Greg Elmer, Going Public: Accounting for Social Media

Helge Peters —  May 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

As part of our ongoing Philosophy of the Web workshop series we had the honour of welcoming Greg Elmer (Ryerson University) to the Centre for Digital Cultures. During his talk, Greg outlined an approach to theorising social media that attempts to move beyond the privacy paradigm and takes into account the intertwined meanings of ‘going public’ apparent both in the self-disclosure practices of users and the business models of social media corporations.

Watch a recording of the lecture after the jump:

From the event announcement:

To sug­gest that pri­va­cy is dead is not to re­vel in or en­cou­ra­ge its de­mi­se, nor even to claim that it is not a de­si­ra­ble out­co­me, right, or va­lued po­li­cy. Ra­ther, what this lec­tu­re by Greg El­mer (Ry­er­son Uni­ver­si­ty) sug­gests is that in cer­tain cir­cum­stan­ces (in­cre­a­sin­gly on so­ci­al me­dia plat­forms) the pri­va­cy of users now stands in di­rect op­po­si­ti­on to the sta­ted goals and lo­gic of the tech­no­lo­gy in ques­ti­on. One need not give up cer­tain goals of pri­va­cy to re­co­gni­ze that busi­ness mo­dels of on­line com­pa­nies like Face­book and Goog­le are now ent­i­re­ly pre­di­ca­ted upon the act of go­ing pu­blic – the­re would be no Goog­le se­arch en­gi­ne or Face­book so­ci­al net­wor­king plat­form wi­thout the con­tent, in­for­ma­ti­on, and de­mo­gra­phic pro­files uploa­ded, re­vi­sed, up­dated, and sha­red by bil­li­ons of users world­wi­de.

This lec­tu­re then of­fers some in­iti­al thoughts on a theo­ry of pu­bli­ci­ty, of go­ing pu­blic in the so­ci­al me­dia age. If so­ci­al me­dia plat­forms are go­ver­ned by ubi­qui­tous sur­veil­lan­ce and con­ti­nuous uploa­ding and sharing of per­so­nal in­for­ma­ti­on, opi­ni­ons, ha­b­its, and rou­ti­nes, then pri­va­cy would seem only to be a hin­dran­ce to the­se pro­ces­ses. To igno­re such cle­ar mis­si­on state­ments, cou­p­led with re­pe­ti­ti­ve at­tempts to un­der­mi­ne, dis­play, and ob­fu­s­ca­te so-cal­led pri­va­cy set­tings, would seem di­sin­ge­nuous at best, and will­ful­ly blind at worst. The­se on­line plat­forms pro­fit from pu­bli­ci­ty and suf­fer from strin­gent pri­va­cy pro­to­cols – their who­le rai­son d’être is to learn as much as pos­si­ble about users in or­der to ag­gre­ga­te and then sell such pro­fi­led and clus­te­red in­for­ma­ti­on to ad­ver­ti­sers and mar­ke­ters. Can we re­al­ly con­clu­de that such busi­nes­ses vio­la­te users’ pri­va­cy when their plat­forms are in the first and last in­stan­ce wired for ubi­qui­tous pu­bli­ci­ty? Or more to the point, do pri­va­cy-ba­sed per­spec­tives pro­vi­de an ade­qua­te frame­work for un­der­stan­ding users’ re­la­ti­ons­hips with so­ci­al me­dia plat­forms and their par­ent com­pa­nies?

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Helge Peters

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As a full-time research associate at the Hybrid Publishing Lab, Helge is currently investigating scholarly communications and learning environments with a focus on business models and digital technologies. He holds a BA in Strategic Communication and Planning from the Berlin University of the Arts and an MA (dist.) in Media and Communications from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

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