social networks

mass digging as virtual activism

Last week I suggested to my work that, as an experiment, we add a 'Digg this' button to some of our content. I was also thinking about how we could go a step further and ask our activist network to digg human rights stories that we urgently want to bring to peoples' attention. This made me wonder about the ethics of Digg 'gaming', as i'd recently stumbled on a story about a possible Digg scam on Jason Calacanis's blog, and the Digg site refers to recent Digging Fraud for which certain user accounts were banned. It turns out that Digg fraud has had a lot of recent attention, partly because of an article called 'The big Digg rig' on CNET news.
Luckily there are sensible voices out there who put Digg gaming in its proper perspective, such as Joshua Porter who points out that 'any successful (social) site sees its share of gaming' and declares that so-called mainstream media and government are equally susceptible via lobbying by Big Oil, Big Pharma and Big Insurance. (Joshua also has an interesting write-up of why 'the design of conspires to make it haven for gaming' ). So I think that like Copyblogger I'll back compelling content and suggest that encouraging activist digging is a legitimate way to play the Digg game.
p.s. My quick scan of some top global NGO's only turned up one example of a site using a 'Digg this' button, at Oxfam GB, but I'd be interested to hear about others.

Web2.0 Mobilization and Institutional Inertia

A flyer at Netsquared for the Genocide Intervention Network (GI-Net) caught my eye, because the front page listed spaces on Flickr and MySpace tagged with 'genocideintervention'.


GI-Net is a formal organisation rather than an informal network, so how come they're so quick to embrace the social web? I think it's because their constituency is students, and they're naturally going where the students are (MySpace , Facebook and so on). So it was interesting to talk to Heddy Nam at Netsquared because she's got a foot in both camps; by day, she works on operational stuff in Amnesty-USA, but outside of work she's part of an international youth network called Never Again which aims to prevent a repeat of a genocide like Rwanda. As Britt Bravo already pointed out, the Never Again network are using almost every social web tool available e.g. wikis, blogs, tagging & webchats. Like Heddy, I've also had experience of both large organisations and activist networks, and it makes me wonder whether big human rights organisations can really be agile enough to take full advantage of social web tools, or whether they'll be prevented by their own institutional inertia. Maye big organisations should stay out of the social web and just let the kids and the activists get on with it.

Surveillance of Social Software

The week after i got back from talking about the potential human rights threats of web2.0. a colleague at work circulated an article by Paul Marks from the New Scientist entitled 'Pentagon sets its sights on social networking websites' which bears out a lot of that threat.
It reveals software being developed with NSA support to datamine social networking sites by, perversely, harnessing the semantic web technologies of the W3C. Then email brought in a link to this article by David Freedman: "Why Privacy Won't Matter - Google, Yahoo and Microsoft desperately want to know every last thing about what you do, say and buy. Here's how they'll do it—and why we'll let them ". It does a nice job of highlighting the way that the drive for revenue from targeted advertising is eroding privacy and turning search engines in to Big Brothers. Whereas Google enables it's panopticon by seducing you in to using it's tools for all of your online life, Yahoo is researching social network analysis as a way to target ads at friends and colleagues. Although the general picture it paints is of inevitability, and it's very negative about the compliance of the younger generation (wrongly, in my opinion), it does highlight some developing techniques for prtecting privacy, and more importantly the possibility of a 'privacy backlash' against all this market-led surveillance. For me, the most chilling effect is the potential for self-censorship; as people become aware that their preferences and opinions are tracked they will become "afraid to engage in any behavior that others might find controversial."
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