Tales from the Net

a work in progress

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How we got here

The Web as we know it was just being born as I was graduating from law school. Everything was new, and all things were possible. Out of the gate I saw the benefits for everyone – everyone could use the Web, not just those with a computer science background. I also saw the tension that would be generated with that openness; privacy would become a huge issue.

At the time I had been thinking of interning (with the ultimate goal of landing a job) at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); but then discovered the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). It was clear where I belonged: EFF. EFF had the right mix of technology savvy, free speech and privacy knowledge.

After a time, I wanted to spend more time working on consumer privacy issues, and so started up a non-profit, Privacyactivism, where I spent several years as executive director.

Privacyactivsm led me to start spending time on social networks and to see them as rich areas for social activism. In 2005, the year I chaired the Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP) conference in Seattle, WA, I began looking for ways to involve more diverse groups of people in the conference. My thought was that there are a lot of politically minded people on social networks, and if I tapped into the right networks I’d be able to diversify the attendance, and hopefully jump start activism on privacy and First Amendment issues. My CFP campaign has led to other advocacy campaigns, including battles against the 2257 regulations and against the Real ID Act. Social networks are great for spending time with friends, but they are also a great tool for promoting many different kinds of speech and for political activism.

My hope for this book is that rather than focusing on the frequent portrayals of social networks as threats (to our families, to the children), people will see them the way I do: tools to aid participation in society and giving people a voice they may not have had before.

posted by Deborah at 9:58 pm  

1 Comment

  1. My most recent job was at Microsoft, working on “game-changing strategies”, both in terms of their web business, and the company’s internal culture. So I looked a lot at the business strategy and technology aspects of social networks. What really excited me, though, was the way that new technologies allow the people involve to understand, navigate, expand, and leverage their social networks. When people have access and learn to use these technologies, it can be tremendously empowering and democratizing. You wouldn’t know that to look at the media coverage or the positions of a lot of experts.

    Most of my career has been in computer science, at startups and larger companies. My specialties include defect detection (also known as “finding bugs”), software engineering, security, and strategy. A few years ago, when I was in Microsoft Research, I wrote a brief manifesto suggesting that computer science really is a social science. Social networks highlight this: we use computers [and phones and other devices] to help with the connections between people. And so, after using proto-social networks since the 1980s (BBSs, Usenet groups, email lists), I began spending more time on more modern social networks: Yahoo! messenger before they closed the user chat rooms, tribe.net, Myspace, free-assocation, ezboard, Facebook. I began blogging internally at Microsoft, and since leaving have continued on my personal blog Liminal States as well as here.

    Deborah and I have been fantasizing for years about working on a big project together, and especially with the increasing political threats to the freedom and human rights that are needed for social networking to realize the rosy empowering and democratizing possibilities, now seems like the right time. And thus Tales from the Net was born.

    One of the things I’d like to accomplish with this book is help people see online social networking the way I and a lot of my friends (especially “digital natives” in their 20s who have grown up with this technology) do: as part of our lives lives, supplementing rather than replacing physical interactions, making it easier to keep in touch at a distance and get to know — and sometimes work together with — people you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to meet.

    On top of that, working as part of the grassroots Stop Real ID Now! activism campaign, watching the success and visibility of campaigns like Step it Up, and reading the incredible conversations in the women of color and anti-racist blogospheres) has really driven home to me that there are a lot of stories out there that aren’t being told. Hopefully we can help change that as well.

    Comment by Jon — January 22, 2008 @ 10:12 pm

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