Sunday, April 08, 2012

We've had online social networking for a long time; "public mode" does imply certain ideas in ethics


We had social networking sites of sorts back in the 1990s.  They were our listservers, and also discussion forums.  The environment was such that most postings were read mainly by people on a specified list.  There was no way, however, to prevent others from seeing a confidential post.

AOL ran many effective forums in the 1990s, including a large one on “don’t ask don’t tell”.  There was a site called Independent Gay Forum.  In the entertainment area, the screenwriting contest run by Miramax Pictures, Project Greenlight, ran very effective forums, one of the best I had seen, like around 2002.
As far back as the 1980s, however, people had forums of some effectiveness, through Usenet, Gopher, etc.

What Facebook and Google+ have offered (not so much Myspace) is the possibility to refine the lists of people who will receive certain content.  That’s really not so important to me, personally.  If I post something online, it’s usually public.  (My Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos, and blogs are all public.)  I don’t post comments about individual non-public people.  I don’t conduct “relationships” online as such if they’re not in the real world.  I don’t let anyone make a big deal of friending, unfriending, or counts of friends or followers.

One way, even before 2000, that people restricted content was “virtual office”.   The Libertarian Party of Minnesota experimented with a virtual office, where content was distributed to logged –in members only.
When you author and publish a physical book (or its e-book equivalent), you generally don’t have the right to know who has purchased the book.  That’s part of the ethical framework of ethical publishing.  On the web, when you accept advertisers, sometimes you may be expected to monitor the nature of your visitors.  Sometimes, for security reasons (like DDOS), a web publisher might have to block certain visitors.  This sort of  “opportunity” is possible with shared hosting, where server logs can be examined.  (I had to study my server logs in late 2005 after an incident when I was substitute teaching, as I have discussed here before.)  But generally, when I put something out in “public mode”, I don’t expect to be concerned about who read it.  That still sounds like an important ethical idea.  (In libel law, however, "publication" is sometimes considered to have occurred when a message is transmitted to only one party who understands it. That's one reason why "online reputation" gurus say one should not trust "privacy settings" too much.)

The “passive” social networking that results from open publishing has, in fact, been very effective for me personally.  So were some of the forums that were popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  I don’t find that I need to fine-tune the concentric (or overlapping) circles of recipients or friends that receive content the way that others do. 

I do know that on a large college campus, it’s not hard to amass a thousand social networking friends or so.  (A politician has to, and probably so does a life insurance agent.) But one can only “know” about fifty people or so “well” in a real world. 

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