Back in 2007 when social media was increasingly becoming a part of mainstream culture, two industry gurus recognized the fundamentals of an “open web” and subsequently created “A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web.” Written as a blog post, it outlines the basic rights users should demand from social media sites in terms of ownership, control and freedom of personal information. It also lays out four key actions that social media sites should take to effectively support user rights. Specifically, it says social media sites should allow users to:
- Syndicate their own profile data, friends list and the data that is shared with them via the service, using a persistent URL or API token and open data formats
- Syndicate their own stream of activity outside the site
- Link from their profile pages to external identifiers in a public way
- Discover who else they know is also on their site, using the same external identifiers made available for lookup within the service
This framework is highly valuable from a consumer perspective. It is effective at getting social media users to stop and think about their participation on social media networks and how complex the online world can be. It’s obvious there are many users who don’t think twice about how their participation in the space can have a lasting impact on their lives. The actions of posting a picture, writing on someone’s wall, adding a colleague as a friend or updating a profile can have long-term consequences if not conducted wisely and with caution.
It’s easy to see that different norms and boundaries exist in the real world than online. However, social media sites, including Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn should give social media users the same control they have in their off-line lives to manage the information that is valuable to them.
While this information is eye-opening to social media users, I do not believe we actually need a “bill of rights” that outlines consumer demands. When it all comes down to it, it’s up to the individual site owners to determine how they want to conduct their business.