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Editor's Blog

The uncertain whims of social networking sites

By Kenneth Barbalace
[Sunday, May 17, 2009]
Like so many folks on the Internet I have been building up social networks on various social networking sites. One of my favorite haunts is Digg. I like Digg because it is oftentimes a good way to find news articles and blog posts on issues I am interested in (progressive politics and environmental issues).

Many of the articles I read there are shouted to me by the "friends" I have built up in my Digg network. There is only so many articles I can read in a day so being able to find the most interesting articles quickly is important. The way the Digg system works is that folks can "shout" articles to each other or digg/vote articles up or down. Articles that reach some secret digg threshold get promoted to the front pages of their respective sections and or the main page. These are basically like the main pages of some online newspaper but the editorial decisions as to what made it to the front was democratically handled via the reader base voting on articles. As a result I can quickly find articles of interest from a wide variety of sources.

While these social networks are great things, their users are at the whims of the social networks' moderators and admins arbitrarily enforcing rules. This past weekend, some of my favorite "friends" to follow on Digg got banned as a result of a hit job done to them by their political opponents (Read more here). On Digg, as with any social network, certain terms of service rules are poorly thought out and easily violated due to the way certain features are designed. As a result these conditions are routinely violated by the social network's user base and very unevenly enforced. In this case political opponents set out hits on certain really vocal Digg members who were popular and had good track records of submitting political articles that made it to the front pages of Digg. These opponents laid in wait for the slightest infraction of DIGG's TOS and then colluded to file so many complaints on the infractions that the target of the hits ended up getting banned (it is unclear whether this was automated bans or moderator intervention).

There are some lessons to be taken from this by both the users of social networking sites and the maintainers of social networking sites.

  1. As a user don't depend on a single social network as the sole point of contact for your most important friends. Make sure to connect with them via different networks (e.g. Twitter and Blogger in addition to Digg). This way if something happens to either you or your friends on a specific network, you can still keep in contact elsewhere.
  2. Maintainers of social networks need to put more thought into their terms of service and not create rules that are impossible to enforce and exceedingly easy to violate. If a certain feature is designed such that in invites the violation of the TOS then maybe the feature needs to be redesigned or the TOS needs to be reworded.
  3. Maintainers of social need to be very careful about how they enforce certain rules such that the rules don't become weapons used by certain groups to silence their opponents as happened in this case.
  4. If a rule is constantly getting violated as the result of a certain feature then look at whether it is the rule or the feature that needs to be redesigned to eliminate the violations.


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