Sunday, March 16, 2008

Potential session proposal: Facebook censorship and due process

For people who haven't submitted proposals for a CFP session before, the process can seem daunting: an intimidating-looking form complete with questions about your "qualifications" for organizing the session. It's tempting to just go with the simpler topic or activity or speaker proposals, and of course that's always an option. Still, there's a lot of value in thinking about an entire session; and so over the next few days I'll be giving a few examples -- both to demystify the process and to give some additional examples.

Please feel free to jump in with questions, suggestions, or other perspectives.

I'll start with something that several people have suggested would be a natural for CFP: combining looking at Facebook censorship with law professor Daniel Solove's Facebook Banishment and Due Process. This fits squarely into the conference's "social networking" topic area, and clearly has technology policy implications: what, if any, rights do people have to the information in their profiles -- and as Facebook becomes synomymous with communications for an entire generation, what if any responsibilities does the company have to allow political speech? On top of that, it's squarely in the technology/law/policy nexus that's CFP's home -- and ripped from today's headlines! So it seems like a definite possibility.

The form asks for a title and a 75-word description, easy enough; and then asks for the proposed format: panel? debate? something else? A panel is always a safe option: me on the censorship stuff, somebody from Facebook, Solove or somebody else for the overall legal context, somebody providing a first amendment viewpoint (from Chilling Effects, the ACLU, the First Amendment Center). The mix of different perspectives could be quite illuminating ...

But y'know, CFP always has a lot of panels, and it's worth looking for other possibilities. Suppose instead we had a moot-court-like format, with a group of people who have been banned by the automated filters appealing to a hypothetical Facebook-like social network for a change in policy. Expert witnesses could providing testimony; some of real people actually affected by this would have a chance to get their perspectives heard. Court TV-like commentary could supplement it, and a three-"judge" panel of social network experts could rule ... not that it would be binding on Facebook, or anybody else, but still a very interesting result -- and a lot more concrete than anything that would come out of the panel discussion.

At this point, this sounds a lot more intriguing to me. If I decide to go forward with it, the next steps involve thinking more about potential participants and contacting some of them -- and massaging the rough thoughts here into the 75-word overview. Before I do that, though, I wanted to see what others thought. A few questions:
  • is this the kind of session you think would be interesting?
  • thoughts between panel and other formats?
  • other potential participants/twists?
Other ideas and suggestions welcome as well!

jon

PS: also posted on Facebook (1, 2) and on tribe.net

17 comments:

jon said...

One of the challenges of pulling together a session is when proposed participants aren't available -- this is why the submission form asks which of them you've contacted.

In this case, Daniel Solove told me that he unfortunately won't be able to make it to CFP this year; so if I were to propose a panel, I'd either need to shift the focus or find somebody else to provide that perspective.

This tends to incline me even more towards the "appeals process" scenario. I made a few minor edits to the proposal, and have sent it out to a few other people as well; we'll see what they say.

jon said...

On a thread on free-association, Deborah suggested

Maybe the due process issue could be broadened to include a variety of social networks.

Some are better than others. So....maybe we could get reps from Facebook, MySpace, Free-Association....

It might be a good way to subtly show the difference between a social network being controlled by a corporation and one that is not.


Excellent suggestion!

jon said...

I reworked this into very different proposal.

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A few dayts ago I wrote that "there is no free speech issue" when Facebook — which is not a government actor — censors the expression of its users. I may have spoken too fast. What I wrote is generally true, but you see, Facebook — like most serious-minded dotcoms — is based in California. And California is the home of the famous/infamous (pick a side) Pruneyard decision.

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