The Present and Future of Social Networking
to the panel
This panel was part of a series on Information Technology, Ethics,
Law, and Society, co-sponsored by the Markkula Center for Applied
Ethics, the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, and
the High Tech Law Institute. It was held May 14, 2007
PEDRO HERNANDEZ-RAMOS: Good evening. Welcome to this session
titled Friends, Lovers, Trust and Safety - The Present and Future
of Social Networking. My name is Pedro Hernandez-Ramos and I
am the Associate Director of the Center for Science, Technology
and Society who is co-sponsoring this event along with the Markkula
Center for Applied Ethics and the High Tech Law Institute. I
will serve as moderator for tonights event.
A few brief comments. Social networking could not have been
the focus of a session like this ten years ago for the simple
reason that it did not exist. To be sure, we already had e-mail
and the Internet, which meant that many of us created pretty
horrible Web sites that were all about me, because, back then,
that was the only thing to do. Today we do something like that
but rely on Web sites like MySpace, Facebook, Ning and many
others to let our family, friends and the rest of the world
find out everything about us. And that is precisely at the core
of the issues to be discussed tonight. Where is the boundary
between the private and the public? What private information
should I share on my virtual wall? What consequences should
I expect from the fact that such private information is now
available to the world, not just the people I know?
This is just a sampling of the many questions facing us in
this brave new world of social networking which is having an
increasingly significant impact on allocation, at least on students
lives, if not yet on teaching and learning; in politics and
as a data point, MySpace will be hosting political meetings
on campuses across the country from September to December, highlighting
one candidate at a time and already all the frontrunners have
agreed to participate. And in economics, for example, the News
Corp. has paid $580 million for MySpace and, needless to say,
the culture of social networking is having a broad impact on
society at large.
So to help us think better about this complex phenomenon, Im
delighted to introduce the four panelists who will add to our
understanding with their comments and insights. I will introduce
them all in alphabetical order which is not going to be the
order in which theyre going to speak. So first, Marian
Liu who is not here yet but, of course, shes stuck in
traffic in downtown San Jose so she should be here any minute,
is a multi-media entertainment critic for the San Jose Mercury
News. She writes about pop, urban, alternative and ethnic music
in a variety of mediaprint, audio and videoand covered
a lot of online culture when it was first starting, writing
about online dating and searching for jobs online. She also
covers the Bay Area hip-hop scene for the national hip-hop magazine,
Source Magazine. In the past, she has also worked in television
as a segment producer of the Asian-American culture show, Pacific
Fusion. Marian also is a regular speaker at universities
and conventions, often about the future of journalism on young
readers online. And, in her off time, believe it or not, she
designs jewelry, plays video games, snowboards and is learning
judo and yoga.
Next, Jim Squires, immediately to my right, is the vice president
of products at Ning, an online platform for creating social
networks in Palo Alto, California. Ning gives everyone the power
to create their own social network for anything. Prior to Ning,
Jim was a senior manager at Yahoo!, responsible most recently
for the companys broadband products. He joined Yahoo!
in 1999 with the acquisition of Broadcast.com, an early video
start-up based in Dallas, Texas. Squires holds a bachelors
degree in marketing from Texas Christian University. He and
his wife live in San Francisco. Welcome, Jim.
Next, Kaitlin Thompson is finishing her sophomore year in the
Honors Program here at Santa Clara, majoring in history and
physics and considering adding a major in religious studies.
She graduated in 2005 from Wilson Classical High School in Long
Beach, California; was a member of the synchronized swim team;
and participated in mock trial and speech and debate competitions.
I am happy to say that shes also one of our student workers
at the Center for Science, Technology, and Society. Welcome,
And, finally, Shannon Vallor received her Ph.D. in 2001 from
Boston College where she studied phenomenology and the philosophy
of science and technology. As an assistant professor in philosophy
at Santa Clara University, she teaches courses in the history
of modern philosophy, the ethical and social implications of
technology, and the philosophy of science and works with Santa
Claras Center for Science, Technology, and Society, as
well as with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. She is
currently researching the ethical implications of technologies
such as e-mail, instant messaging, and blogging, with a focus
on the impact of emerging communications technologies on social
virtues such as honesty, patience, and empathy. Welcome, Shannon.
The format for tonight is that each panelist will speak for
ten to fifteen minutes about what they consider the five key
political, ethical, social, romantic, or legal challenges they
see in the world of social networking. So please welcome Jim
Squires from Ning.
SQUIRES: Hi, everyone. As Pedro said, Im with a company,
a little start-up, weve got about 30 people, called Ning.
Were based out of Palo Alto. And we believe in empowering
everyone to be able to create a social network for anything.
So you hear the term social network, as Pedro said, social networking
didnt even exist ten years ago but it really has become
this force. There are hundreds of millions of people out there
using social networking products. Its become so cutting
edge that every one is, kind of when they hear social networking
they, almost in some circles, see people roll their eyes and
say oh, its a fad. Its going to pass, which is definitely
not the case.
So what we do is, if you havent played with Nings
products before, we let you very easily, really within five
to ten minutes, set up your social network. And you can spend
five to ten minutes and you find people spending much, much
more time than that. But its very fast to create just
a temporary site. If youre having a vacation and you want
to bring a place for photos together and videos together or
really much more permanent sites. And Ill give you some
of those examples in a minute.
But once youre creating your site, you decide what features
and functionality you want inside there. So you walk through
a wizard and you can decide, I want photos flicker-style inside
of my social network. I want videos, YouTube style. I want some
combination of all the above with forums and video and photos.
And then you customize the theme and you decide what you want
it to look like. And then you invite your friends to it. And
you can, very much, make it a public network or a private network
or a hybrid between the two, so you control who can see it and
whos joining your network.
The companys been around, actually, for about two years.
We re-launched the product about ten weeks ago and have had
a huge success with it. Over ten weeks, there are over 50,000
separate networks out there. And its really interesting
leading up to that launch and designing it and deciding what
the product would be and thinking, in your mind, anticipating
how many people got out there; how they would use it. And then
you release it. Its a platform. People can do whatever
they want with it. And they do things that you could never believe
and you cant imagine the variety of networks that have
There are over 50,000 examples, as I said. But some of my favorites
that have sprung up range from a site called The Veloist which
is community of cyclists in Chicago ranging to a site called
Library 2.0 which, I had no idea that this is one of our fastest
growing sites. Its got thousands of people on there and
its librarians who are connecting internationally through
this social network. Another one that really surprised me was
the Mobile Notary Network. I dont know any mobile notaries,
but there are a lot of them out there. And they have a very
active social network on Ning.
