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Writer 101: Social Network Sites (SNS) and personal information archives

by Donna L. Quesinberry
National Writing Examiner

Not a day that goes by where our social network sites (SNS) are ignored in conversations or business practices. Within the past year, television programmers as well as print publications, have begun to include SNS links and actively bequest viewer participation. Live streams are engaged during telecasts and comments are aired in real-time. The 15 minutes of fame has become a genuine SNS related reality. The SNS phenomena that was just a MySpace buzz during the early days of the outgoing decade, has become front page news as we enter our new decade. In fact, the originator of the "SNS buzz-MySpace" is no longer considered a major SNS player.

Well aware we all have become that business practices in 2010 and beyond involve an awareness that SNS is a "must have." How does this affect our personal information archives that are housed on SNS member shareware?

International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA)

While posting tidbits of information, responses to threads, articles, photos, quotes, intellectual property gems and other informative material to business partners, associates, contacts, family, friends and total strangers what consideration is given to copyright? What consideration is given to the lifetime of "your" SNS historical record?

The INSNA purports the following:

Social network analysis is focused on uncovering the patterning of people's interaction. It is about the kind of patterning that Roger Brown described when he wrote:

"Social structure becomes actually visible in an anthill; the movements and contacts one sees are not random but patterned. We should also be able to see structure in the life of an American community if we had a sufficiently remote vantage point, a point from which persons would appear to be small moving dots. . . . We should see that these dots do not randomly approach one another, that some are usually together, some meet often, some never. . . . If one could get far enough away from it human life would become pure pattern."

Network analysis is based on the intuitive notion that these patterns are important features of the lives of the individuals who display them. Network analysts believe that how an individual lives depends in large part on how that individual is tied into the larger web of social connections. Many believe, moreover, that the success or failure of societies and organizations often depends on the patterning of their internal structure.

When we dig a few layers into INSNA there's a lot of knowledge and mathematical analysis that can be unearthed that speaks to SNS and communications that are reinventing business case modeling, copyrights, and personal information archives. In performing and participating on websites offering SN capabilities - active engagement equates to an evolving reformation of basic communication concepts. And, while thus engaged, questions arise that deserve answers:

  1. Are all of posts, articles, letters, comments, pages, etc. shared over SNS and humanity-at-large considered "Open Source" unless we state otherwise?
  2. If there is no conversation within the SNS that speaks to content ownership except in "unread" fine print and the general acceptance pattern of members or viewers is that all data is "Open Source" and the SNS doesn't enforce Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) laws - with no call to accountability for a one, two or three-year period - does the original owner's copyright rescind?
  3. Are artwork, images, photos, posts, articles, letters, comments, pages, etc. under specific copyright and entitlement without making said notation on the SNS by the original poster?

Intellectual Property and "Identity Cleansing"

Seasoned information technology (IT) business people seem to be the savviest of active membership SNS end users. IT professionals and associative business people are aware that questionable commentaries, photographs, posts, humor, artwork, etc. may have a counter-productive backlash within their lives, careers, and work centers. Security personnel and hiring authorities have begun reviewing Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts gaining a more privatized view of candidate or business service professionals, but is this an infringement of civil liberties? What if the SNS member has run across a flamer and the potential hirer or security clearance processor finds incriminating commentary that "appears true," but is total balderdash? Or what if the member is using artistic license and speaking as a narrative third-person in an imaginary guise to perpetuate an actualized response patterning from participants that may be, in fact, adverse to their actual social commentary? Does the researcher owe a disclaimer in those renderings so that investigative sources aren't misinformed; and, if so, doesn't that negate the entire third-person narrative and associative research?

Some of the newest considerations of intellectual property, copyright and labor law are whether private SNS views are an infringement of civil liberties - or if viewing private SNS is just proactive intelligence - if you put personal information out there, is it then up for grabs? Many SNS members have been victims of unsavory commentary through SNS via flamers who may or may not be accountable for their falsehoods considering whether or not they hold pseudonyms. There have been extensive articles written concerning these behaviors and the psychological implications of the "flamer."

