“Don't break those norms.” WhatsApp socio-technical practices in light of Contextual integrity and technology affordances

Pasquale Pellegrino
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Nowadays, Social Media Platforms, (SMP) are increasingly central in mediating subjects’ interaction and communication. The flow of information that occurs in these platforms is governed by legal and technological norms. The technological normativity coupled with the syntactical structure of social media influence the way users share personal information in different contexts thus exerting a relevant role in both the management of human relationships and the construction of personal identity.
This article analyzes the two sided-normativity that characterize a social media platform (WhatsApp) through the Nissenbaum’s [2004] framework of “Contextual Integrity”, which consider the integrity of information as strictly bound to context, wherein the flow of information is governed by two kinds of norms – norms of appropriateness and norms of distribution.
Furthermore, we deployed an "affordance" approach to investigate the range of possible actions WhatsApp's socio-technical practices leave up to people. I suggest that the flow of information in WhatsApp does not always respect the two norms Nissenbaum foresees as the central tenet of her theory.
I demonstrate how the “socio-technical practices” embedded in these platforms constrain users’ ability to exert control over their information thus breaking the contextual integrity considered as a fundamental condition to preserve privacy.