So it ranges from those type of very niche-oriented networks
all the way up to large media companies. CBS launched a network.
We didnt even know about it until it launched for the
One Tree Hill TV show; never seen it before, but I guess thats
extremely popular. The Dallas Mavericks have their official
social network up there. And then, one of my favorites that
just launched, a record label, its an underground hip-hop
label called Rawkus that sprung up there. The label that made
Mos Def famous and so they put this out there and they wanted
to just try it out and see how people reacted to. So they really
only told some insiders and they said, tell your friends, but
really dont promote this site yet. And its already
got thousands of people on there. I was checking out the site
last week. I think one of my favorite quotes so far that Ive
seen across any of these networks comes from the Rawkus network.
This is what one of the members said: No doubt, this beat
MySpace. MySpace gets hella boring, but on here, theres
some interesting folks. Im already hooked to this site.
Im only telling a couple people about it because its
off the chain like DMX Driving Reckless posing as a police officer,
you dig. Its my favorite quote.
So thats what we do. And, as I was sitting down preparing
and thinking about the future of social networking, theres
a few things that I see developing; a few things going on within
the industry. One is, really social networking is in its infancy.
So weve got hundreds of millions of people out there using
it. And because of that, its already a proven mainstream
concept that has lasting power. But there are so many more niches
and people out there that will latch onto this and begin using
this that, really, were just defining what this looks
like and how that will work.
Definitely, as more people get accustomed to social networking
and they get online and start using these features and functionality,
its just going to continue to become more ubiquitous where
it stops becoming just a social networking site. Social networking
starts pervading into everything that were doing and into
all the Web sites that were interacting on. An example
on that is, I was talking to somebody the other day that teaches
a philanthropy class over at Stanford. And they were talking
about how they had two classes and they decided to do an open
discussion about how you could improve the evaluation and monitoring
of projects by foundations and donors. And so the first class
was, the average age was about 20 and the second class average
age was about 27. And, apparently, the discussions varied wildly.
It was the 27-year-olds went straight to kind of a typical discussion
of how you might improve that. And the 20-year-olds immediately
went right to social networking and that dominated the course
of the conversation. They said that what they needed to do was
set up a social network to connect people. Thats how you
can manage it. Thats how you can maintain it, and thats
how you could really push this thing forward. So its fascinating.
People who, and its a lot of you in here, people who were
8 when the Internet emerged, think very differently than even
people who are 7 years older than that.
A couple other things that I see going on are people just are
becoming more and more savvy about social networking and they
want more freedom with that. I mean, the largest social networking
site out there, I wont mention it, but you guys probably
know who Im talking about, people pimp out their pages
and its not easy to do. Its very difficult. If you
go in there and youve got every page looks different.
People spend hours customizing it. I dont have to tell
you guys this. And that really, to me, shows that people want
more freedom. They want to have something that represents their
personality. They want to customize it and they want to do that.
And the other thing that really highlights to me is that, and
this is really the basis for a lot of Nings thinking,
is that one size really doesnt fit all. And you look at
the customization on these larger networks. You look at the
types of networks that I just mentioned that are springing up
across Ning and how diverse they are and how niche-oriented
they are. And then the other metaphor that we talk about a lot
is if you think back 12 years ago, when the Internet was emerging,
it was very similar to how we see social networking today, where
I remember doing deals with large media companies where the
Internet, back then, meant AOL. There wasnt Internet.
It was AOL and thats what people used when they talked
about the Internet. And I would do these deals with media companies
and they would say, Why would we ever have our own Web
site? That doesnt make any sense. We just want a channel
on AOL cause thats where everybody is.
And I think of that very similar to where youve got the
large social networks today. Its not one size fits all.
You can customize a little bit. You cant do much with
it. And as you fast forward, I believe that that will change
and people will want to do more within their social networking.
So quickly, some of the challenges that I see out there and
some of these are Ning-oriented and some are just industry,
in general. But as a user and as a product manager creating
social networking products, one danger is just making sure that
people dont get overwhelmed with so much information out
there. And as people become more and more connected, you log
into social networks and you realize youre over on a professional
networking site, you realize that youre connected to hundreds
of thousands of people. And thats extremely powerful.
I mean, all of a sudden, whether its a dating site or
whether its a professional networking site, you all of
the sudden have access. And you can filter and you can get to
all this information. But the more and more information that
gets there, and this is very similar to just what happened across
the general Internet and thats why Google and Yahoo! became
successful as search engines, is that you have to find. You
have to filter. You have keep the experience meaningful and
relevant to you, as a user, and as youre designing these
products, as a product manager, you have to do the same thing.
The other thing that, and this is a little more Ning-oriented,
but I really think this applies across the board, is as people
are building out communities and their own communities, theres
the challenge, with so many people just moving across these
communities, of truly fostering a community and a strong lively
community that people want to go back to and spend time on and
not just disappear to other sites. And an example of this is
when we launched ten weeks ago, I put up a personal site for
cold water surfing in San Francisco. I surf up there and thought
itd be a cool thing to put up. And I left it open because
I figured that the more people I could get into this surfing
site, the more successful it would be and the more popular it
would be and people would be using it most often. So I put it
up there. Immediately people go over to Ning; they search; they
find surfing and they join the network. And I got, within a
couple days, hundreds of people in there on the network. And
so my first thought was, Wow, I just created a really successful
network. This is fantastic. And about a week later, I noticed
that there wasnt much activity going on. So a lot of people
joined and people were in there, but they really werent
commenting or adding photos or videos or really interacting
that much. And I talked to one of my buddies who is a surfer
and who joined it originally and thought it was a really cool
site. And he said, You know what? I think Im going
to quit that off-shore site. Its just theres a lot
of posers in there. Its not surfers. Its just not
a very cool thing going on. And that really drove home for me
the fact that its not the quantity, its the quality
of the people in there and the interest and making sure that
youre fostering that community.
And then, finally, the other challenge is the, and this really
is across the board, its a very general comment, but just
privacy, in general, and spam across these networks. And I think,
really, the only way to tackle that is making sure that youve
got the right systems in place to help people to create their
networks and defend their networks against spam or making sure
that they have right privacy controls in place.
When we originally launched, we had just two options. You could
do a private network or you could do a public network. And there
was some variance in between. And we very quickly, from our
users, heard that they wanted to do sites that were public.
They wanted a lot of traffic on them but they didnt want
everyone joining and everyone being able to contribute content
for the same reason that my surfing network was not popular.
