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Plenary 2: Online Social Media – Governance Issues from a User Perspective

The discussion turned out to be active and hot, although there were not many new issues raised. In my opinion, the most interesting part of the discussion was the information about the practices and initiatives that are already in place.

The first part of the debates was dedicated to the role and integrity of social network websites in the life of current generation, especially the youth. It turned out that there were a couple of young people in the audience that did not have any social network account, but the majority did have it. Indeed, as supported by Youth Forum representatives the social networks play a leading role in today’s socialization and communication of young people; the Forum representatives stressed that there is a social pressure on and social exclusion of those who do not use social networks.

Other issues addressed during the first part of the discussion were privacy, data protection and their management. Most of people who had a possibility agreed that a lot of users do not care about their privacy and lack awareness of it. Moreover, it was repeated and stressed several times that education and raising awareness was the key solution to the problem. *[M.: This has been emphasized before and I am sure this will be deemed as one of the solutions in the nearest future.] Other points were touched upon, such as addiction to social networks, the economic nature of social networks as great marketing models to collect user data; strive of the users for a quality content they can find on such online services.

Coming back to privacy issues, another interesting thought was expressed: We regard social networks as free, so when we sign up we agree to provide / sell our data for the service. [M.: I think that the users make their choice voluntarily as the prefer service and communication possibility to personal privacy, moreover, for most of users the social networks seem innocent and safe to post any data.]

Further questions raised were: can you sell someone else’s data for the service and how can you protect your privacy when your friends take a picture of you and place on social networks without your consent? [M.: Someone else’s privacy and data – there are several books by Daniel Solove dedicated to privacy issues, where he stresses that in the age of digital technology that can invade in your privacy without your consent (someone taking a picture of you in a stupid situation and posting it on blogs and social networks so that next day all your friends and people you even do not know will laugh at you) it’s hard to control privacy. I think that this is one of the most sensitive issues and may further lead to privacy paranoia in the society if enough attention is attracted to this issue.]

Further thoughts with regards to privacy were:
- We cannot force people to care of their privacy;
- Who reads privacy policies before registering?

The next question raised was how parents could educate their children. Among all opinions expressed the most interesting was the one by Nadine Karbach (AEGEE, Youth Forum) who told about a practice in Germany when the parents are educated about Internet usage issues in order to educate their children. [M.: There is a book ‘Media Virus’ by Douglas Roushkoff that argues that the modern generation that grew together with audio-visual media in place knows more about them than the creators of the media. Therefore I would suggest that children can educate their parents themselves, at least these who are teenagers now, and it is much better if the children are educated by older siblings or at kindergartens/schools.]

Further thought expressed by Marco Gercke was a comparison of social networks with travelers: they started their trip and they do not know what the ooutcome will be and how long this trip will last. They need profit and as soon as possible, as they do not know where they will end. [M.: As I worked at a company that managed regional social network websites, I can tell that indeed first all he funding comes from investors and only after some while the money can be generated from users. Unless users have to pay for the services (e.g., some additional services, entertainment possibilities of the social network purchased by sms or paying for the registration – this practice was introduced in one of the Russian-speaking social network website) the money needs to come from other investors that happen to be companies that advertise and lead marketing activities on social networks.]

Moreover, the opinion was expressed that it is hard to get FaceBook people involved into IG issues discussion. [M.: I think that these people do not see a personal benefit in their participation in discussions of IG issues. Right now most of the policies are rather user centric and in a way hostile towards social networks.]

Finally, some initiatives with regards to regulation of social networks were highlighted:
- European Commission: framework principles for the social network service providers as a starting point. If serious about this – guidelines on what is private. They are easy to put it in place.
- JEF: they do lobbying – to introduce media literacy and introduction of participation courses. They are also advocating ethical education and stress importance of non-formal education.

* During this session I also was aiming to get my word heard but I was totally ignored by the moderator, therefore I am posting all my comments in line with the report on the session.

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