational young people/students engage in privacy practices that stretch their original understanding of privacy to include patterns adopted in the hosting society. In time, transnationals learn to deftly navigate and adapt to the different norms of their originating society (Saudi Arabia) and their host society (United States). 3) Extend the studies of human values and technology appropriation to include Arabs, and to clarify the bidirectional effects caused by the mix of technology, privacy, and culture: social shaping of technology and social impact created by it. 4) Reflect on the contextually-appropriate use of certain methods, such as semi-structured interviews and visual elicitation techniques in an investigation rooted in socio-technical practices occurring in two extremely different contexts, by the same population. 5) Offer technology designers, policy makers, and the industry in general, culturally-sensitive design principles that incorporate previously unexplored characteristics of privacy and identity.
- Information science