Twittering in the Trenches: Monday’s Social Networking Workshop

The Twittering in the Trenches Workshop is Monday, June 1, 9am-5pm (eastern). Please join us online or in person

In 1995 I went to my first Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (CFP) conference. I was completely boggled: every issue that was discussed had at least three compelling sides to it. I was also inspired because I could really see how the Net could be great for building communities.  Even back then it seemed that the Net was about building bridges and communities.

I remember David Brin speaking about surveillance cameras (no cell phone cameras yet), how ubiquitous they were going to become, and how we had to turn them to our advantage. I remember very smart, tech-savvy, civil libertarians like John Gilmore and Mike Godwin on panels with representatives from the White House and the FBI debating the use of cryptography, free-speech, and privacy issues. The techies stated that the Net was going to be a place where we would have the ability to share knowledge widely, without regard to geographical location, and where we would have more freedom to discus topics than in traditional media.  We could reshape our reality; old-fashioned laws wouldn’t hinder us, technology would finally give power to ordinary people.  It was exciting stuff.

I also remember the White House representative responding, almost in angry frustration, that we may have won the first round of the crypto wars, but that they’d be back and he Net wouldn’t be a “lawless” place — meaning that the status quo would be regained.

Of course, he was right. Now we have CALEA, the Patriot Act, Carnivore and its successors, draconian copyright laws, and a host of other privacy-invading tools that governments can use against people.

So here we are again in 2009.  The same kind of power is there on social network sites – on Facebook, MySpace, Tribe, Second Life, Free-Association, LiveJournal, and all the rest. Unlike Usenet and other ways of communicating on the Net a la 1995, social networks now are quite usable for us non-technical people, and the interfaces are pretty and inviting.  It’s never been easier to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues online.

And those that want to keep the status quo, they see the power too, so they want to hobble the social networks as best they can. They use fear of drug abuse, pedophiles, terrorists, and porn … and draft the same kind of privacy invasive and free speech hindering laws they’ve been pushing for years.

We don’t have to allow entrenched power bases take away our ability to organize and make our voices heard. Let’s not allow the Net to become just another TV outlet and shopping mall.

Social networks have already proved extremely useful in various activist campaigns. Stop Real ID Now, Join the Impact (for marriage equality), Get FISA Right, President Obama’s election campaign, and others, have shown that shown how quickly we can organize using online tools. At this workshop, we’ll discuss what worked and what didn’t, so that we can be more effective in the future.

We’ve learned from our experiences and so can empower users of social networks.  We can provide and expand online resources for people so that they can quickly get up to speed on services like Twitter, and know how to better translate online communications into actions.  We can work with site operators to make it more likely that we’ll have policies that protect our ability to use social networks, policies that protect our privacy and our free-speech rights.  And we can reach out on social networks to involve more diverse groups of people and hopefully jump start activism on privacy and first amendment issues.

Here’s our opportunity to realize the promise of the Net that was so present in 1990s when CFP started. If we don’t take and use our power now to keep social networks as open as we can make them, I don’t think we’re going to get another chance.

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4 Responses to “Twittering in the Trenches: Monday’s Social Networking Workshop”

  1. [...] Deborah’s post on the CFP blog has some background.  Check it out! [...]

  2. I share the optimism! I find arguments for innovation such as Dan Froomkin’s “wiki whitehouse” in the Washington Post and Ari Melber’s “people’s press conference” particularly persuasive, as such projects will allow social media to institutionally attach themselves to government.

  3. [...] “Fight for me!” – a privacy-loving Facebook friend, wishing me luck at the conference Here’s our opportunity to realize the promise of the Net that was so present in the 1990s when CFP started. – Deborah Pierce on the CFP blog [...]

  4. Hi, good post. I have been woondering about this issue,so thanks for posting. I’ll definitely be coming back to your site.