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Regulating Social Networks

Should you need a license in order to create a social networking site?

There’s no such requirement yet, but a large majority of those polled in Great Britain said that online gathering places like Facebook should have more government oversight.

A survey found that most Britons believe sites such as Facebook and MySpace should be covered by rules that would help ordinary people complain about intrusive material posted online.

Currently each of the major social networking sites operates under its own set of terms and conditions. However, 89% of those surveyed by the Press Complaints Commission said there should be a set of widely accepted rules to help prevent personal information – such as private photographs – being abused.

I guess I’m in the minority on this one.

There certainly needs to be much more public education on the topic of the potential hazards people face from posting information like images anywhere online.

On the other hand, it’s also true that owners of these sites should provide their members with better tools to help safeguard their privacy.

Something that could also be helped through educating people to read and ask questions about the terms and conditions concerning sites on which they want to participate.

However, asking legislators to create one of those “widely accepted” set of rules that applies to each and every site considered to be “social” (on the WORLD wide web) is a losing proposition.

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3 Comments

  1. There’s a story about a wedding in which Aunt Betty gets drunk and hits on the groom. After which, nobody says, “Wedding are inherently dangerous and need to be avoided or at least regulated.” Nope, we blame Aunt Betty for being a nincompoop. Online, there is a tendency to blame the platform, rather than the bad actors. It stems from a Niebuhr-esk need of the mob to kill things they don’t understand—preferably with pitchforks, clubs and torches. Everybody understands bad actors, most don’t understand social networking. Right Tim, it is as yet undefinable and likely to stay that way for a long time.

  2. Dave

    I wish it were general knowledge that the web is not so different. If I publish something on a public blog, it’s like I broadcast it on TV or I had it printed in a newspaper or magazine. If I post something in a “friends-only” profile, it’s like I kept a journal or pictures in my house: it’s still possible that a friend will take it out of my house and do something with it, or that someone will break into my house. (In such a case, if someone posted my friends-only journal or pictures, most people won’t care, because I’m just some guy.)

    It’s really not that different, and we really don’t need so many new laws as long as the old ones were written broadly enough.

  3. I largely agree with you, although I think the quote references a very specific situation that may actually warrant some kind of regulation:

    89% of those surveyed by the Press Complaints Commission said there should be a set of widely accepted rules to help prevent personal information – such as private photographs – being abused.

    If I have a Facebook account and have lots of friends and I take a photograph of you and then post it without asking your permission first, have I violated your right to privacy?

    I think the web is different, Dave, because of how easily digital materials can be copied, shared, and broadcast. Privacy, intellectual property – it’s all changing and our existing laws and regulatory mechanisms are woefully inadequate to maintain order and justice in this rapidly-evolving system. Whether the solution is new laws or something else, I don’t know…

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