“Right to a good name in the world of social media”

Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 10.42.20 AM

(This talk is intended to offer a concrete understanding of the implications of this issue in the digital era).

Online reputation is becoming more and more valuable both in our public and private lives.

Future employers, schools, your friends and neighbors are looking you up online to gain a better sense of who you really are.

They are Googleing your names, checking you out on FB, examining traces that you leave when you post on social network sites like fb, twitter, pinterest, tumblr, youtube, blogs, message boards, etc.

All of these traces in the cloud can be very difficult to monitor and remove –

What you post on SNSs can persist for decades, even when you log out, leave a social media site, terminate your accounts.

The problem is that even though online reputations are becoming more important to our personal sense of well being

and more valuable to our professional lives, they may be becoming more difficult to manage.

I want to talk about the problem of maintaining a good name on social network sites

And I hope to discuss how you can be empowered to use social media

guided by a healthy respect for the rights of others and of yourselves.

The right to a good name.

First of all,

Why is reputation important? –

Reputation is linked to our identities – how we feel about ourselves?

It can be connected to a sense of well being, sense of security, self-image.

It also relates to personal freedom – we don’t want to feel constrained by the perception of having a bad reputation.

The research shows that with 95% of all teens online and 80% of them being users of social media, most teens have witnessed mean or cruel behavior on social networks,

with 15% who say they were the target of cruel or mean behavior on social network sites,

and 21% of social media-using teens say they have personally joined in on the harassment of others on a social network site (Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites 
Nov 9, 2011Amanda Lenhart

We want to be who we want to be

Perhaps we don’t want to limit someone else’s freedom in this way as well.

Online harassment – does real harm and it includes

Insults, denigration, impersonation, exclusion, outing, hacking

(stealing information, breaking into accounts, damaging profiles).

Cyberbullying is online harassment repeated over time and involves a power imbalance between the perpetrator and victim.

Who is left angry, frustrated, sad, embarrassed and scared, and which can lead to self-harm.

Let’s watch two videos that illustrate this issue –  the first is produced by Mount St Joseph Communication and New Media students (the other is not):

The right to a good name is so important that it is deeply embedded in international human rights standards, religious values, and legal protections.

It is enshrined in the UDHR adopted by the UN General Council in response to the horrors humanity experienced during the Second World War

Which finally became international law in 1976.

Right to reputation is featured prominently in Article 12 of the Encyclical of Pope John XXIII – Pacem in Terris

And it is also featured in the Charter of Internet  Rights and Principles for the Internet, drafted by the

UN based advocacy coalition Internet Rights and Principles, translated into over 20 languages, and

(of which I happen to be a steering member for the last five years)

Reputation protection is enshrined in international human rights standards, religious doctrine, as well as in law

Defamation laws  exist throughout the world that are intended to enforce the right to a good name.

but what about the protection of the right to a good name online? Does it exist, do we want it to exist?

There is a powerful federal law the Communication Decency Act of 1996 (Section 230)

That protects intermediaries( including social network sites and bloggers)

from any legal claim arising from hosting information written by third parties – that’s you the user.

“Intermediaries are not liable for content;” are not legally responsible (and its not technically feasible or desirable)

So who is legally responsible for what is posted on SNSs?

There have been recent exceptions to this– for example model Liskula Cohen  launched a defamation case against a blogger  Rosemary Port on the site SKANK, and also sued Google for $15m. in damages.

Typically, legal recourse is rarely taken – its  unsuccessful, unrealistic, expensive, and can cause further embarrassment.

A worrying trend in defamation litigation is the misuse of defamation laws in order to violate other rights

For example in many countries defamation statutes are being used to curb free speech and censor criticism against totalitarian governments.

And they are being used to undermine defenders of human rights in S. Africa, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Russia

Added to this, entertainment companies (copyright holders) – the motion picture and recording industries – are exploring defamation law

as a way to access users’ identities – violating their right to privacy –  in order to prosecute the illegal downloading of movies and popular music (mp3s).

So if we cannot rely on the social network sites themselves to govern our online communication, and we would probably not want this even if it were possible,

and if defamation litigation is not realistic and worse can be used to violate other rights including freedom of expression and the right to privacy,

Then who has the power to govern communication on social networks?

You have the power to be more mindful, respectful, and kind in your online interactions, on social networks,

In order to uphold each other’s rights to a good name, now and in the decades to follow.

The power lies with you.

Thank you


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