They wanted to have it out there; have it be public but just
have people who were qualified and who really should be in that
network able to participate. And so what we did was we went
through and just to continue to enable that additional functionality
so they could do that. So now youve got an advertising
network out there. They were complaining that people were joining
that werent in the advertising industry. And they dont
mind people being on there but theyre contributing content
and ruining the community. And its amazing how these themes
develop and theyre out there. And we take that in. Thats
a major input into how we evolve the product. And so I think
thats a challenge. Its something that we, across
the board, need to keep facilitating for people.
So with that, thank you very much. Look forward to hearing
all your questions.
HERNANDEZ-RAMOS: Thank you, Jim. So next, please welcome Kaitlin
KAITLIN THOMPSON: Hi, Im Kaitlin and Im a sophomore
here at Santa Clara. And Im going to be talking more about
stuff thats relevant to college students because Im
a college student and I really dont know anything about
the business applications for social networking.
For me, the top five challenges for social networking include
understanding a social network for what it is. If you have a
Facebook or a MySpace or a LiveJournal, you pretty much used
it to keep in touch with your friends or to just kind of have
it or to put stuff up there. It doesnt really matter.
But it can be used for a lot more. Like, I had a class, Introduction
to International Relations with Professor Stover, which is an
awesome class. You should take it, but its really hard.
But we had a conflict resolution simulation where we connected
with students from Morocco, from Lebanon, from Florida and we
worked together to work through a simulation regarding the situation
in the Middle East. And it was really great because it allowed
us to connect with students from other schools; not a lot of
personal communication because it was for a class, but it was
nice to know that its an option to communicate with people
who youve never met and work together.
Of course, there were a lot of limitations like they didnt
e-mail you to let you know when people had responded to your
posts, so you kind of checked 24/7, which is not fun. Its
really not fun when you have to do that for four days.
So you have to understand that what you put online is going
to be online forever and ever. And people can find your information.
So thats really important to bear in mind when you put
something online. If you post pictures of yourself drinking
and your boss has access to it and they know youre underage
or if the RAs have access to that, thats just not a good
idea. Dont do that. Its not a good idea, just putting
that out there. Also, you hear horror stories of people who
say that they told their boss that they were taking a day off
because they were sick and then posted on MySpace that they
really went surfing. Those kind of things dont make your
bosses happy. You need to really be careful to put the right
information in the right place. Its not appropriate to
have pictures of yourself doing silly things when people in
the professional world or teachers or administrators have access
to that information. You dont think about it when youre
just posting pictures that you think your friends are going
to see, but other people do have access to that information.
Thats really important to keep in mind.
Another thing you need to remember is, how do you know who
youre talking to is who they say they are? Now if youre
on Facebook and someone leaves a post on your wall, you obviously
know who that person is. Theyre one of your friends or
someone you, at least, know. And theres some accountability
there. You can find that person. If youre just talking
to some random stranger in a chat room, you have no idea who
that person is. They dont know who you are. You hear,
again, horror stories of grown men pretending to be young girls
talking in chat rooms and horrible things happen. Ive
never known anyone who that happened to. I doubt most of you
have met those people, but, again, its important to bear
in mind that people arent always who they say they are.
Its a matter of degree in this instance.
When you go to a job interview or when youre meeting
someone for the first time or youre going on a first date,
you try to present yourself well. You dont say, Oh,
yeah, I dropped out of school and I spend most of my time at
the beach. You say, Oh, well, Im taking some
time off; exploring my options. Maybe you say, Im
doing some writing. But thats different from pretending
to be another person entirely. So, again, you need to be careful
when youre talking to people. Bear in mind that for all
the things that you say that arent exactly true, theyre
probably doing the same thing.
And, again, related to that is how do you want to represent
yourself online? If youre going to have a MySpace and
you have it on Friends locked or you dont have your Facebook
profile open to the world, you feel more comfortable putting
information up there that you dont really want the rest
of the world to see; that you dont want your parents to
see; that you dont want that friend who you like to pretend
that youre much more sedate when youre with them
or a friend who you like to give the impression that youre
much more of a partier than you are.
What really drove it home for me was, I dont know how
many of you have Facebooks, but last August, I think it was,
they instituted the dues feed. And it told you every single
thing that your friends did on their Facebook profiles. Everybody
was outraged. We were horrified that this was going on. People
talked about Big Brother. They talked about how Facebook is
invading our privacy. The fact is, all of that information was
available already. Everything that was thrown in your face,
you could easily find out on Facebook. But we were all horrified
because you forget how much you do post on there; how much of
yourself you do share. And to see that so and so broke up with
so and so. Or that so and so added ten new pictures of themselves
duct taping their little brother to a post in their backyard.
Yeah. But so, again, that information was already available.
And if someone wanted to look for that, they could. Its
not changing anything to have that thrown in your face. It just
really brought it home to a lot of us, I think, that were
kind of putting a lot of information out there. And a lot of
people are going to see that information and you need to be
really careful what information youre sharing with those
And, again, like when youre either on Facebook or youre
on MySpace or youre in some other chat room, you want
to get to know people. You want to make friends or keep up friendships
with people with whom you would otherwise lose contact. I mostly
use my Facebook to keep in touch with friends who go to other
colleges because Im really bad at calling people; not
so great at writing letters and I really dont like to
send e-mails unless I have something substantial to say. But
with Facebook or if you have a MySpace, its really easy
to just write on someones wall, hey, I was thinking of
you. Or I hope youre doing well.
But if youre in a place thats not like that, if
your goal is to make new friends, you, again, have to adjust
yourself for this new situation. If youre just talking
in person, subjects come up naturally, but you mostly keep yourself
within the bounds of polite conversation. If youre online,
theres a lot less accountability. You can say whatever
you want to whoever you want and no ones going to call
you on it. The person who youre talking to, its
easy to pretend that they dont really exist. Youre
never going to see their reaction to your words. And if you
say something that they find stupid, whats the worst theyre
going to do? Stop typing to you?
So its really different getting to know people online
than it is in person. Familiarity can develop a lot faster because
youre able to share things with those people that you
wouldnt feel comfortable sharing with them in person.
But, again, theres the potential for abuse where theyre
telling you things that arent true. And if you decide
to meet that person in person, bad things can happen, even if
not to the degree of predators online, but just someone totally
misrepresenting themselves. If you go to meet someone who you
think shares all your interests and you find out that they were
just making stuff up, well its kind of a let down.
So, again, the final concern is really posting responsibly.
