We all find ourselves in a new, unsettling, sometimes disturbing situation – we are all signers, or signatories, to a new kind of social contract “drawn up” by the media shift. With this contract, power is increasingly distributed and shared. We actually have little choice in the matter – by using user-driven media, we (users, governments, corporations), simply by media’s nature now, consent to the new set of conditions. In this transitional phase between old and new media, it’s more a media-related social contract, but it has growing influence outside of media environments (or offline) as well. Under this “contract,” safety, privacy, reputation/image management are shared propositions, sometimes a negotiation – 1) between one user and another (who may be depicted in a photograph another user’s uploading); 2) between user and Web site; 3) among users, media cos. and governments, and 4) between governments and users. [The BBC ’s experience with this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/blog/2010/07/ugc-five-years-on.shtml .]
In today’ s media environment, multiple voices of increasingly equal weight: users, providers, governments . A few yrs ago, I went to hear Pat Metheny’ s very experimental, improvisational “orchestrionic” music and was reminded of my days as a music student learning about polyphonic music. We are back at the Renaissance, when music had multiple voices, all of equal weight to the composition. Homophonic music, with the melody at the top and the rest of the voices supporting it, came later – almost a reflection of consolidated political power at that time. The first social contract had only two signatories, the people and the government and didn’t mirror the political reality. It was a hymn, homophonic music, with all voices supporting the top – the social contract of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau was perhaps aspirational, perhaps prefiguring today’s conditions, where the media shift is shifting, distributing, the power structure. With power, come rights and responsibilities : Consumers are no longer consumers – they’ re literally USERS. So the new social contract in which they find themselves requires something of them. For their own protection , participants need to be stakeholders in their own well-being BECAUSE they’re producers and participants; they produce too much too fast to stay safe while avoiding the responsibility of protective behaviors such as civility and critical thinking. Responsible, or protective , speech, action, and production is protective to self as well as to one’s social networks and communities (online and offline). PROVIDERS’ responsibility, therefore, is consumer ed as well as protection. This is in corporate providers’ own best interests as well, as it lessens the burden on reactive customer service, litigation or regulation. [Traditional consumer advocacy does users a disservice by referring to them as mere consumers and referencing only the rights part of the equation; the framework in which they operate portrays users always as potential victims rather than stakeholders, disregarding their power rather than educating them about it . They focus on regulation or litigation – “ power tools ” that have decreasing power in and of themselves. * Another basic condition of the contract is that all media use is grounded in real life : The research shows that technology is not an add-on to people’ s lives; it’s embedded in them , which is why users will never stop caring about having control over their own privacy and must have a role in their own safety (ConnectSafely.org is pushing for more education around that). It’s difficult for providers to hold up their end of this power equation and function well in it if they don’t embed user privacy and safety in social media products and therefore users’ real-life social networks, as danah boyd brought out in her keynote at South by Southwest. (danah’s café metaphor or mine about Foursquare not being narcissism http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=28799 ). * Another basic factor: A dynamic social contract : Tech & and media conditions change: Privacy & safety are an ongoing negotiation; in a user-driven media environment, a once-and-for-all, one-size-fits-all solution simply doesn’ t, can’t, exist in these very fluid conditions – how laws & regulation get 2 b clumsy, untimely, inflexible blunt instruments…. Evolving solution, continuing conversation.
The rights part is familiar territory for users and old-school advocates. Namely: Transparency, protection of privacy .... and safety (of self, property, and identity), and being assured that their chosen online services are treating their data responsibly. But where consumer education is going, I think, is in helping users in a user -driven media environment to understand that rights logically no longer come without responsibility . No user of any age can rely wholly on providers and government (at any level, including school) to provide all safety in a media environment users co-produce in real time. In his talks, prof. and media scholar Henry Jenkins at USC, quotes Peter Parker’s (Spiderman’s) Uncle Ben, when he tells Peter that “with great power ... comes great responsibility .” This has resonance with youth. We need to have a conversation about educating users about what actually protects them now. They simply can’t logically be portrayed as only consumers or potential victims. This is what I mean by stakeholders and citizens , not even just “users,” a term disconnected from responsibility. So-called consumer education needs to be much more focused on responsible use as protective use. This is why our youth -online-safety messaging around digital citizenship is so important – but it can’t only be about the digital kind of citizenship (as online and offline blend into each other). The research shows a close correlation between online and offline, bullying and cyberbullying, in many cases, that cyberbullying has a lot to do with kids’ everyday school life & peers – with the drama of the school social scene. And it can’t only be about citizenship ; it’s also imperative that we teach NEW media literacy – critical thinking about what is uploaded, produced, and posted as much as what is downloaded, read, and consumed in a behavioral – or social – media environment.
