Law and Online Social Networks: Mapping the Challenges and Promises of User-Generated Information Flows
43 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2008
The Internet facilitates the creation and support of social networks of various strengths. Online social networks facilitate effective and efficient distribution of data and content. They also promote the creation of content. In this Article I strive to provide courts and policy makers with general intuitions that may guide them to decisions that promote the beneficial dynamics transpiring in online social networks, as well as allow them properly to account for the true impact of this ever-changing environment. To meet these objectives, I first define online social networks and address several challenges they face. I also examine the technological and social tools applied to tackle these challenges, while separately addressing the need for independent platforms, user motivation and accreditation.
Thereafter, I examine several social dynamics that these platforms make possible, and their intriguing ramifications. I demonstrate how data flows within social networks might call for the restructuring of existing policy frameworks, such as those addressing consumer protection and media concentration. With social networks in place, the objectives of existing laws and policies might be met by other means, thus rendering them unnecessary. For instance, consumer-related data flowing in social networks would substitute the need to protect consumers from unfair transactions and contractual terms. Information flows in social networks will serve for the efficient and unbiased distribution of content and ideas, thus meeting the objectives of mass media policy.
Finally, I examine the role of policy that would facilitate the beneficial interactions transpiring in these networks. I address ways to motivate and encourage contributions to the online discourse by further insulating users from the ramifications of their online actions. In addition, I examine the role of governments in assuring that data flows prove accurate and free of intentional tampering.
Keywords: social networks, online reputation, online privacy, e-commerce, media concentration, media policy
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