If you have something, like on MySpace, where anyone who has
your e-mail address, who has your name, can look it up, dont
post your cell phone number on there. Dont put your address
on there. Those things arent good ideas. Thats just
not, again, not a good idea. You really need to be sure that
what youre putting online, youd be willing for anyone
in the world to read; for anyone in the world to have access
Now what I do; what my friends do; what a lot of people do is
we start to Facebook people. You can Google them. You can look
them up on MySpace; Facebook them. If its someone who
youre going to meet, you kind of want to get a sense of
who they are. If its someone who you think is cute and
you want to find out if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend,
you do that a lot. And no one thinks its really a big
deal. But if your intentions werent so good; if you werent
just trying to figure out a little bit more about this person,
you really open up the potential for someone who will know a
lot about you and you dont want them to know those things.
There are problems with stalkers.
We joke about Facebook stalking someone, checking out their
profile, seeing what changes are going on; whos talking
to who. But thats a lot different from someone whose intentions
arent goodwho wants to find out more about you;
find out where your classes are; where your dorm is; when youre
going to be at a certain place. They know what you look like
cause we all have profile pictures. Again, its just
bad things probably arent going to happen. Most people
are like you and me, just kind of curious about what everybodys
up to; just want to use this to keep in touch with really good
friends who you care a lot about, but with whom you dont
want to speak every day.
But you just need to remember that its really important
to know that whatever you write, somebodys going to see
that. And it may not be the person who you want to see. Again,
very unlikely that any of you or myself or most of the people
who use Facebook or MySpace are going to actually be stalked
in reality or be harassed by someone. But its something
to bear in mind. Yeah, its not that its likely to
happen, but its that it can happen that matters.
And even if you werent stalked, there are the lesser
examples of your boss finding out that youve been drinking
on the job or sleeping on the job. Or just having parents find
out that youre not where you say you are. Just dont
be stupid. Just pay attention to what youre doing. Act
responsibly for your actions. Yeah, hold yourself accountable.
Make sure that what you put online is stuff that youd
own up to in person. Thank you.
HERNANDEZ-RAMOS: Thank you, Kaitlin. And now last, but not
least, unless Marian shows up, is Shannon Vallor from the Philosophy
SHANNON VALLOR: The recent rise of social networking as an
Internet phenomenon generates a host of ethical concerns, some
of which have already garnered considerable public attention.
These include worries about privacy and safety in an environment
where we have already found it necessary to coin the term cyberstalking.
But there are other, less visible but equally important, ethical
questions about social networking that deserve our close attention.
My remarks focus on one such question which is this; what impact
is social networking technology having on the ways that people
build and sustain close interpersonal relationship and, in particular,
the communicative virtues that help such relationships to flourish?
I will identify five communicative virtues that I believe warrant
careful reflection in connection with social networking technology.
But to see why my question is an important one, we first need
to understand what is meant by a communicative virtue. It will
help to briefly draw on the resources of an ethical theory that
has recently garnered renewed respect: namely, Aristotles
virtue ethics. And we dont need a lot of ethical theory
here, just a few key ideas.
Virtues and vices, as described by Aristotle, are states of
a persons character that are developed and strengthened
over time by certain kinds of activities that the person has
repeatedly and habitually performed. When one of these states
of character expresses a form of personal excellence, we call
it a virtue. And when it fails to do so, we call it a vice.
Excellence is marked by the ability to develop ones natural
talents and use them to flourish in the larger human community.
The important thing to note here is that according to this
theory, it is the kinds of activities that one gets in the habit
of doing that determine the eventual quality of ones character.
One becomes a good person gradually by doing good things, and
not just once or twice, but doing them repeatedly and habitually.
This view is important for our purposes for several reasons.
First, if this view of ethics is correct, then the moral development
of individuals cannot be predicted simply by looking at what
they think or believe. We also have to know what kinds of actions
they will get in the habit of doing and whether those actions
will eventually promote, in that person, the development of
virtues or vices. Thus, if social networking technology does
promise to significantly change the nature of communicative
activities that people regularly perform, then it will directly
impact the moral development of persons who use that technology.
A long term effect that is distinct from its immediate social
consequences but certainly no less important for us to think
Second, we should remember that traditional forms of communicative
activity, especially face-to-face conversation, have evolved
on a very long time scale and in such a way as to naturally
maximize certain virtues essential to building and sustaining
close interpersonal tiesties that can support social cooperation
and that are strong and flexible enough to withstand the trials
and vagaries of human existence.
To the extent that social networking technology does alter
or compete with these traditional forms of communicative activity,
we must ask, Is it safe to assume that these new forms, designed
for sheer consumer appeal, will be as conducive to the development
of those essential interpersonal virtues as the old?
Finally, because virtues and vices are states of character
that are developed over time and through habit, they are very
resistant to change. That is, a true virtue is not easily uprooted,
but neither is it easy for us to rid ourselves of our vices,
as unfortunately, we all know. For this reason, we could do
well to consider the relationship between social networking
technology and communicative virtues now when the phenomenon
is fairly new and still open to social critique, than later
when opportunities for institutional and personal reform may
be more difficult to come by.
Let me now turn to the five communicative virtues that I wish
to consider and how their development could be impacted by social
networking technology. What I will offer here is not a thorough
analysis allowing us to draw firm conclusions about whether,
or to what extent, social networking technology does undermine
these virtues, but rather a preliminary indication of why we
should want such an analysis. While there are more than five
such virtues and we have time for only the briefest reflection
on each, I have chosen the five that I think warrant the closest
attention because of their central importance to strong and
enduring human relationships and their potential vulnerability
to the changes that social networking technology promises to
First is patience. Patience is, without a doubt, one of the
most important virtues for sustaining close relationships. It
develops through communicative activities such as listening.
For example, listening to a friend tell a story or recount a
lengthy anecdote without jumping in and finishing the story
oneself or interrupting with hey, that reminds me of this thing
that happened to me yesterday. Patience, once it becomes not
just a momentary indulgence of the other, but an enduring part
of ones own character, that is, a virtue, allows ones
relationships with others to manifest deeper, mutual understanding,
greater and more lasting commitments and a feeling on the part
of others that you are willing to connect with them on their
terms and not just yours; that your interest in them does not
end with their ability to keep you constantly amused or fascinated.
Yet the style of communication favored by digital natives and
fostered by social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace,
privileges brevity and directness. And, thus, we must ask whether,
and in what ways, such technologies can also encourage and reward
patience as a virtue.
Second, fidelity. Fidelity is a crucial part of any enduring
relationship. It develops through the communicative practice
of openly expressing commitments to another and honoring them
and, in that way, honoring the uniqueness and the value of the
relationship itself. Expressions of fidelity range from the
simple commitment to go to a movie on a Saturday night with
a friend, even if a more exciting opportunity later presents
itself, to the lifelong commitment expressed in a vow of marriage.
The expression of fidelity shows that you do not regard the
other as replaceable, that even if someone else comes along
who can occupy the same role and deliver the same social benefits,
this could not, for you, be a substitute for the original bond.
