The panel “How to Build a Social Network without Getting Users Killed” had a sensationalist-sounding title, but one founded in real concerns. Citizens are becoming citizen journalists, using social and online tools to share real-time information from breaking events. The Arab Spring revolutions became known as Twitter and Facebook revolutions because of the visible role those tools played as accelerators of existing sentiment and action. With this great scale and usage, social network platforms play a key role as a broker of access to information and access to ways to share information.
But that power is tempered by networks that weren’t necessarily built to play a role in advocacy, and can easily be manipulated by actors motivated to repress information, expression and ideas. Panelists Jillian York (Electronic Frontier Foundation, Ahmed Shibab-Eldin (Huffington Post), Danny O’Brien (Committee to Protect Journalists) and Sam Gregory (WITNESS) discussed the ways social networks have been manipulated, and what ways they can change to avoid manipulation in the future.
With a veritable who’s who of the Twitter journalist corps in the room, the session was live-tweeted in detail.
The idea that one can bully a company into removing your content really irks me @jilliancyork #sxsafesocial
Facebook got a lot of (negative) attention not just because they are one of the most widely used tools but because of concerns about lack of transparency, inadequate response to user concerns and slow adaptation to needs of international users.
.@jilliancyork: Facebook’s TOS is in 11 languages, but it’s not enough. It’s not in Arabic, for example. #sxsafesocial
Both panelists and listeners defended the social networks in one sense – they weren’t built to play pivotal roles in civil discourse. They were built by college students in dorm rooms trying to make it easier to keep up with their friends. They aren’t prepared for attacks from state level actors.
#sxsafesocial state level actors now try attacking facebook, google, etc.
So what change is needed? Software developers need to understand that the decisions they make (perhaps in dorm rooms) may have future implications for human rights. Gregory in particular argued that communication and outreach needs to occur between the developer world and the human rights communities, to make sure human rights are “baked in” on the front end.
Designing for human rights and privacy needs to be embedded in developer mindset #sxsafesocial