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The Control of Social Communities

April 26, 2009

 

Earlier this year Facebook made a few changes to its terms of service.

 

Changing a few words caused the online community to become enraged. These words allowed for Facebook to become the owner of any information that was posted on a user’s profile even after they deleted it. The changing of the Facebook TOS brings up many questions regarding social communities and who controls them.

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On Facebook alone there are over 200 million registered users. It can easily be said that online communities are growing larger and larger. People invest their time and emotions on these sites with very little thought of who is in control of the community. While these communities are definitely not the same as ones in the real world, they have power in what they can do. To realize this all you need to do is look at the instances of when Facebook has been used to orchestrate large political gatherings. When the rights of the colonialists were being challenged there was a revolution. Shortly after Facebook changed the TOS, the outcry of opposition became so great that Facebook reversed back. It was a small revolution in a way because the people had spoken.

 Facebook is now moving forward with a new strategy in regards to how it operates after this blunder. It’s currently creating a new operating procedure titled,  “the Facebook Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” In a way it’s a Facebook Constitution and according to them it can only be ratified if 30% of the users agree. So far only three percent of the Facebook community has participated and of that 1/3 have agreed. This is way below the amount that was expected by Facebook.

 Even though the turnout for this social media democratic event was low, it shows that the creators of these communities don’t have all encompassing control over them. How much a MySpace or Facebook can change from what users originally registered for without losing large numbers has yet to be seen. What’s certain is that the moment these social networks are released to the public they become partly owned by everyone. Those who are looking to create and/or utilize these sites need to realize this or they will be unsuccessful. These social networks are two way streets that are according to the author of Groundswell, Josh Bernoff, controlled by no one.  

-Alex Orr

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