Three recent MSM stories about Facebook caught my eye recently:
“About Facebook! Forward March!” in the Washington Post, a not particularly serious look at how an academic discipline is emerging around the study of online social networks.Â
“On Facebook, Scholars Link Up With Data” in the New York Times, a much better look at the emerging study of online social networks.
“Power of Facebook affects law” at the BBC, a summary of how Ottawa lawprof Michael Geist has used Facebook, among other tools, to build grassroots interest in copyright law activism in Canada.
Is the Canadian copyright experience a one-off exception, so that academic researchers who focus more on the “social” in social networks are on the right track?Â Or is it the harbinger of interesting things to come — that is, “social” or not, the “network” is the key?Â For a theoretical frame that may be useful here, at Concurring Opinions the other day Frank Pasquale posited a third view of the allegedly polarizing impact of the Internet, between the “Daily Me” skepticism of Cass Sunstein, who argues that Internet consumption breeds political extremism,Â and Dan Hunter’s rebuttal, which views the evidence in a much different light.Â Frank concludes (I’m paraphrasing):Â Maybe it’s both “social” and “network”; sites like Facebook offer the potential for organizing loosely-knit groups that can participate in a sort of Fishkin-ian deliberative democracy.
As a relative newcomer to both Facebook and LinkedIn, I’ve been struck not by these sites’ associative power among students (Facebook) and professionals (LinkedIn), but by the number of purposive groups springing up on each one.Â Professionals increasingly populate Facebook.Â Students are showing up on LinkedIn.Â And both sites host lots and lots of political, social, and cultural groups that blend student and professional communities.Â Political and community organizers of the future — of the present, even — seem to have little choice but to embrace these sites and work their tools into overall strategies.
Which leads me to wonder not merely about the privacy dimensions of Facebook and LinkedIn, which are increasingly problematic, but also about access questions.Â Is there a “right to Facebook” on the horizon, and if so, why, and what would that “right” look like?
That’s a great question, and will become increasingly interesting as people start forming groups within Facebook (like “FAcebook: Stop Invading My Privacy”) that make demands on the site itself.
Mike — It is a good question. I think we’re a long way off from that right, though. It is interesting to think about the future, though.
At some point this relates to Frank’s work on Google. When a private technology becomes so intertwined with social practice that it becomes essential to community, you start to think about laws regarding places of public accommodation.
Btw, the Post article seemed rather harsh on danah boyd! It also seemed to be dangerously half-true about how today’s grad students think of social networking. True: there are turf battles and first-mover advantages. False: it’s all incomprehensible fluff. Some of the grad student work I’ve seen on Facebook (and other online communities) has been pretty darn interesting, esp. when it is grounded in a solid and nuanced disciplinary approach.