Yet we must ask whether the focus on friend collecting, on many
social networking sites, by stressing a purely quantitative
measure of friendship, may undermine the virtue of fidelity
by providing a framework in which friends are each assigned
identical unit values and in which ones sociality is measured
by the sum total of those units, rather than the irreplaceable
value of any single relationship.
Third, honesty. This is one moral virtue already widely discussed
in the media as potentially threatened by the Internet, chiefly,
with regard to the ability in many web contexts to misrepresent
ones age, gender, or other personal attributes. For many
social networking sites, especially niche sites, where the only
tie between members is a common hobby or interest, this remains
a danger, although peer auditing presumably makes this somewhat
more difficult on community sites such as Facebook.
But honesty as a virtue goes well beyond being truthful about
ones social identity and warrants a broader view. Honesty
as a virtue is the willingness in communication to put ones
authentic self in play. That is, it involves the assumption
of a certain risk; the risk of being disliked; the risk of giving
offense; the risk of seeming different or being misunderstood.
Now it can be argued that Internet communications, social networking
included, may actually promote such risk-taking more than face-to-face
modes of communication which may be perceived as higher stakes
encounters to be treated with greater caution and restraint.
But one must also ask to what extent members of social networking
sites are putting their authentic selves in play any more than
in face-to-face conversation, since the construction of a profile
encourages members to construct a carefully edited version of
themselves. A version perhaps aimed more at drawing in as many
friends as possible than exposing ones authentic personality.
We should also recall that, as Aristotle noted, virtues typically
represent a mean between two extremes of vice: one, a deficiency;
the other, an excess. Hence, while deceitfulness represents
a deficiency of candor, and honesty and openness are terms that
characterize the virtuous mean, a tactless or vulgar lack of
reserve is viewed as a vice, an openness taken to excess. For
example, the first wave of media coverage of social networking
sites highlighted employers who surfed MySpace and Facebook
to screen out candidates whose online posts or pictures display
a dangerous lack of personal reserve. While a close trusting
relationship cannot be built or sustained without honesty, reckless
candor can bring a relationship to a premature end.
Fourth, tolerance. Tolerance, as a communicative virtue, expresses
a willingness to be confronted with that which we find alien
or distressing. Like honesty, which tolerance invites, it has
been touted as a hallmark of Internet sociality, a necessary
result of the connected individuals immersion in a spider
web of social links constantly opening onto new perspectives
and worlds, both individual and cultural. There is, indeed,
much merit in this view. But it is not immune to critical reflection
as we may be reminded by recent events involving women bloggers
who became the targets of vicious and frightening threats of
violence from those who disagreed with their views. The response
of many bloggers that such women should just get over it also
calls into question whether Internet sociality can find the
delicate balance between the virtue of tolerance and the vice
of indulgence. Blogs, message boards, and chat rooms, all of
which have been integrated into many social networking sites,
can be forums that, at their best, approach the ideal of John
Stuart Mills marketplace of ideas. Yet they can just as
easily devolve into forums where intelligent, critical discussion
is crowded out by self-absorbed rants and juvenile insults.
And, thus, it remains to be seen to what extent social networking
technology can truly facilitate the virtue of tolerance.
Finally, perseverance. No human project of any substance can
survive long without perseverance and close relationships are
no different. In communication, perseverance manifests the willingness
to push through conflict, misunderstanding, or boredom to reconnect
with ones partner on the other side of the breach. Like
fidelity, it demonstrates to the other the depth of ones
commitment to the relationship and builds trust and confidence
in its future by showing that the relationships continued
existence is not wholly dependent on its momentary rewards.
The immediacy and physicality of face-to-face modes of communication
often force us to persevere even when we would rather not.
Yet this is precisely what builds perseverance as a virtue,
rather than a grim resignation to the absence of an escape route
from the conversation. For example, many of us can recall the
experience of being a sullen teenager, stuck for a long afternoon
with an elderly relative, surrounded by painful silence and
the oppressive ticking of a grandfather clock and, eventually,
forcing oneself to find a point of engagementa desperate
move that one realizes only much later was the seed of a mature
and mutually-rewarding connection with another generation. But
the proliferation of social connections on the Internet and
the emphasis on multiple ongoing communicative transactions
provides us with an ever-widening horizon of escape routes from
any interaction that has lost its momentary appeal or comforts.
What will drive new generations of digital natives to ford over
those breaches and experience the rewards that only the virtue
of perseverance can bring?
We must remember, of course, that these five virtues are only
developed by traditional forms of communication at their best.
Even then, traditional forms of communication and social networking
are not without their defects and social networking technology
clearly has the potential to address some of those limitations
and move human communication forward, strengthening social ties
and making them more rewarding, flexible, and enduring. They
may even facilitate the development of new communicative virtues
not previously recognized or given their due. Yet we must remember
that any such advances maybe sporadic, trenchant, or outweighed
by contravening effects.
If social networking technology is designed and driven by market
pressures alone with complete indifference to communicative
virtues and their essential role in developing and sustaining
fruitful human connections, given how we learn to communicate
is ultimately how we learn to be with others, it is time for
the designers, marketers and users of social networking technology
to engage in serious reflection on the importance of these virtues
and to invest in the challenge of building on them. Thank you.
HERNANDEZ-RAMOS: Thank you all. We have intelligence that Marian
Liu is on her way, but she may not be here in time within the
next minute or so to start her comments. So what I would like
to do is to start the Q and A. And then when she gets here,
well ask her to give an abbreviated presentation then
continue with the Q and A. So does anybody have a question that
they would like to ask? And then, if you dont mind because
we dont have a roving microphone, try to state it succinctly.
Ill repeat it for everyone to hear and then let the panelists
Q: Shannon, this is a question for you. You talked about the
five communicative virtues. Do you have an example of a previous
communication technology that actually caused these virtues
to go down or go up? And what of the impact on society?
VALLOR: So your question is, Is there an example of a previous
communication technology that actually caused a decline in the
expression of, or development of, some important communicative
virtue? Correct? Okay.
Well I do think that I seem to recall that when the telegraph,
actually, was invented, the telegram, that people began to discuss
the social implications of that form of communication which,
by necessity, had to be a very brief and direct in its form.
The telephone, also, was perceived, in some ways, as responsible
for the decline of letter writing which has often been viewed
as one of the ways in which some of the strongest sorts of relationships
were built. And the telephone was criticized for, in terms of
its accessibility and availability and ease, allowing communications
to devolve into triviality. So that people would simply spend
hours on the phone talking about nothing as opposed to the formality
of things like letter writing which were presumed to have a
sort of more substantive content.
