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What is Privacy Anyway? A Longitudinal Study of Media Frames of Privacy

Federica Fornaciari


Technological development often prompts individuals to rethink the boundaries of their privacy. The decision of sharing or withholding information is also prompted by greater narratives that help readers to understand the shape of privacy and its relations to evolving societal landscapes. Informed by frame theory, the current study implements a longitudinal discourse analysis of 140 editorials published in US mainstream media outlets between 1900 and 2016 to explore how media narratives have framed privacy, and how they have rendered its connection with overarching societal contexts, across decades of technological development. Findings suggest that, in media narratives, the shape of privacy has shifted from a fundamental value to a more materialistic one. Also, across the decades, media frames have kept wavering between “the right to know” and “the right to privacy” – suggesting the importance of one over the other, mostly to respond to current political events.


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