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Designing Social Networking Tools for Activism

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Experiences have shown that existing social networking sites and tools may not prove to be ideal platforms for online activism and social organizing. What would like to see in these tools? What would an ideal activism-oriented social networking site look like?

How do we define a social network sites Edit

for the purpose of this workshop:

  • Facebook/Myspace/LiveJournal
  • blogs
  • discussion forums
  • my.barackobama.com
  • meetup

(SecondLife? 4chan? Hmm ...)

Excluding IM, email

-- and we'll refer to them casually as "social networks"

What do we like, what's problems? Edit

problems today Edit

Big problem: today, it's all about the bonding social capital (closer ties) as opposed to the bridging social capital (connecting with other communities). => spanning social networks is so important

Lack of due process. Deletion without notice; no possibility of recovering data after deletion.


No support (on FB) for pseudonymous accounts.

Lack of interoperability.

Very restrictive terms of use.

Creating profiles on 100 different sites.

Financial pressures on site operators -- "make money now", potentially at the expense of user concerns.

Lack of privacy protection.

Activism campaigns need multiple forms of communication -- IRC, wiki, etc.; and it isn't easy to bridge to these from social networks.

Limitations on communications (and the inflexibility); e.g., FB's limits on messages.

No ability to host your own instance (for proprietary code)

Poor communications (e.g., Facebook with feeds, beacon, wording on x-ing out things on profile)

Huge power differentials from people who run sites

Good stuff Edit

Easy to invite friends to events.

Constitution/Bill of rights for users; Wikipedia's rules decided by community members; LJ's community involvement in review process.

Open protocols (where they exist).

Open source (when applicable) -- Joomla, Drupal: allow you to host your own server

Network effect and critical mass, viral effects exposing things to new eyes (Facebook feed -- with privacy protections)

Low cost to amplify message

You can project personality/identity

Global, distributed, decentralized

Ability to keep things within a community when it's important

Recruiting and fundraising functionality in causes

Ability to invite people to groups

Case studies Edit

Why use FB? Edit

  • critical mass -- "meet people where they are"
  • network effect
  • viral propagation of events

Why use free-association? Edit

  • non-corporate env: what if the corporation sells/merges, what happens with our personal information?
  • no advertising
  • free speech
  • privacy

4Chan/Anonymous Scientology protests Edit

It wasn't planned; it was a group of people who associated with one another, and there was a trigger -- simultaneously pissed off a bunch of people, many of whom were associated with the Anonymous group. "This is wrong, we need to get together." "When people showed up in person, it became real" -- that accelerated the movement, people got more excited about it. It's an easy movement for people to get behind.

It started with image board culture; but then it moved out of that -- needed to get to something that was a better medium (IRC, wikis).

Interesting that it wasn't mobilized in an organization or a personality, but a community.

What would we like to see? Edit

"tools and rules" for building and maintaining community

  • "SFW" notion, with self-identification
    • SFW mode in (some) NSFW environments
  • reputation (e.g., Slashdot style karma, Cyworld, eBay)
    • some functionality restricted to high-reputation (trusted) users
    • be aware that reputation is not just to combat malfeasance, it can also be exploited to be disruptive
    • reputation is power; people may well abuse it
    • also think of "brand reputation" (e.g., Craigslist vs. eBay)
  • finer-grained moderation
    • slashdot multiple levels, topics
    • meta-moderation
    • "hellbanning": users can only see their own posts
  • positive incentives for good behavior; some possible examples
    • gaiaonline
    • LJ: big impetus to get a pro account
    • 43things?
  • better tools for moderators, janitors [lower-privilege moderators], thread owners (moderating their own thread)
    • rate limiting
    • incubation period


  • more nuanced relationships beyond friends
    • "in the same group"
  • easy functionality to add digg, del.icio.us, reddit, ...
  • good defaults
  • ability to externalize: strong connections to email, RSS, IM clients
    • include contents of messages
    • ability to respond
  • opt-in advertising model with revenue sharing
    • Squidoo does something like this

also address the "problems" above that aren't specifically called out here; and more of the "good stuff" above


Questions Edit

  • What is the equivalent of the "social network board of health"?
  • What's the path from deciding what the right thing is to getting the right thing to happen

What do we want this to lead to? Edit

  • requirements doc, to circulate to industry/standards/open source
  • document current best practices?

Next steps Edit

  • Elizabeth and Gavin to put together a draft based on this
  • get to CFP community for discussion/review
  • circulate more broadly

Attendees (subset) Edit

  • Elizabeth Stark
  • Gavin Baker
  • Jon Pincus
  • moot
  • Linnie
  • Aldon Hynes
  • Greg
  • Deborah Pierce
  • Karen Martin

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