The policy piece: In a commentary in the Toronto Star, Univ. of Ottawa Professor Michael Geist referred to a “new layer of enforcement” created by joint efforts on the part of national privacy commissioners worldwide – efforts such as the public letter recently sent by 10 countries’ privacy commissioners to Google CEO Eric Schmidt about Buzz. “ As experts debated the importance of the letter,” Geist writes, “the longer-term impact may come not from specific actions against a company ... but rather from the realization that the joint effort may represent a major step toward the globalization of privacy enforcement” – I would add a new kind of enforcement – a distributed and negotiated enforcement based on constantly shifting conditions as well as truly international ones. Governments and policymakers need to recognize that – yes, absolutely – users care about their privacy, online and offline, but also that privacy protection is as dynamic as tech development, is a moving target, and laws are increasingly a blunt-instrument sort of “ solution” – inflexible, untimely. “ Collaborative more than punitive ” is strictly practical and practicable – how does “punitive” work where power’s distributed (among users interacting and sharing content & sociality among themselves, between users & providers, between providers & government, and between government & users)? What I mean by “informed lawmaking” is that government has yet to understand that the people’s tech use is embedded in real life – not an additional layer or separate digital sphere – and laws are ineffective if addressing online behavior in a vacuum .
User content IS social-media companies’ product, their bread ‘n’ butter – “content” is the content of our lives, our thoughts, updates, IP, financial data, health records, family photos, etc. So the product is not being produced by providers, as providers well know. A colleague of mine used the analogy of an “oil rig.” Social media providers are like oil rigs, user data being the oil. But I think the oil spills media cos. deal with are, yes, the potential over-exposure of user data, but also the growing spill of ill will when companies give the impression that they don’t have the data owners’ and producers’ interests at heart. Where the oil rig metaphor breaks down, of course, is that the product is a living thing – changing, being updated by users constantly [boyd called privacy a “living thing” at SxSW 2010 http://www.danah.org/papers/talks/2010/SXSW2010.html – I think all of social-Web content is as well, which is why I titled the OSTWG report “Youth Safety on a Living Internet,” hoping to send that msg to Congress in this small way]. What demonstrates that companies care about their users’ data and IP, of course, is good practice and transparency; tech protections/features, products released with privacy/safety protections and user education already baked in; and the perception as well as reality of responsive customer service. By “informed customer service,” I mean training and outsourcing to experts. In New Zealand, NetSafe told me a few yrs ago that the two mobile companies there have customer service staff trained in how to deal with cyberbullying. In our country, we at ConnectSafely.org have worked with experts in suicide prevention, which is something I suspect most social-media companies have had to address. Not only will media cos.’ customer service people need to know how to work with and get real-world help to users in suicidal crisis, but we are all “gatekeepers” now, as suicide prevention experts call us – we are all first response in social media and are in need of education to save lives by knowing what to do to get social network “friends” and “friends of friends expert help. That’ s a big discussion society needs to have around what the social Web’s 9-1-1 services will look like. This is part of what Larry and I call “Online Safety 3.0” http://os3.connectsafely.org .
See also (these posts all link to and some annotate source research, articles, etc.): SOPA & citizenship in a digital age http://www.netfamilynews.org/sopa-citizenship-in-a-digital-age Anti-social media companies becoming obsolete http://www.netfamilynews.org/anti-social-media-companies-will-be-obsolete Digital citizenship insights from several years of Internet governance conferences: Notes from the IGF http://www.netfamilynews.org/digital-citizenship-in-process-notes-from-the-baku-igf , IGF Nairobi http://www.netfamilynews.org/digital-citizenship-reality-check-notes-from-nairobis-igf , "Digital citizenship reality check: Notes from Nairobi's IGF"</a>, IGF Vilnius and why digital citizenship needs to be crowd-sourced: http ://www.netfamilynews.org/next-step-crowd-source-digital-citizenship New phone app: Color me (&us!) careful (about shared privacy and safety) http ://www.netfamilynews.org/?p= 30201 Thoughts for a new year (in the digital age) http ://www.netfamilynews.org/?p= 29832 The learning power of a virtual world <http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=29338> The goal for digital citizenship instruction <http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=29268> PBS Frontline’ s ‘Digital Nation’: Presenting our generation with a crucial choice http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=28721 Net safety: How social networks can be protective (on what I call the protective “guild effect” that industry can help foster) http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=28617 Online Safety 3.0 <http://os3.connectsafely.org>
A new social contract (for the digital age)
A new kind of social contract is now in place.“By using this, you consent...”
‘Terms & conditions’• Distributed power, more signatories• Power = rights and responsibilities• Grounded in real life–interplay of humanity & technology• Dynamic, constantly evolving conditions...• Continuing conversation among signatories a basic condition driven by the new reality.
Users’ role• Rights (Terms of Service are not lip service)• Responsibilities (to stay civil, alert, educated)• Stakeholders & citizens (not just users, consumers)
Government’s role• “New regulatory layer” forming?• More collaborative, less punitive• Informed lawmaking, based on ongoing discussion with users, providers
Industry’s role• Privacy “baked in” to product dev’t• User and gov’t education• Transparency/disclosure• Informed and responsive customer service• NGOs as your “eyes and ears” as well as education partners