Doing Well by Doing Good? Rights and Regulation on Twitter
Posted: 9 Sep 2011 Last revised: 12 Sep 2011
Date Written: September 8, 2011
Web 2.0 platforms promise to act as public fora, connecting people from all over the globe so that they can discuss the issues that matter to them. Yet the commercial imperatives immanent to contemporary networked sociality have been increasingly enforced by Terms of Service contracts that circumscribe users’ rights. In this way, Web 2.0 services have become quasi-regulators, with contract law outpacing state legislation around issues such as informational privacy and intellectual property. In attempting to balance this regulatory aspect of their commercial role and gain social acceptance, Web 2.0 companies often invoke the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
For instance, Twitter.com frames its mandate in benevolent terms, according to the logic of CSR, in statements such as: 'We believe that the open exchange of information can have a positive global impact'.1 Since internet corporations like Twitter often do have such a far-reaching social impact online, CSR policies work to reassure users that their rights as citizens, and not just as consumers, will retain some degree of institutional protection. Much of the time, however, CSR works as a mere marketing tool. This can be seen across a range of popular Web 2.0 platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Second Life and Twitter, that profit from offering users free access to their services. Political trends toward deregulation and privatization enable such platforms to integrate user-generated content without much constraint from state legislation, and thus Terms of Service contracts regulate the appropriation of users’ free labor, the collection and use of their personal information, and the licensing of their intellectual property.
From an ethical perspective, a more adequate approach to corporate responsibility is the language of rights (Wettstein 2008). In this context, we ask, what might be the role of business ethics or other normative frames around the protection of user rights in Web 2.0? And if Web 2.0 sites like Twitter have become the new regulators, what mechanisms could be put in place to increase user autonomy and control over their labor time, personal information and intellectual property? While answers might be speculative here, these questions are important to ask in terms of realizing something of what is at least a democratic potential of participatory Web 2.0 platforms.
Keywords: Twitter, social networks, ICT, user rights, regulation, corporate social responsibility, business ethics
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