Investigating Decay Representations for Privacy and Online Reputation Management

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Mohamed, Riham




The main goal of this thesis is to explore how Online Social Networks (OSNs) can support users in managing their online reputation during important selection processes. More specifically, we look at mechanisms that help social media users automatically dissociate from their past online activities, primarily in a hiring context.

First, we explore how online reputation impacts social media users through an onlinesurvey with 459 participants. We compare how the online reputation of individuals is perceived by other online users in two different contexts (employment and political). We found that online reputation does influence users' perception in both contexts, but especially when considering a political candidate.

One approach to helping individuals handle this issue is having older social media content gradually degrade visually until it is no longer perceivable. We conduct a lab study with 30 participants to investigate three such decay representations that can be applied in social media to enable users to dissociate from their past online content. We identify which representations match users' metaphor of aging/decaying and identify users' attitudes and concerns towards the concept of aging/decaying of digital artifacts.

Third, through an online survey with 360 managers, we evaluate how a decay representation impacts their assessment of users' online reputation. We compared managers' reaction to a decayed profile for a fictitious job candidate with their reaction to an original profile or an empty profile. We found that the decay representation led to significantly more positive hiring decisions and assessments of the candidate.

Fourth, we further evaluated the use of adecay representationon social media profiles through in-person interviews with 48 managers. Once again, the decay representation positively influenced managers' assessments, and managers discussed active evaluation of social media profiles in their real-life hiring decisions. Results confirmed that online reputation influences hiring practices, further emphasizing the need for tools that allow users to automatically dissociate from obsolete online content.

Finally, we discuss practical aspects related to decay representations and propose preliminary recommendations for the privacy and HCI communities.


Computer Science




Carleton University

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Computer Science

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Theses and Dissertations

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