Some of this behavior is wielded by unsavory individuals who take great lengths and experience immense enjoyment in random tainting of individual reputations. Presently, existing SNS and DMCA laws regarding this behavior are liberal at best. The resultant SNS identity cleansing is a difficult recovery. Typically, the member has to remove their page and renew membership, which can mean years of development in gaining membership and status on a SNS will be irrevocably lost - or they have to have some expert skills in how to extract their data and ensure there's no significant loss of material, but that means time and time means money. For some SNS members that time and energy has a litigant figure and in the future identity cleansing due to reckless flaming may be a recognized offense that the court system entertains. We have already heard of more extreme litigation, where flamers caused suicides of SNS members, but even the less extreme - yet hurtful flaming or SNS stalking is equally harmful to the victim.

Reviewing the Facts

Leading busy lives, it is the rare bird who reviews and reads the contract associated with their SNS membership, usually that "I have reviewed the Rules" box is clicked and given no more thought than, "oh that rule box has to be clicked again." Most sites cant acceptance of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, which is the latest and greatest set of American protocols for electronic copyrights that doesn't capture the idiosyncrasies of SNS membership yet.

Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter state that everything you post on their site is "Open Source" for their use in marketing and promotions. While you retain ownership of your personal content if you leave these SNS's, any of your page members and relative databases remain under the ownership of the  SNS provider. This is true of additional SNS venues such as Ning. For member groups such as GovLoop and TFCN (both relative to federal contracts) their databases of members belong to the Ning architecture.

So far, there hasn't been much in the line of litigation relative to a membership database, but if a new and improved architecture where created and member sites transferred to the newer capacitor - if at that time they've managed say a million members what will be the nature of that conveyance from the former SNS? If the existing group owner posts forwarding links that their previous SNS felt were adverse to their SNS due to the sheer numbers of members - would their limitations clauses be called into play?

Safe Harbor

In 1998, Congress passed the On-Line Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA) in an effort to protect service providers on the Internet from liability for the activities of its users. Codified as section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), this new law exempts on-line service providers that meet the criteria set forth in the safe harbor provisions from claims of copyright infringement made against them that result from the conduct of their customers. These safe harbor provisions are designed to shelter service providers from the infringing activities of their customers. If a service provider qualifies for the safe harbor exemption, only the individual infringing customer are liable for monetary damages; the service provider's network through which they engaged in the alleged activities is not liable.

Members who have memberships can also cite Safe Harbor exemptions for their groups and probably should do so.

The Personal Information Archive

While it seems to be a non-need for most SNS members, the fact is that the personal information archive does deserve copyright acknowledgment. When posting your original images, slide presentations, videos, comments, articles, etc. a copyright should be included. If you elect to "Open Source" you should include Creative Commons or a GNU Free Documentation License. Many educators are purporting that Creative Commons and GNU are the future of the education system, but that is a decision-making process each SNS member has to determine on their own.

This part-one of a series on digital information and the writer.


The National Writing Examiner welcomes questions, ideas and interviews or event announcements - through the comments section below, or by e-mailing Donna Quesinberry.

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 On this day in history: John Gardner wins the National Book Critics Circle Award for October Light, a novel about two elderly siblings in New England.

Gardner was born in 1933 in Batavia, New York, and attended Washington University in St. Louis, later taking a doctorate in classical and medieval literature at the University of Iowa. He taught at Oberlin, Bennington, and the University of Rochester while writing novels. His first two books received little attention, but his third, Grendel, established his reputation. The book drew on Gardner's strong grounding in the classics, retelling the story of Beowulf from the monster's point of view. His next novel, The Sunlight Dialogues, about an aging police chief and an escaped prisoner, became a bestseller. He published October Light in 1976, followed by Mickelsson's Ghost (1982), about a disillusioned college professor.

Gardner was married and divorced twice and had two children. Four days before his third wedding was scheduled, he was killed in a motorcycle accident in Pennsylvania at the age of 49.


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