Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Critical Studies of Social Media

April 13, 2012

Here is an attempt to lay out  my research in social media (approach, methodology, philosophical assumptions), and formulate my framework –  “Critical Studies of Social Media.”

This approach is a meta-synthesis, critical-interpretive approach to the analysis of structures and discourses of social media. My research paradigm (Cresswell, 2009) is prescriptive and normative, meaning I often analyze how things are and how they should be, offering recommendations based on my research and analysis. My philosophical worldview is advocacy/participatory, which indicates that the research is driven by an “action agenda” to reform or change the world in which people are marginalized or disempowered (ibid).

My methodology is interdisciplinary; I pragmatically draw on a broad range of scholarship in critical theory (e.g., political economy of the digital culture industries), communication studies, computer mediated communication, linguistics, education studies, political science (political philosophy, democratic theory, Internet governance studies), applied ethics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and linguistics.

The framework that best describes my research is “Critical Studies of Social Media,” which includes: (1) critical theories, (2) actual uses, effects, and affordances, (3) the digital ecosystem, and (4) a values-based approach:

1) Critical studies is based on critical theories, especially political economy of ICT, and theories of hegemony, power, dominance, commodification, and exploitation, generally. Critical theories are used to evaluate the conflict of interest between industrial logic and user needs (e.g., prosumer commodification), and to help explain and identify underlying market forces of privatization, deregulation, and commercialization.

2) Theory is useful when combined with empirical studies of affordances, actual uses, and effects of technology by users/citizens/communities. Recognition of affordances supports the social shaping of technology perspective; designers and users shape the online world, who are in turn shaped via social media (e.g., identities, sociality, and relational patterns). Recognizing the cultural aspects of social media (norms, practices, values, and attitudes) helps identify the user’s role in shaping social media, as well as underscore potential benefits and limitations of social media use in daily life.

Potential benefits may include:

  • communication power for social and political change
  • a digital commons as a counterweight to the abuse of government and corporate power on the Internet (free and open source technologies, platforms, and services)
  • information literacy for self empowerment and civic engagement  (direct democracy)
  • open education
  • distributed citizen-focused news gathering and reporting
  • enhanced creative expression (peer production, user-generated, collaborative)
  • economic development and human welfare

Potential limitations (constraints on freedom of expression and user autonomy):

  • informational privacy and data mining
  • government surveillance of social media
  • Internet filtering and blocking
  • commodification of participation as labor
  • copyright extremism
  • market dominance (vendor lock-in, user dependency, rival exlusion)
  • information silos and walled gardens due to personalization services (closed internet)
  • harmful social impacts including: discrimination, social stratification, and inequality within social media spaces based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, nationality

3) The digital ecosystem is a conceptual and analytic framework for analyzing and describing potential and existing relationships and interactions between Internet technologies, platforms, and services. A multi-layered stratified view of the Internet (e.g., Benkler-Lessig model of physical layer, code layer, and content layer – among many other models) takes into account infrastructure, socio-technical designs of services and how they interact (e.g., interoperability), ownership, conglomeration, governance (ICANN), regulatory and legal contexts.

4) Guiding my study of social media are underlying values based on human rights and democratic principles including: privacy, right to assemble and associate, freedom of expression and opinion, digital equality and inclusion, freedom of speech and the press, government transparency, and a new media environment that encourages “uninhibited, robust, and wide open” (Sullivan, 376 U. S. at 256, 265) communication for civic engagement, information exchange, and creative self expression. Ultimately, a values-based approach theorizes emancipatory practices of social media design in support of a “people centered, inclusive and development-oriented information society for all” (WSIS, 2005).

This framework, “Critical Studies of Social Media” (1) critical theories, (2) actual uses, effects, and affordances, (3) the digital ecosystem, and (4) a values-based approach, can be seen in most of my writings available on my professional website and on my page.

A good example of applying the critical studies of social media framework is found in my recent article, “Regimes of Sharing: Open APIs, Interoperability, and Facebook” published in the fourth Association of Internet Researchers special issue of Information, Communication, and Society, and reprinted in the German critical reader on Facebook, Generation Facebook: Über das Leben im Social Net (Verlag, 2011). The article looks closely at the privacy implications of sharing among social media and third party websites, especially the attempts by Facebook to achieve interoperability at the cost of maintaining users’ fixed online identities.

Critical Theory – critical political economic analysis explains the market logic and incentives for asymmetrical interoperability among social networks and third party websites and applications. Additionally, political economy helps to identify the push and pull between market dominance and competition. Theories of user exploitation and commodification of social labor (prosumers) illuminate company values behind sharing that conflict with users’ needs, rights, and freedoms. Identifying discourses that support the cultural norms of sharing are also helpful in this analysis.

Uses, effects, affordances – empirical analysis of interoperability explains how data is shared between Facebook and its third-party vendors. The effects of interoperability on data integrity and informational privacy become evident with an analysis of the technical affordances of Open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that enable sharing among sites and services online. Cultural practices of sharing and network effects are also taken into consideration.

Digital Ecosystem – the interrelation and interaction of the dominant social network Facebook and its third party ecosystem helps to identify how technologically enabled and regulated forms of interoperability create dependency among vendors (third party applications and websites). Mutual dependency and symbiosis are two features that characterize the ecosystemic relationships between the SNS and its online partners.

Values – the values of informational privacy, user autonomy, and freedom guide this analysis and critique, and indicate how users and designers can change the underlying conditions for sharing in emerging social networks sites.

[For a great introduction to the theories and methods of a critical communication scholar that influenced me a great deal is Herbert Schiller by Richard Maxwell.]

“Assessing the value of anonymous communication online”

April 6, 2012

PowerPoint and outline of recent invited talk, “Assessing the value of anonymous communication online” by Robert Bodle, PhD (USC), Associate Professor of Communication and New Media Studies, College of Mount St. Joseph.


  • “We are all Khaled Said” – anonymity as political freedom
  • Facebook wants anonymity to go away
    • real name only policy
    • sociotechnical design
    • culture and condition for sharing
  • fb’s arguments for upholding fixed user identity
    • safety
    • the civilizing effect
    • market incentives
  • double edged attributes of anonymity
    • prevents accountability
    • disinhibition
    • depersonalization
  • human rights dimensions of anonymity
    • privacy
    • freedom of assembly
    • freedom of expression
  • democratic freedoms and anonymous speech
    • tolerate offensive speech
    • free speech, free press
    • encourage uninhibited, robust and wide open speech
    • avoid elements of an authoritarian regime (Bollinger)
  • human rights and democratic freedoms online and offline/assert the conditions for sharing
    • pseudonyms
    • anonymous communication
    • privacy
    • freedom from surveillance

France’s HADOPI “three strikes” law rejected by Constitutional Council

June 11, 2009

hadopi-mortuaire-1 This law would have tilted the balance away from individuals rights to free expression and information and towards abusive industry enforcement of copyright “permission” or “clearance” culture online. Internet governance should address the balance between industry rights and public interest rights. The monitoring of users’ online activities for copyright violations and then the removal of their access to the Internet would have set a sad precedent for universal access to information and free expression, widely recognized as a fundamental human right. See “Council of Europe: Access To Internet Is A Fundamental Right”