As of today (July 13th, 2010), I will no longer be posting to this blog.
Fear not, however, as I have simply decided to switch (for various personal and professional reasons) to anthonyhoffmann.org. Same content, same layout…new name.
Thank you kindly for checking out SDIF through its myriad changes over the last couple years. If you wish to continue following my sparse (but hopefully meaningful) commentary, please update your bookmarks/feeds/links accordingly.
SDIF signing off,
Many of you are probably aware of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s op-ed in the Washington Post today.
Ever the benevolent dictator, Zuck toes the “users own their information” line (a concept that is problematic in and of itself, a subject I am dealing with in a paper that I will be presenting as a part of the “Philosophy of Facebook” panel at AoIR 11.0) in an effort to ward off the pitchforks, something he’s had to do not infrequently (for example: here and here).
In the interest of furthering discussion, I’ve taken the liberty of revising the first paragraph of his op-ed. The following is my interpretation of what Zuck meant to say:
Six years ago, we built Facebook around a few simple stolen ideas. in order to capitalize on the fact that [p]eople want to share and stay connected with their friends and the people around them. If we give people control over what they share on our network, they will want to share more within the context of our network. If people share more, the world our network will become more open and connected and financially viable. And a world network that’s more open and connected and financially viable is a better world business. These are still our core principles today.
Now, I know there are people who like to make a big show out of their quitting things, and I’ve especially noticed this happening when people decide to leave Facebook (or the Internet). I’ll let my leaving on Zuck’s birthday be the most “show” I make of this. However, I have spent roughly 5 years using the service (longer than I spent using the now-defunct umn.edu email address that served as my login), so I believe a few words are in order, especially given the recent round of commentary and controversy surrounding the latest (of the latest of the latest) changes Facebook has thrust upon its users. Also, five years is a long time to do anything, especially on the Internet, and that merits some reflection.
To structure my thoughts, I have decided to return to a motif I utilized in a speech I gave at the UWM OneWebDay celebration back in 2008, when I decided that the 5 Ws stood to be reinvented for the digital era as the 5 WTFs: who the fuck, what the fuck, where the fuck, when the fuck, and why the fuck.
At first I was going to hurl my WTFs at Facebook, as we have all undoubtedly logged into the service and thought “WTF?!?” at some point (“WTF is this Beacon thing? WTF is this NewsFeed thing? WTF how do I change my privacy settings this time? WTF is Farmville? WTF did my grandma just add me as a friend?”). But, to be fair, Facebook is getting a lot of WTFs thrown their way lately, and I don’t have the time or energy to get into that fray. Instead, I will turn the expletives towards Facebook’s users (in the most respectful way possible), still counting myself among them, as I’ve only just left. On that note…
Who the fuck are we?
I have reached the final installment of my look at the recent Twitter/Library of Congress agreement. It is a busy time in the semester for me, and thinking through these posts has taken up some time and energy that I maybe should have been using elsewhere, but – regardless – I think it is important that we think through the implications of this deal. I’d like to thank everyone who has encouraged me to see this series of posts through. (For reference, here are parts one, two, and three.)
At this point, I would like to turn my attention to the issue of Internet research ethics – another area where the LoC Twitter archive presents some deep and pressing issues. I would also like to note that this post is directed at researchers, and not specifically the Library of Congress or Twitter. As a young researcher and scholar myself, I approach the ever-changing, always-expanding area of Internet research ethics in the spirit of conversation and community.
That being said, I think the topics I presented in parts one through three each pose real, and perhaps irreconcilable, dilemmas for Internet research:
In part three of this series, I will turn my attention to the challenging issue of intercultural information ethics and digital classification. (Previously, I covered the various privacy dilemmas surrounding the deal, as well as the overlooked topic of digital divides and the cultural record.)
In the following post, I use the term intercultural information ethics a little differently than it has come to be understood in information studies today. Currently, intercultural information ethics is most often invoked when discussing the important issue of global information justice (see: Ess, 2006, Capurro, 2009, and Britz, 2008 [PDF]). My intent is not to challenge accepted use of the term. Rather, I hope to re-purpose it for use in the context of the Twitter/LoC deal. While one can obviously talk about intercultural ethics across political boundaries or (sometimes less obviously) within a given society, I believe intercultural information ethics are applicable within the context of the Internet itself, and – even more specifically – within particular online social platforms. Further, I do not think it is out of place to consider intercultural information ethics across institutional boundaries, like those being crossed as the Twitter archive moves to the Library of Congress.
To begin, I’d like to rewind back to autumn of 2009 and jump over to The Awl, a popular online (and personal favorite) blog. On November 11th of last year, co-founder and blogger Choire wrote a post titled “What Were Black People Talking About on Twitter Last Night?” which caused a minor stir in the blogosphere. In the post, Choire writes:
At the risk of getting randomly harshed on by the Internet, I cannot keep quiet about my obsession with Late Night Black People Twitter, an obsession I know some of you other white people share, because it is awesome. The only reason that White People Twitter knows about Black People Twitter is because when you white people wake up on the East Coast or when you go to bed late on the West Coast, the trending topics are hilarious chat-memes, ruling the trending topics, and yes, last night’s was the very funny #uainthittinitright.
