Monday, October 13, 2008

To Regulate or not to Regulate? That is the Question...

Having read an article on Digg which, funnily enough, condemned the application for the recent banning of several users, I thought that I would clarify my position on regulating user generated content on the Internet. As you may have noticed, I am a keen advocate of limiting regulation of the above; personally, I find most forms of content regulation obtrusive. By constricting the user's ability to freely express themselves, organizations are creating a significant deterant to contributions. In most cases, if you do regulate user contributions, there will be a competitor that won't. In such cases, the negative content will eventually appear. The downside in my opinion, is that the detering organisation will lack the capacity to effectively engage in the ensuing discussion, thus eliminating their ability to convey themselves as in touch with the user.

I agree that certain regulations are required. For example, regulations to exclude coarse language, socially unacceptable topics, and identification of trade secrets are but a few examples of areas which naturally require some degree of regulation. These 'limitations' represent obvious exclusions that should be respected by the application user, and hold recognisable similarities with real world examples. Content which contains elements of any such topics should be addressed to ensure that the detrimental effects thereof are contained within reason.

The process of generating content involves two parties; the organisation offering the community, and the user members that represent it. Each party must be held equally accountable for any actions that may affect the position of the other. Remember that, to a degree, neither the application, nor the application-specific community can exist without the other. Although the application providers rely far more upon their community, particularly in the presence of an abundance of alternative product offerings, common sense should direct users to only post content that is appropriate for the forum into which it is being offered. Unfortunately, we all know that in practice, common sense does not always prevail; someone will always ruin things for everyone else. Even in these cases though, moderation software which relies upon human determination of appropriateness is available to sort the relevant material from the rubbish. If anything, it is these human moderators that should be regulated to ensure that they suitably understand the material that should and shouldn't be displayed. If implemented effectively, such content sifting need not represent regulation.

In the case of the article described above, it reads more like a case of 'sour-grapes'; a term taken from one of the comments made by one member of the Digg community in response to the report. Yes, social communities such as Digg have an obligation to their community. Similarly, the community has a responsiblity to respect the rules governing the use of the application. If these are not upheld, then action should indeed be taken to limit the detrimental impacts of their actions in the community at large. If the offence is adequately significant, then of course exclusion will represent a viable course of action.

This debate is likely to continue for as long as social communities remain popular, but these are my thoughts. I would love to hear your views on the matter.

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  1. It all harks back to democracy and free speech. As individuals, we should always have a right to opinions and sharing these self-same views.

    To regulate in such a manner that it's more akin to censorship, all that will happen is the creation of a more liberal-minded approach (as you mention in your post).

    I guess the most vocal supporters of intensive regulation haven't heard of the Sufragette Movement..? ;-)

  2. Organizations shouldn't fear the contributions of their users. I personally find all the discussion of regulation to be nonsense. The way I see it, all the Internet does is amplify your voice. As we all know, there are systems in place that attach credibility to profiles; the social media in itself doesn't make you any more or less credible than in the real world. The recent example of the comments concerning Job's health is of particular concern. Sure, the comments made were inappropriate, but they needed to be examined in context. Although such postings are generally uncalled for (and may arguably fall under the category of socially unacceptable), why was so much credibility attached to the report? Should we all be restricted from expressing our views simply because Wall Street acted on a published rumour? I would suggest not.

  3. Another threat associated with regulation is that when condemned articles are removed or hidden, there is no opportunity for others to represent contrary viewpoints. Again, referring to the Job's article, had the report remained active, I am certain that it wouldquickly have been discredited in it's entirety. Removing the piece causes it to become rumour, and as we are all aware these have a nasty case of spreading.