So I think theres always been a social tendency to respond
to new forms of communication with trepidation. I think some
of those worries turn out, in hindsight, to be overstated and
some turned out to have been justified. And, in certain ways,
society finds ways to adapt and compensate for some of the weaknesses
of certain modes of communication. But I think that cant
be relied upon to happen automatically. I think its something
that we have to give careful, critical reflection to. And, as
I said, I think we have to try to reflect on those things while
the communication technologies are still developing and evolving
before they become rigid and difficult to adapt.
Q: Yeah. I have a question
. coming from friend of mines
father, that he was worried about his son who could never get
a girlfriend. So he finally gets a girlfriend. So he Facebooks
the girlfriend and finds out theres a great picture of
her finishing off a bottle of Southern Comfort and the caption
underneath it is girl most likely to become alcoholic. I was
queasy when I heard that story because I thought that actually
he shouldnt have been looking there and he shouldnt
have been paying attention to it even though the information
is out there. I was hoping the panelists had any reaction to
how they feel of sort of snoop behavior by parents.
HERNANDEZ-RAMOS: Um, hm. Maybe Kaitlin can take this one first.
THOMPSON: I dont know. I mean parents always are interested
in what their children are up to. They snooped through diaries,
back when people kept actual, physical diaries. Theyll
dig through your trash if they dont trust you. Parents
are always going to try to find a way to get this information.
This just makes it easier.
I think that its each persons personal responsibility
to present the face they want to present to the world. And you
have to know that people are going to search for you on Facebook
or Google your name. And you need to be the kind of person who
you want the rest of the world to see or, at least, present
yourself in that manner and understand that if you choose to
present yourself drinking a bottle of Southern Comfort, people
are going to find that out. Its not private. And while
teenagers may say its an invasion of their privacy, the
fact is, theyre the ones making this information public
to the world. And they have to accept responsibility for that.
Q: I just want to take that one step further. My son came back
from Greece junior year abroad, had not taken any photos, and
he said thats all right. Lets just put my name in
Facebook and he found 47 photos of himself in Greece
people had put him up
. And I suddenly realized oh, my
gosh, were no longer in control of how we present ourselves.
THOMPSON: That is true. On Facebook, you can untag yourself
in pictures. I have done this in pictures that arent especially
flattering, more in the physical sense than in a things Im
doing wrong. But everyone has pictures where they dont
like the way they look or that. So that is an option, at least
in Facebook. But then, again, I think that, in a sense, is even
more personal responsibility. If you dont want to be photographed
doing those things, you shouldnt be doing those things.
SQUIRES: Growing up with that, though, is a very different
thing. Theres a self-consciousness about it as well because
every moment that, in the past, was fleeting, so you do something
silly, all of a sudden now its caught and now its
on YouTube or its on some site and everyone can see it
and its preserved forever. [It] definitely affects how
you approach things and how you think about things. There was
a story about a woman, I think it was in China, that had her
dog on the subway and let it use the restroom and then just
left it and walked off. Somebody caught it on photo and then
outed her on the Web and made her life a miserable hell. So
its got some negative effects and some weird, possibly
positive effects with citizen journalism. And youre not
as anonymous as you once were.
VALLOR: I just would add to that that its interesting
because one of the important phases of being a teenager, or
a young person, is trying on different identities and sort of
experimenting with who you are. And its sort of frightening
to think I would have been mortified, as a child, to realize
that the identities I tried on or played with at that time would
be preserved in a permanent record for anyone to view 20 years
later. There are things I would like to forget. So in some sense,
I feel deep sympathy for that. And I wonder what the costs are
of not having that space to experiment and sort of discover
who you are without the penalty of public exposure.
Q: This questions directed to Dr. Vallor. I was wondering:
You say that the modes through which we communicate and the
technologies certainly seem to have a certain amount of influence
on what virtues and vices, what activities we sort of honor
and, at the same time, abhor. Do you feel that there have been
any sort of overarching virtues that you feel have remained
consistent throughout the evolution of communications technologies
sort of, I dont know, a natural law of communications.
Or has it been completely freelanced, almost like Darwinian
style virtue evolution where it can just kind of go in any direction?
VALLOR: Im not sure I can answer this question to your
satisfaction but Ill try. From the standpoint of virtue
ethics, the kinds of virtues that we develop are determined
by the kinds of activities that we perform, and, specifically,
whether, and to what extent, those activities allow us to develop
our natural talents and use them in a way that we flourish,
both as an individual and as a member of the human community.
I think, to some extent, any change in the form in which we
relate to other people will result in a change in the way that
that virtue gets developed; the extent to which that virtue
becomes a habit; how deeply ingrained it becomes; what sorts
of situations it can arise in; and so on. I think sometimes
the change may not be visible enough or significant enough to
cause us much social concern.
So I think we have to go on a case-by-case basis. We have to
look at the virtues which are most important to us. We have
to ask ourselves, In what way can the kinds of activities that
we perform now, as opposed to before, in what way can those
forms of excellence still come to be developed and expressed?
And as long as we can answer that question affirmatively, as
long as those essential virtues can still find expression, even
if through a different route, then I think were okay.
Its when we might not notice until its too late
that the expression of a virtue has declined to the point where
the public possession of that virtue is slipping away and the
social costs of that could be tremendous.
Q: Is social networking just a teenage and young adult phenomenon
or is it possible to visualize a future where older adults could
also use it?
SQUIRES: I think we can imagine that. You definitely get the
feeling that which social network youre on captures almost
a life phase. You see people graduating from MySpace to Facebook
as they go to college or if you were too young when MySpace
was first around, then you dont have a MySpace page. So
I think that definitely is representative of where youre
at from a life perspective. For instance on the Ning sites,
it really is not necessarily geared towards a younger demographic.
It really is much more spread out from 15 to even 60, and our
audience is various50 percent international. So its
a very different looking user than you might find on Facebook
and MySpace and theres crossover across the board. But
you mentioned LinkedIn; that definitely has a much different
demographic than Facebook or MySpace.
So I think, as I was saying before, I think its going
to evolve and it really is very early on. And as older people
learn this functionality and figure it out and figure out the
benefits of it, theyre definitely going to latch on to
it. And also as we move forward, everyone who has grown up with
those technologies is going to take them for granted and be
extremely comfortable with it. So theres definitely going
to be a transition as we move along. But I think, ultimately,
it gets accepted by all types of people.
MR. HERNANDEZ-RAMOS: Would anyone like to add anything?
