Online social media – governance issues from a user perspective – PL 02 2009
15 September 2009 | 10:30-12:00
Programme overview 2009
Keywords and questions
Freedom of expression with regard to users image, identity and intimacy, as well as their right to reply and other means of redress. Privacy issues: the implications of "profiling". Right to anonymity for users on social networks? What do users expect from providers and from governments? What rules for online social media? How will they develop their own internal rules? How do we manage diverse nationally applicable laws?
Plenary focus: Freedom of expression with regard to the user’s image, identity and intimacy, as well as their right to reply and other means of redress. Privacy issues: the implications of “profiling”. Right to anonymity for users on social networks? What do users expect from providers and from governments? What rules for online social media? How will they develop their own internal rules? How do we manage diverse nationally applicable laws?
The discussions focused on identifying who (i.e. a typical Internet user) is being governed and in understanding why and how users behave in online social media/networks, noting that there are approximately 41.7 million users registered in online social networks. Moreover, there question was asked who, if anyone, should be concerned with their governance? The interactive and creative opportunities for users on these platforms was underlined, as was the need to better understand users’ needs, desires and responsibilities.
Concern was raised regarding what is public and what is private on social networks. For many, there is the perception of the Internet as a public space. This uncertainty led one participant to share her experience, in particular her problems, in trying to remove herself (delete her profile) from a well-known social networking site.
It was acknowledged that there are, generally speaking, certain (privacy) issues which require attention and necessitate the user to be careful. It was stressed that these networks are a choice and offer both public and private spaces.
The social phenomena of these spaces was discussed. The management of users’ intimacy and the feeling of community and of safety in these spaces was stressed. For some, the addictiveness of being in a virtual circle of friends is often too great for young people who, as a result, willingly cede their rights (to privacy) in exchange for expression and inclusion.
Media literacy was underlined as an important – but not the only – response in addressing the concerns about online social media/networks, with particular reference:
- the consequences of communicating and sharing in (semi-)public spaces for other users (e.g. when ‘tagging’ friends), in particular with regard to privacy and data protection
- the business models driving these (free) services which encourages freedom of expression with, arguably, inadequate regard to the user’s rights and freedoms
- ‘learning by doing’ literacy is not enough, there is a need for more concerted efforts to improve formal and non-formal education (e.g. making young people aware of and evaluate their skills), their civic engagement (citizenship) and participation in public life
- understanding the terms and conditions of services (e.g. deleting profiles, ownership of uploaded content, data retention) and, in this connection, the legal issues concerning their use
- learning how to deal with and mediate the use of Internet in the home and at school
- understanding the gap between what users, in particular young people, do and what they understand.
The responsibilities of Internet actors in their provision of services and technologies was discussed, in particular with regard to the relationship between the provider and user. The business models behind these free services were highlighted, in particular with regard the varying levels of self-regulatory privacy policies that these companies offer. The importance of quality content and services, and in building trust between providers and users was also stressed.
There was considerable focus on the terms and conditions offered by social network providers, in particular:
- it was suggested that services offered for free often spurred companies into drafting ‘catch all’ terms and conditions of service in order to maximise their control and flexibility to make profit
- many complaints about these services occurred because the terms and conditions of service were unclear thereby necessitating greater efforts to make them more clear, simple and transparent
- the option for users to remove and delete all traces of their profile i.e. the right for the Internet to forget
- the need to examine the enforceability of legal rights and responsibilities of providers and users with particular regard to European and international standards (e.g. data protection)
- the proportionality of sanctions (e.g. cutting access to some or all services) from a human rights perspective, in particular the right to freedom of expression according to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, was pointed out with reference to the uncertainty and foreseeability of terms and conditions and the dominant position that certain social network providers have.
In addressing many of the abovementioned issues, there was discussion on internal governance frameworks by/for online social media/networks as a means of promoting their transparency. Moreover, better and more systematic feedback services for users were proposed. The need for dominant social networking sites to engage in Internet governance discussions was also considered to be an important step in engaging with their users, their peers and other stakeholders.