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Drawing the Borders of the Networked World: Where Between Freedom and Responsibility? #igf10 #ws103

Working Session 103 Report, Governance of Social Media, IGF2010, Vilnius, Lithuania.

Summary: the first discussions of social media at the IGF2010 took place during the WS103 between 11:30 – 13:30 local time. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Bertrand de La Chapelle, the special envoy for the French foreign affairs ministry. There were noticeable differences in the approach to the workshop organisation, namely, having only few introductory speeches and proceeding in the round-table format for the rest of the session, spawning interesting discussions and opening the discussion space from various viewpoints on the governance of social media. However, an impression remains that some discussions took a course not so well aligned with the main topic of the workshop. In spite of this, the workshop contributed significantly by pointing specifically to important and relevant social media problems and related approaches, reaching its highlights in the contributions of Electronic Frontier Foundation's Curt Opsal and Lillian Edwards, professor of Internet law at the University of Sheffield who addressed the workshop as an independent academic.

Main controversies and discussions: user-centric vs. network-centric approach to governance of social media, governance of social media one-by-one or general approach to social media governance, the right to delete, culture of communication on social media, critical management of social media related problems.

Key points:

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation's three basic principles underlying the “The Bill of Privacy Rights for Social Networking “: right to inform decision making, the right of control, and the right to leave. (Curt Opsal; find more at http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/05/bill-privacy-rights-social-net...); the right to forget (to delete) is the way to go.

  • Social networks are becoming the architecture of the Internet.

  • We should abandon the top-down model and opt for a user accreditation bottom up approach in regulating social media and social networks.

There are connections to be made between the social media theme and many others, including:

  • Freedom of expression

  • Privacy

  • Customer protections

  • Cybercrime

From the beginning of the discussion it was clear that the topic is so wide and spawns too many interests and controversies to be handled in the scope of a single workshop; we hope to hear much more interesting discussion on social media like this on in Vilnius. Mr. Bertrand de La Chapelle's moderation of the workshop was brilliant and kept the discussions in line with the commonly recognized issues of central importance and other burning social media related problems. It seems that ideas like EFF's “Bill of Privacy Rights for Social Networkings” could gather wide support, at least judging from the discussions at the IGF2010, but the problem of incorporating them in the context of international legislation and regulation remains open. As in the case of many other IG issues, it seems that the link between ideas and public advocacy, on one, and the formally adoptable, authoritative regulation, on the other hand, is the weakest one. Again, this brings us back to the old question of whether all IG related issues should be (an in fact, whether they could be) necessarily regulated at the level of nation states recognized legislative frameworks.

It was noted that the problem of constraining the collection of personal data is directly related to the management of the profit social networks and that the multistakeholder approach with having them directly involved in discussions similar to this one is probably the only way to make progress from this point. An interesting contribution on this problem was put forward by Thomas Snyder, currently the chair of the Council of Europe expert group on new media, pointing to already existing elements of national legislations and international treaties that define constrains on usage of personal data applicable to social networks.

Lillian Edwards, professor of internet law at the University of Sheffield recognized that the right to informed decision (put forward in EFF's Bill of Rights) “...appears to be really a slightly enhanced version of notice and choice, which has been enshrined in European data protection for a very long time...” Professor Edwards explained how this problem was discussed in the EU as being essentially a customer protection problem and suggested the bottom-up, user-centered approach that empowers the users themselves in the process of websites' accreditation, presumably as some form of decision shaping.

Finally, a very interesting contribution on the problem of existing competing equities between freedom of expression versus privacy was provided by EFF's lawyer Curt Opsal, describing it as “...where one entity wants to express a true fact about the world, but that fact also implicates another person who may have a privacy interest in having that fact not expressed”. Opsal predicted that similar situations will be of growing presence on social networks and discussed the tension that arises when analyzing them from (a) perspectives of freedom of expression and its violation, (b) treating them simply as a polite social norms not share information on others when they indicate they wouldn't wish to share those information, and (c) the right to control, which should be made effective for each user by respective service providers.

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