I agree that if a social media platform bans certain content, people will find another place to post it.
Now that Facebook has banned pics of earwax
I look forward to following fuckyeahearwax.tumblr.com…. More seriously, I am impressed with Tumblr’s new efforts to help protect people, and to connect people who search for things like “thinspiration” and other self-harm related terms with organizations that can help. How else can Tumblr use their power for good and why should they try?
Tumblr, Facebook, Google, Skype, Blackberry and a host of other companies have come under fire this year because they wield these special powers to record how people connect and we are just processing the consequences. These companies sometimes appear to me like novice superheroes who have just begun to acknowledge their special powers and now must hone their skills and agonize over how to use their powers for good while the other characters have to up their game.
The most interesting question for me is: with the massive amount of information that people (particularly minors) now share about themselves, consciously and unconsciously on the internet, who is allowed to use, censor and profit from that information?
Also, two days ago, the nytimes published an article “Trying to find a cry of desperation amid the Facebook drama”
. They discuss how various people (therapists, house fellows, parents) have used Facebook updates as critical alerts to adolescent distress. They mention a suicide that was averted by a Mom reading her daughter’s update, a therapist who uses Facebook to gain a window into her client’s mental state and, of course, Facebook’s “unwieldy” suicide report feature. What do you think about this? Do Facebook and Tumblr have any responsibility to read the content of what people post and try to prevent self-harm? Is this too impractical to even consider as an option? When are people old enough to understand what the implications of posting something suicidal might be in the future? Is it OK for employers to make hiring decisions based on information gathered from a potential employee’s internet history? What about when it involves “national security” etc? Would you have hired Bradley Manning had you seen his Facebook updates!? If your Facebook friend or someone you follow on Tumblr wrote something suicidal, what are your responsibilities?
And, moving away from concerns about self-injury, what do you do if someone posts something that could “harm society”? Last August, during the riots in London, people began to blame Blackberry, Facebook and Twitter for their roles in facilitating the riots
. David Cameron said “when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality…I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers.” The Home Secretary planned a meeting with the heads of Facebook, Blackberry (RIM) and Twitter. In response, human rights and freedom of speech people got together and wrote a rather wonderful open letter
. This letter included:
It is reasonable to review the existing legal regime to ensure that it appropriately fits new technologies. However, turning off, restricting or monitoring people’s communications networks are matters that require extreme care and open, detailed deliberation.
We are very concerned that new measures, made in good faith but in a heated political environment, will overextend powers in ways that would be susceptible to abuse, restrict legitimate, free communication and expression and undermine people’s privacy. This is especially so if proposals involve unaccountable voluntary arrangements between law enforcement and communications providers.
In the end many people agreed that it was the police (underfunded, undertrained, woefully behind technologically) who needed to up their game. Psychology Today chimed in and said not to blame social media sites because they were “just a tool”…Like a gun? Like a car (do we need some kind of drivers’ ed?)? Like a printing press? Of course, I notice my own attitudes to this issue change depending on whether social media is being used to foster social revolt against some despotic regime that I don’t like or when my local high street is being destroyed by rioters. What do you think? Should police ever be given new powers to override privacy settings on social media sites? Just thinking about this in light of the phone-hacking scandals and Leveson Inquiry gives me the heebie jeebies.
Skype has also recently come under attack because a number of crimes have been “witnessed” on Skype, including the drowning of a baby girl in Norway, a rape in Canada, and a suicide in India
. The problem is that records of Skype calls are not being kept. Should they be? What about deleted posts from social media sites? Should Tumblr be keeping records of posts for use in future investigations? For example a post that was a suicide note, directions for inciting a specific riot, evidence of cyber-bullying etc.? Obviously Tumblr is not just a tool and their efforts to keep people safe prove that they are ethically savvy, but what incentives are there to help them make decisions like this?
My husband and I have a 5 month old daughter and this has recently affected the way we think about censorship. We also live in a country (Turkey) whose rules about censorship are quite different from those that we grew up with in the UK and US. I want my daughter to be able to grow up with a good understanding of how the information she gives and receives via the internet is used and I’m more worried about her not being allowed to express herself than about her seeing something that will negatively affect her. I am also aware that by the time she is 12 I may think about this very differently. She’s currently sleepily sucking down her breakfast while I type and the days where she can crawl seem far off, let alone the days when she can surf the internet and open herself up to social media…Anyhow, she’s beginning to want to play so…I may have to start the earwax blog another time :)