VALLOR: I would just add that I think there are certain changes
in society that make social networking technology as popular
as it is. I dont think its an accident that it has
caught on the way that it is. And I think those social realities
that make social networking technology attractive arent
going change any time soon. I mean people work more, work longer,
have friendships that are more geographically dispersed than
ever before. And the old ways of staying connected with people,
having the neighborhood barbeque every weekend and that being
sufficient for you to connect with your friends, that reality
isnt returning anytime soon. And so I think that adults
will continue to find ways to unify their social networks and
keep them accessible. And I think some form of social networking
technology will become the dominant way of doing that.
MR. HERNANDEZ-RAMOS: Kaitlin, anything? You see yourself graduating
to any other social networks in your future?
MS. THOMPSON: Well it is a very effective means of communication.
It really is helpful in keeping in touch with people with whom
you would otherwise lose contact. I think that the types of
sites would have to change in order for me to use this in the
future. If youre growing up out in the business world,
if you want to use it for business or even just keep in touch
with friends, you might not want the information that youre
sharing to be visible to the entire world or to your network.
I know that if you dont have it on friends only, Facebook
allows all other Santa Clara students to read your Facebook
profile. Theres an option to make it friends only so that
only those people you accept as friends can see what you post.
But I think that in the business world or even just as you grow
up and dont want everybody in the entire world to know
your business, it will need to change so that its easier
to restrict the information to a select group of people.
Q: Jim, you talked a little bit about your surfer community,
of how it looked superficially healthy but it really just wasnt.
What do you think makes a healthy community? What are the attributes
and the hallmarks of a healthy community? What can be done to
generate and sustain that?
SQUIRES: Well definitely relevance and keeping it meaningful
amongst all the members within that community. And for instance,
the off-shore surf community kind of died on the vine; had hundreds
of people in there but people werent using it and the
real surfers in there thought it was uncool because the majority
of the people werent surfers. And the other people that
werent surfers really werent interested because
they werent surfers. So it just kind of died. But then
Ive got another private network that has 15 people in
it. And theyre all close friends. They already have real-world
relationships, so its a little bit different. But its
extremely active. Theres only 15 people on there and everyone
is writing posts and uploading photos and interacting. And these
are people that are a little bit older and almost missed the
social networking phase during college so they werent
on Facebook and theyre still kind of figuring it out.
So its kind of pulled them into the fold and opened their
eyes to the value of using social networking as a communication
And so I think its the people. Its having the right
systems in place so that you can keep it private or keep it
public or have it be some hybrid of that so that everyone feels
comfortable and feels like they belong inside there. It is also
having the right facilitator who is looking over that community.
So when we first launched, it was one person who created the
network and they controlled everything. And they were kind of
responsible to make sure that everybody was happy and getting
what they needed. And then we quickly heard that it was just
too much for one person to keep up with and they wanted to have
multiple administrators so that more people could help facilitate
the community. So its different controls and systems and
making sure that youre boding [phonetic] it out in a fashion
that it works for everyone thats involved.
ERIC GOLDMAN: Yeah, if I can follow-up. Its interesting
you excluded the community that was formed around your physical
space connections and, at least, in my own personal experience
in the blogging community, I find that many of the people that
I read and that read me, we have a physical space connection
before, or as part of, deciding to read each other work. And
it seems to me, maybe there is something about a physical space
connection being an integral part of the community.
Q: Just to pick up on that thread and getting back to Shannons
discussion and some of the others, Kaitlin, in particular, about
behaviors in these spaces. I think one of the paradoxes is we
call these spaces Facebook and things like that but, in fact,
we are not face to face. Were face to screen. And in the
old form of social contact of meeting somebody in the village
square, you were face to face and that inhibited certain behaviors,
or, at least, created a greater cost to certain behaviors because
you had the shame or the embarrassment or awkwardness of being
face to face with the person. And so, in a strange way, even
though these communities are facilitated by also having a real
connection between people, some of the more negative behaviors
are facilitated by the fact that you dont necessarily
have to have that recognition.
VALLOR: I think, in general, that we sometimes forget about
the centrality of embodiment to human relationships and that
communication is much more than just some words coming out of
my head and managing to find their way into yours. And especially,
I think, on the level of emotion and, of course, one of the
first things that people tried to do with the Internet was to
invent emoticons, things that could somehow carry emotional
expression across the sort of bitstream. But I think people
realized very quickly that you can maybe express a couple of
primary colors of emotion that way but that it cant even
begin to compete with the richness and subtlety of the emotional
expression that one reads in a human face or body language.
And I dont know if theres going to be a way of getting
that kind of emotional richness to translate into electronic
communication. And I think if it doesnt happen, then I
dont think that electronic communication is ever going
to sustain the kinds of relationships by itself that we require
as a society and that it will only be able to support and enhance
the face-to-face relationships that weve already developed.
And I think we need to remember that.
THOMPSON: Im a very shy person. Its very difficult
for me to introduce myself to people, to start a conversation.
And I dont do it much because Im rather busy these
days, what with being a college student and all. But I think
that interactions online can be good way to initiate relationships.
If you get to know someone online, there arent those social
barriers holding you back from expressing your interests. Its
much easier if you can just click and see who else in Santa
Clara is interested in, I dont know--
HERNANDEZ-RAMOS: Synchronized swimming.
THOMPSON: --synchronized swimming, and you can just see all
those other people. You dont have to go around and ask
50 people, hey, are you perchance interested in synchronized
swimming? Its obvious right from the start. And you may
not be able to maintain relationships as easily those ways,
but it can be a very effective means of finding people who have
interests in common.
KIRK HANSON: What I worry about is the opposite of tolerance.
It is the intimacy and looking back on my life, time and face-to-face
time is absolutely essential to the development of intimacy;
the development of close friends. And I worry about the generation
represented by the students in this room, about whether they
will have the opportunity to achieve the same kind of intimacy
that people were able to achieve maybe when they only had telephones,
but not all of the electronic means of communication. And so
its not just the substitution of time, because theres
a lot of time, weve got the cartoons of people sitting
in their marital bed text messaging each other, but also it
is whether one gets used to a certain kind of interaction that
does not train ones capabilities in achieving intimacy.
So it may help the shy person to achieve one level, but does
it prevent the greater depth of relationships that I believe
is a part of being human?
THOMPSON: Well its just important to recognize the proper
place of social networking. Its not meant to absolutely
replace other forms of communication. Youre never going
to stop having actual conversations with people. Theres
nothing better than having a really good conversation with someone
on a topic that you both enjoy discussing. And I dont
think that anyone intends for this to replace those means of
communication or to replace a telephone call. It does allow
you to keep in touch with people who you might lose contact
with otherwise. But in order to have intimate relationships
with those people, you need to do something else other than
leave a post on their wall every month or so. You can call them,
write them a letter, arrange to get together for visits. But,
yeah, again, its important to recognize the place of social
networking. Its not intended as a replacement. Its
intended to facilitate communication.
