Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Tag: Facebook (page 1 of 18)

Fresh looks at social media as a 2011 gamechanger

Two fresh looks at the effects, in 2011, of social media on the world.

The first, a talk from my friend Ethan Zuckerman at the University of British Columbia:

I’ve tapped out–imperfectly–a few excerpts for those of you who don’t watch videos:

In reference to how the ‘Arab Spring’ began:

Thinking about social media by itself simply as a way to get information out there is probably inadequate … We have to start thinking about the ecosystem.  We have to start thinking about this idea that what participatory media does is make it possible for people to create media at very low cost, and then if they’re able to use that complicated network, it’s possible–sometimes and not always–to get that media out and get it amplified to the point where it reaches enough people that you’re able to have a coordinating function, where people in Tunisia are able to say ‘We’ve never seen this before.  We’ve seen protests, but not like this.  The fact that it’s spreading from one town to another is unprecedented and that’s something I want to be a part of’  That’s how it moves, from involving a small number of people in a town to being capable of taking down a government.  So if that story’s true–I believe it is, and it’s worth taking a close look at–it’s a way of explaining what is a really tough mystery–how something leaves a small town and reaches the world–we have to ask the question: ‘Is there something special about Facebook?’

On the purpose of social media:

The purpose of Web 2.0 is to share cute pictures of kitty-cats. And I say that, and you think I’m joking, but I’m not. It’s not epiphenomenal that the video of the cat flushing the toilet goes out on YouTube and everyone is laughing at it…that’s the point of Web 2.0.

And, in reference to the Malaysian online public sphere:

…The same tools that are helping other people share cute photos of cats are finding these people a way to have a digital public sphere…not the kind of space they can have in the real world, which is too dangerous…but online, there was a capability to carve out a space for free speech.

And finally, and this is key:

“[Some of the tools, like Tor, being built by experts are utterly essential but] I worry that we don’t take these ‘cute cat tools’ seriously enough. These tools that anyone can use, that are used 99% of the time for completely banal purposes, purposes that you and I may find incredibly boring unless it’s the exact interest we care about. There are some reasons why these ‘cute cat tools’–like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, any tool that allows people to create and share original content and have many millions of users–are important…

…When the assumption is that you just want to get cute cat pictures, you spend a lot of time making these tools very usable…which results in these tools being usable even if you don’t speak the language, even if you’re not the intended audience. And because these tools are used by hundreds of millions of people, there’s a good chance that when someone gets involved in activism, these are the tools they’ll use.

The second, an article from Forbes on how Twitter specifically affected corporate decisions in 2011. An excerpt:

It started last year, when Gap proposed a new logo that was universally derided on Twitter, Tumblr and more. Gap’s new logo, which featured a white background and a small blue square, was mocked and parodied on all forms of social media, prompting campaigns to restore the original logo. Within a week of introducing the new logo design, the company had returned to its traditional blue and white square. It set the tone for a 2011 full of company reversals, spurred by vocal online backlash.

The danger in privatizing our publics

Nearly a year ago, I published a paper (and much shorter, accompanying op-ed and later, a talk) on how Facebook and other social media sites are becoming the new public sphere, despite their being privately-owned spaces. Just a few months later, their popularity exploded as the real-life revolts in Tunisia and Egypt were echoed on social media, bringing new questions to the table around privacy, anonymity, and free expression.

Now, in light of ongoing events in Syria and the UK, as well as new regulations in India and elsewhere, not to mention the Google+ policy on identity, those questions are once again taking hold. In a piece for Forbes published yesterday, Benoit Raphael (who generally covers some pretty fascinating stuff) notes the shifting tide toward a lack of anonymity and posits:

The real question should be: now that Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have become public spaces where people can meet to share or to protest, is there a danger in housing theses public places in the exclusive hands of private companies? If “Internet” is a new country, then who will protect freedom in its public places?

His question is not dissimilar to those posed (and answered) by Rebecca MacKinnon. Who will fight for user rights in the quasi-public spaces of the Internet?

First, I think, we require an increased awareness amongst users of what that really means. Not a week goes by where I don’t get an email from some user of Facebook, or Google+, or YouTube, or even Zazzle or CafePress who has had their content removed, and is outraged. And while I often share those users’ outrage, I find that, for the most part, they haven’t read the Terms of Service and aren’t aware of exactly how restrictive the rules of these platforms are (which, for the record, is generally far more restrictive than the Constitution of the United States). So, before can get the “consent of the networked” (to borrow the title of MacKinnon’s upcoming book, which I have already pre-ordered), we need to ensure that the networked are aware of what their movement toward the quasi-public sphere really means for privacy and expression.

Further reading:
Zeynep Tufekci’s oldie but goodie: Facebook: The Privatization of our Privates and Life in the Company Town
danah boyd: “Real Name” Policies are an Abuse of Power

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