A Royall Juggle

Weekly #3: A Bill of Rights for our offline AND online life?

Posted on: October 5, 2010

So much cooler online…

In the era of the social web, a question I find myself asking is what defines our personality? What we say and do in real life? Who we appear to be online? Or a combination of both? To make things more complicated, some people follow different rules and take on different personas on and offline. The Brad Paisley music video “Online” comes to mind as a classic example of this  — for all ya’ll country music haters, the character in the video (Jason Alexander of Seinfeld) lives in a fantasy world online to compensate for his lacking social life offline.

I think the social web should be an extension of our real (i.e. face-to-face) social life, and most of us use it in that respect. We log on to social sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to maintain and enhance the relationships we form offline. It’s our way of staying in touch with people we can’t see often and sharing common interests with close friends and peers in our profession.

In a world where almost everyone has an offline and online life, do we need a bill of rights for each too?

I agree with the main points in the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web published in 2007 by renowned bloggers and thought leaders in the social media field, but I think the ideas expressed in the blog post need accountability. What we really need for the first two key points (ownership of your own personal information and control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others) are rules that social media companies must comply with in a court of law. I’m by no means an expert on how to pass legislation, but I do think it’s time for the law to catch up with the times. Based on some quick research courtesy of my friend Google, there doesn’t appear to be a law that directly protects a consumer’s personal information online. Similar to how the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 set rules that protect consumers from unwanted commercial messages, there needs to be a law that protects the personal information of consumers online to ensure the first two key points of the Social Bill of Rights are taken seriously and enforced by every social media company. Perhaps the creators of the Social Bill of Rights could work with organizations such as The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) or the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) to implement public policy about these privacy issues.

The third point (freedom to grant persistent access to your personal information to trusted external sites) is more of a best practice that social media companies should follow if they want to be successful in the long run. As you’ve noticed over the past three years since the Social Bill of Rights was established, many social media companies have embraced this idea by integrating user data across platforms, especially Facebook. And companies that support this permission-based open integration can grow faster than those that trap the user’s data within their company walls.

Some examples of this point:

–          Pandora gives you the option to incorporate data from Facebook so that you can see which of your friends like the same artists as you; creating a more social listening experience.

–          Tweet Deck gives you the option to post your Tweets as Facebook and LinkedIn status updates so that you can share with multiple communities simultaneously; creating a more efficient way to deliver information.

–          LinkedIn gives you the option to expand your network by using your email contact lists from Gmail and Yahoo; creating a faster way to connect with the people you already know.

–          Finally, just about every blog and news site gives you the option to “Like” their articles now which links directly back to your Facebook page and therefore back to your Facebook friends.

In my PR Ethics course, we just discussed how professional organizations in the PR, marketing and communications field have not incorporated social media into their Codes of Ethics. I think organizations such as the Public Relations Society of America and the Word of Mouth Marketing Association should also catch up with the times and reevaluate the ethics codes and standards of conduct that they publish for professionals in the industry. The Social Bill of Rights can be their starting point.

A Bill of Rights for our online life is a sound concept with excellent points, but society won’t take it seriously, similar to Jason Alexander in Brad Paisley’s “Online” video, until accountability is tied to it.

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2 Responses to "Weekly #3: A Bill of Rights for our offline AND online life?"

Nice. I named my class Blog after this song.

So glad my first blog comment is from another country music fan… you just made my night 🙂 Good to know the real meaning behind your blog name, thanks!!

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