Weekly #3: Bill of Rights for the Social Web?

For Social Media class at Georgetown University:

Your blogging question for the week: Do we need a Bill of Rights for the social web?

In September 2007, opensocialweb.org posted A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web, a blog post to spur public conversation and debate around fundamental rights social web users should be entitled.  The Bill of Rights they present is based around ownership and freedom of privacy; ultimately a social web that grants the user sole control over the information they post and who has access.

The Bill of Rights they posted is a good start to a good concept.  Considering it was developed and posted nearly three years ago, they did a good job anticipating basic rights social media users will demand.  However, to say that their proposed Bill of Rights should be a standard, implemented across all social media platforms and in all situations, in its entirety, isn’t feasible (in my opinion).

I do not think there should be a universal Bill of Rights for the social web.

  • The internet is large and is always changing. There are continued areas for innovation and development, which would make it improbable to get every platform to abide by a set, universally agreed-upon Bill of Rights. The required coordination needed to achieve consensus would be difficult.

However, I do think the concepts included in the opensocialweb.org Bill of Rights are important, although on a smaller, individualized scale.

  • Based on my observations of the social web, and of business practices, I would argue that each social media platform (or user of the technology) will want to post a site-specific bill of rights or code of conduct, as part of its unique and differentiated brand.

Mashable.com, a popular social media blog, presents good points in its rebuttal post, Hot Air Alert: Social Web’s Bill of Rights:

“This sounds a lot like talk and no action to me. Do 99% of those users on social networks care about this stuff anyway? And what difference does it make if anyone agrees to this – it seems like the return of that familiar form of verbal vaporware, pioneered a few years back by the “Attention Trust“, which asked website owners to be respectful of the “attention” of their users. Or perhaps the Blogger’s Code of Conduct proposed earlier this year is closer to the mark: that too fell by the wayside when it emerged that no one really cared about a unified code of ethics for bloggers. I guess you can call it vaporthinking.”

The social web has changed dramatically since the Bill of Rights blog was posted.  As of today, most social media sites, and many users of the sites, have created unique bill of rights and codes of conduct.

“Comments posted on and messages received through White House pages are subject to the Presidential Records Act and may be archived. Learn more at WhiteHouse.gov/privacy”.

In conclusion, and in my opinion, a user’s fundamental rights will be protected when both the website and the user work congruently. The website needs to actively protect its users, and the user needs to use discretion when posting personal content online.

Interesting YouTube video on social media and right to free speech and expression.

Photo via Yaal on Flickr.

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