Now, I didn’t “harsh” on Choire after reading his post. While it may not have been his most acute or incisive commentary, the ha-see-white-people-are-the-boring-ones message only served to mask the great (if casual) insight central to his post: different people use Twitter, and they use it in different ways and for different reasons. It is a simple observation, but an incredibly important one nonetheless.
In part one, I covered last week’s announcement that Twitter would be turning over its entire public archive to the Library of Congress for preservation. I then took a look at the privacy issues, both practical and conceptual, surrounding the agreement. However, in the grand scheme of things, those issues concern me less than the one at stake in this post.
Overall, the acquisition is being hailed as a positive expansion of the sorts of historical and cultural material that will be available through the Library of Congress. In the initial announcement, LoC communications director Matt Raymond cited some of the “important tweets in the past few years” that will now be archived for posterity, including Jack Dorsey’s first-ever tweet and President Obama’s tweet announcing victory in the 2008 election. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone noted that “Over the years, tweets have become part of significant global events around the world—from historic elections to devastating disasters.” This is obviously true; it would be archaic and backwards of the LoC to not collect and archive significant bits of digital information of all types. But these sorts of “important tweets” could be archived based on specific users (like, say, President Obama) and specific events (for example, the 2008 election) without preserving the entire public Twitter record. No, despite these selling points, “important tweets” are not the fundamentally noteworthy aspect of this deal. Rather, it is the housing of an entire dossier of communication on a specific digital platform that is of interest here.
Notice that I did not say “it is the housing of everyday communication by ordinary people” that is noteworthy. But that is what some people are saying…and that is a problem.
Last Wednesday, the Library of Congress announced (via Twitter, of course) that it would be acquiring the totality of Twitter’s public archive. In the deal, Twitter will turn over a collection of all public tweets after a six-month grace period (in this way, the Library of Congress will not be archiving a “live” stream of content) to the library, which also houses the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, a group that has been working steadily to archive as much digital content as possible (to date, the NDIIPP has archived over 167 terabytes of data). While the acquisition of the Twitter archive seems in step with the mission of the NDIIPP, it is important to note that this is the first time they have acquired a complete archive of digital content based on a platform rather than a specific topic. In the past, the NDIIPP has archived tweets and other information based on a specific thread (for example, the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor). The current deal marks a shift in the collection policy of the NDIIPP, maybe not in theory, but at least in practice. For more on the acquisition, see NDIIPP director Martha Anderson’s interview at The American Prospect.
Obviously, this is a big deal. Having this sort of archive available for researchers, and made available by an institution like the Library of Congress, represents a watershed moment in the development of social media and the Internet in general. There are many things to be excited for here, but… (There’s always a “but,” right?)
Immediately following the announcement, privacy activists and scholars began to question the acquisition (though admittedly not as forcefully as during, say, the Google Buzz fiasco). But, while the agreement certainly raises a number of privacy concerns, privacy is not the only (nor, possibly, the most important) issue at play here. In this and the next three posts, I look to outline four separate areas that need to be addressed as this acquisition unfolds: privacy/user rights, digital divides and the cultural record, intercultural information ethics and digital classification, and internet research ethics. In the rest of this post, I continue with part one, a roundup of questions and concerns regarding privacy and the LoC’s Twitter archive.
File this one under “Only Happens to PhD Students:”
You know you’re firmly bogged down in your studies when news breaks that George Washington owes the New York Society Library over $300,000 in overdue charges and one of the two books he failed to return happens to be cited in an article you are currently reading.
Valleywag is reporting that Google CEO Eric Schmidt had his mistress’s blog taken down over the weekend.
Of course, this is the very same CEO that just two months ago claimed, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
Actions speak louder than words, and let’s just take this as Schmidt finally conceding that privacy is a much more relevant – and complicated – issue than some developers and CEOs would like you to believe.
Given the widespread coverage of Google’s introduction (and subsequent rollback…and apology…and further rollback) of Buzz, it is difficult at this point to add any meaningful commentary on the service–and its attendant privacy threats–without sounding redundant. (If you’re playing catch-up, I recommend NYT and LAT coverage, as well as this and this.)
However, as I clicked through page upon page of coverage, I couldn’t help but latch on to two things:
1) How empty and hollow cries of “privacy violation” have become – not necessarily because of the privacy activism and scholarship community itself (though we can sometimes be guilty of hyperbole) – but because of the overreach-first-rollback-later approach to development in social media that has become so commonplace. It is probably not a stretch to say we can thank Facebook for this; certainly, their tireless innovation of the approach (Beacon, News Feed, privacy controls, etc.) has paved the way for both Buzz and the privacy community’s response. Not to undermine the great work of activists and scholars in the area, but I can’t be the only one who, when the myriad problems with Buzz started to surface, sighed and said, “well, here we go again.”
The drama has gotten predictable…and, to a certain extent, boring. Which brings me to my next thought…
2) Why does this keep happening? Buzz is a response to the successes of Twitter and Facebook–it was clearly designed with those services in mind. But, with these services in mind, how could their mistakes–in particular Facebook’s many privacy blunders–go totally overlooked by Google? How? From the perspective of a scholar in information studies, it is simply baffling.
But that’s the rub isn’t it? “From the perspective of…” There is clearly a problem of perspective at play here.