SQUIRES: And its a supplement as well. In the private
network of 15 people that I was talking about, there are two
people that were in San Francisco; everyone met in San Francisco
and then they moved to Cleveland. And so theyre in town
visiting this week and they just told me, We love the
site. We feel like were there. We feel like we know whats
going on at the different parties and all this stuff that were
missing. We can keep in touch and feel like were still
part of the group thats there. So it definitely
doesnt replace those friendships, but it definitely helps
facilitate more communication and bringing people further into
VALLOR: Just want to add one thing to that. I agree that social
networking technology isnt intended to replace other kinds
of relationships and that when social technology is doing what
it does best, it doesnt replace them. It enhances and
supports them. But I think we also have to remember that technologies
dont just have an intended purpose, that for which they
were designed. They also can have a valence, sort of the way
they wind up getting used whether or not thats what we
intended when we developed them.
And I do think you raised an excellent point about shyness,
and theres a sort of person who will use a technology
like this to initiate some relationships in a way thats
a little easier and less intimidating than just approaching
perfect strangers in person, but then who, once they make those
promising connections, even though they may be a little shy,
will sort of take the next step of meeting those people and
starting a genuine relationship. But theres another sort
of person whose fear and shyness might be greater, more overwhelming,
who might not make that next step, and we do hear about shy,
sort of awkward teenagers whose friendships are entirely mediated
by electronic communication and who feel, in many ways, a sense
of intimacy, that they dont have a perception of some
other level or deeper level of intimacy. And then Ive
heard some anecdotes of people who have relationships like that
and then finally do meet face to face and experience a kind
of awkwardness that they didnt anticipate. So I think
we have to not just think about what its intended to be
used for, but how some people might use it in ways we wish they
HERNANDEZ-RAMOS: Thank you. Well as you can tell, Marian has
finally arrived. So, welcome. And why dont you take a
few minutes to make what will be the closing remarks.
LIU: Hi, my name is Marian Liu. Im the pop music critic
at the San Jose Mercury News. I also write for the Source. Its
a hip-hop national magazine. I want to apologize for coming
in late. I thought this was tomorrow and I was on deadline finishing
up a podcast on Mr. Fab.
But on social networking, I use it on a personal and on a professional
basis. Im on MySpace. Most of my friends are not only
my personal friends, but also professional ones. So every time
I have a story, I send out a blog and a bulletin to check out
my story. And its basically, I have pictures on there
with artists. Its a way of marketing myself. Another way
weve done stories is we had a story about a cheating scandal
that went on in one of the schools and we found the students
were speaking. We couldnt get hold of that student. So
the way that we found them is this kid was chatting on a video
game site online. And I found him by Googling and doing other
searches and, basically, I found his name, his AIM name. I made
a new AIM name for myself and I started chatting with this kid
to gain his confidence. And then I started interviewing him.
So theres ways you can use this technology for stories.
Its also been hard putting lines in between the personal
and the private because I have a public blog and I have a private
blog. The private one is for my college friends or to put up
anything, my feelings, what Im going through, what Ive
eaten, random thoughts like that. But then at a convention,
somebody found my personal blog and he was asking me about it
and I got really scared. So I stripped it of everything.
It doesnt say anything on it so you cant search
for it. And then I dont write much on it anymore and I
keep my public one.
So social networking has really, I guess, been a big part of
our lives to the point where its almost second nature.
So I guess Ill leave that and if anybody has any questions
as any other thoughts, you can feel free to e-mail me.
HERNANDEZ-RAMOS: Thank you. Ill take the moderators
privilege and ask one question that relates to one point that
Kaitlin was making about accountability. And maybe Ill
start with Jim and if the rest of the panelists takes it on.
Jim, do you see, in social networking, the same kind of issues
that the old carriers had in terms of being just a common carrier
for whatever people put on your networks, or do you see that
there is perhaps a role that your company should play, not quite
moderating, not quite supervising, but taking away from the
network offensive material?
SQUIRES: So we definitely take the stance of not actively policing
the networks. And really our motto is different than a lot of
the large social networks where its not about Ning. We
give you the ability to take our name off of it. You can do
whatever you want with it. You can, actually, dive down. If
you want to hire an engineer or if you are an engineer, you
can go into the code and change things. You can do whatever
you want with it. It truly is a platform that is yours. So we
will not actively go through and police and pull things down.
If we stumble upon something thats illegal or if were
notified of something thats illegal, we will definitely
go through and delete that out of the system. But the stance
weve taken is not to actively police it because I think
once you get into that role, there are a lot of other implications
of once were saying yep, were moderating this, it
changes the whole dynamic of what were trying to accomplish.
VALLOR: I might not be able to limit my comments. I mean its
a really complicated issue and I dont really know that
I know what the answer is. But I do think the question is an
important one that there has to be some accountability mechanism
somewhere. There are real problems with it being at sort of
the level of the carrier. But I guess Im not sure what
the alternative is. But I think thats one of the problems
that we need to start thinking about now in trying to find some
creative solutions to.
SQUIRES: And one more point on that is that we actually find
out about most anything that we would take down if its
illegal from other members within other networks. So theres
a lot of self-policing that goes on where youve got somebody
who shows up in a network and they start spamming or they promote
something thats illegal, and all of a sudden well
have somebody report that to us. And thats how we usually
find out. So theres a lot of self-policing that goes on
within these communities as well.
Q: Follow-up on the self-policing issue you just mentioned.
Where does Ning stand on that? Are you developing tools that
allow people to kind of police their networks? For example,
on LinkedIn, you can flag certain questions as inappropriate
and so on. Are you investing resources to make sure that users
have complicated or, at least, sophisticated means of self-policing
or are you going to use that resource to promote and marketing
Ning and let the market kind of handle itself?
SQUIRES: We actually already have introduced those tools, inside
your network, as the creator and then when we introduced the
concept of having multiple administrators that have privileges
of a creator. It operates very differently than the Facebook
or MySpace because each of those 50,000 networks is its own
MySpace or Facebook for that community. And its 10 people
to thousands of people. So within there, just like MySpace might
police MySpace, I dont know if they do that or they dont,
but if they were to do that, its the equivalent of, as
a network creator, you can decide, you know what, this person
is not acting appropriately and youre essentially playing
God. It could be illegal or it could be just they annoy you
and you can ban them from the network. You can delete them from
the network. You can do what you want with that. Within your
domain, as you create those networks, you have control over
how you want to police it and how you want to run the feel of