What next for the Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights?

Social Network Users Bill Of Rights

A broadly-recognized social network users’ bill of rights will be a huge step forward for online freedom and privacy. For me, and hundreds of millions of others, sites like Facebook, Twitter, tribe.net, and free-association are how I stay in touch with friends and family. As Voces Contra Las FARC, Barack Obama, #iranelection, and hundreds of other campaigns have shown, social network sites are also vital for political activism. And yet, today we the users of the sites have only minimal rights.

— me, in It’s time for a Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights, June 2010

Today’s SXSW panel Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights: You Decide is a great chance to rekindle the energy on the #billofrights (as we like to say on Twitter).   Panelists Christina Gagnier, Lisa Borodkin, and Jack Lerner all spoke at last year’s ACM Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference last year when we crafted the document.*  Alex Howard of O’Reilly joins them.  Cool!  Check out the #snubor hashtag!

I like what CFP has done because I think they’ve covered all the bases, and they’ve done it with language that 95 percent of Web users can understand.

— Terry Sweeney, A Manifesto in the Name of Privacy, Internet Evolution

Since last June, the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have helped highlight the importance of social networks for political purposes, the Commerce Department has called for an online Privacy Bill of Rights — and ongoing news stories like A Chinese Activist and Mark Zuckerberg’s Dog continue to spotlight many social network sites’ challenges with free speech, and pseudonymity.  With this year’s CFP scheduled for Washington DC in mid-June, now’s a perfect time to get serious about organizing.

Here’s a few ideas:

  • get social network sites to adopt the concept of a Bill of Rights for their users and as many of the individual rights as they’re comfortable with.   Some of the specific rights are contentious  — for example, Facebook objected to in their response last summer.  But more positively, Facebook’s current “user rights and responsibilities” document already covers many of these rights, and it would be great to have even partial support from them.  And sites like Twitter, tribe.net, and emerging companies that are trying to emphasize different values may be willing to go even farther.
  • work with politicians in the US and elsewhere who are looking at protecting online, and encourage them to adopt the bill of rights framework and our specific language.  There’s a bit of “carrot and stick” combining this and the previous bullet: the threat of legislation is great both for encouraging self-regulation and getting startups to look for a potential future strategic advantage by adopting strong user rights from the beginning.
  • encourage broad participation to highlight where there’s consensus.  Currently, there are a couple of ways to weigh in: the Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights site allows you to vote on the individual rights, and you can also vote for or against the entire bill via Twitter.  It would be great to have additional voting on other social network sites like Facebook, MySpace, Reddit to give the citizens of those “countries” a voice.
  • collaborate with with groups like the Global Network Initiative, the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition, the Social Charter, and the Association for Progressive Communications that support similar principles
  • follow Gabrielle Pohl’s lead and translate into multiple languages to build awareness globally.
  • take a more active approach with media outreach to call more attention to the campaign.  #privchat, the weekly Twitter chat sponsored by Center for Democracy and Technology and Privacy Camp, is natural hub for the discussion.

On Quora Lisa Borodkin commented

Much de facto policy is now made by the free market. I see a need for users to organize and speak somehow as a quantifiable a group to give feedback to Facebook, Google and other well-intentioned social networking sites when the sites do things on erroneous premises of what users want.

Indeed.  And we, the users, are doing just that.  Please join us!


Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights: You Decide is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Austin time (1:30 p.m Pacific, 4:30 p.m. Eastern) on Friday, March 11.  I’m not sure whether video will be streamed, but in any case there will certainly be active discussion on Twitter.  See you on the #snubor hashtag!

* Lisa and Jack had also written We, the users, which along with bills of rights by Kurt Opsahl of EFF and Mark Sullivan of PC World helped inspire the grassroots drafting process.