Carlson Essay

Managing Knowledge via Social Networking Sites

Social Networking Sites and Background Investigation
Human resources departments at large corporations have begun subscribing to information systems linked to the cache generated on Facebook in order to obtain information on potential employees. While friends do not care about many of the facets of life, potential employers might be interested in covertly assessing their potential hires via their profiles. This type of information could also lead to discriminatory or preferential treatment depending on the power figure’s position (Snyder, Carpenter, and Slauson, 6). The corporations who have obtained these subscriptions are able to access the information posted on homepages without an actual account. According to The Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society, "The format in which the information persists, the digital record, is easily searchable and cross-indexable with other data, other conversations, other purchases, other transactions" (Tufeki, 21). While seemingly innocuous, not logged in users have included university administrators, police officers and special investigators, potential employers and others seeking information on people who might have an account on (Snyder, Carpenter, and Slauson, 6). However, investigation via social networking sites skirts outside the boundaries of employment. Law enforcement agencies have also begun to logon to these sites to seek evidence for cases, and verify the illegal actions of criminals. Individuals with a Web presence can be the target of discrimination and/or persecution due to their postings. Below are a few examples found in " – A Social Networking Sight and Social Contract Theory" in the Information Systems Education Journal.

  • Three police officers in Lexington, Kentucky, were recently suspended because their comments included derogatory remarks about gays and mentally disabled individuals.
  • A teenager in Chicago was arrested for spray painting graffiti on a church because authorities were able to track his moniker via his account.
  • A student senator was relieved of her duties due to a picture of underage alcohol consumption that appeared on her account.
  • Individual denied entry to China based on pro-democracy statements on their web site, account or their travel blog.
  • Individual denied entry into Canada after border agents find pro-gun statements on their web space.
  • Individual imprisoned after border guard Google reveals pictures of them partaking in illegal activities in country.

Violation of Social Contract Theory
"The issue at hand seems to be a misunderstanding and an inability to acknowledge the existence of Social Contract Theory (SCT)," which according to the Information Systems Education Journal' is "the view that persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement between them to form society,” (Snyder, Carpenter, and Slauson, 6). The limitations of Social Contract Theory are outlined in The Tragedy of the Commons, published in 1968: "Since civil rights come from agreeing to the contract, those who choose to violate their contractual obligations, such as by committing crimes, abdicate their rights, and the rest of society can be expected to protect itself against the actions of such outlaws. To be a member of society is to accept responsibility for following its rules, along with the threat of punishment for violating them. In this way, society works by "mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon" (Hardin). As we move into a new generation of high-speed communication, we are expected to uphold the values summarized in the Social Contract. However, each day we are introduced to more efficient ways of communication, making it more difficult to stay within the bounds of this theory. Perhaps, as a society, we have begun to underestimate how quickly our information can be transferred to a variety of places, and how this quick transfer can affect our futures, and our reputation as individuals. In the past, we primarily relied on communicating over the telephone and by writing letters, both of which did not include a permanent publication of the information being shared. Today, all of the information we post on the Internet can be stored and tracked by whosoever seeks to find it.
According to the Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society, "A spoken conversation is ephemeral; unless someone is recording it then and there, it is lost forever. If the police have no wiretap on your phone today, they cannot turn back the clock and recover a conversation if you become a suspect next month. That is not the case with electronic transmissions, which generally are stored by Internet service providers, archived by search engines, and documented in cookies and Web histories by default' (Tufecki, 21).

Privacy vs. Personal Responsibility
Some argue that it is unlawful for law enforcement officials to use Facebook as a source of criminal evidence. However, those who use social networking sites are choosing to post their personal, and often controversial information to their homepages. The question then, is where does society draw the line between privacy and personal responsibility? According to The Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society, “Privacy should be understood as a process of optimization between disclosure and withdrawal. Privacy also incorporates the management of how much input to accept from others and how much to participate and share of oneself (Tufekci, 20). Ultimately, we are aware of the things we post to our homepages, and are choosing to post questionable information that could be used be against us, should the circumstances present themselves.
When we post pictures and messages to our personal networking sites, do we think about what conclusions a potential employer might draw if he or she finds upwards of 200 pictures of us drinking at bars downtown? What if a law enforcement agency is targeting a specific college or university for instances of underage drinking? Social networking sites, such as Facebook, have essentially become both public resumes and criminal reports displaying our extra curricular interests, and in some instances, criminal activity.
According to The Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society, “In technologically mediated sociality, being seen by those we wish to be seen by, in ways we wish to be seen, and thereby engaging in identity expression, communication and impression management are central motivations. The question is less one of data security, as it often is with the instrumental Internet, and more one of visibility, boundary setting, and audience management,” (Tufekci, 21).

The Youngest Generation of Users
The majority of the issues mentioned above lie in the youngest users—high school and college students. This age group makes up the most frequent users, and is therefore often hit the hardest by the negative consequences of posting questionable information to their homepages. Many have argued that “it is okay” to post this type of content to Facebook, and believe that access to their profiles is restricted to the people from whom they have accepted “friend requests.”
However, many of these students are aware that other groups have access to their information. According to the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, “Students who believed that the government might be looking at their profiles were less likely to provide their phone numbers or their classes, while those who thought corporations were likely to look at their profiles were more likely to indicate their classes—perhaps signaling their educational experience. Interestingly, the category of employers, though reported in the news as looking at social network site profiles for hiring decisions, had no statistically significant relationship with any type of disclosure (Tufekci, 31).
More than ever, it is crucial to understand the fine line that exists between privacy and social responsibility. As stated previously, students who post this information do so consciously and willingly. The Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society states, “What we want to emphasize is the complexity of audience management and boundary negotiation in online social environments. It seems that students are better at managing certain boundaries than are others: We found that students are more adept at managing those boundaries that are analogous to “spatial” boundaries in that they try to restrict the visibility of their profile to desired audiences but are less aware of, concerned about, or willing to act on possible “temporal” boundary intrusions imposed by future audiences because of persistence of data,” (Tufekci, 33).
The Bulletin also acknowledges that “students are generally aware of the visibility of their profiles, so it is not unreasonable to suppose that they are making a choice about publicity based on their current concerns and may be shortsighted about future problems. In the light of all this, it is important to recognize that simply wishing for (or ordering) students to refrain from having profiles, or from putting information in their profiles, is not going to work. Students are seeking to be seen. They are not wading in these waters without any reflection, but they may not also have fully adjusted to the implications of self-presentation in online environments (Tufekci, 35-36).

The benefits of using Social Networking sites, like Facebook and Myspace, are endless. They have allowed for the emergence of new social opportunities, which wouldn’t have been possible without their existence. Social networking sites have created “network societies” that have allowed us to connect with people in areas around the globe.
If we fully take into account the power of our own social responsibility, we will be able to realize the benefits more fully.

Works Cited
Hardin, Garrett. The Tragedy of the Commons (1968).
Snyder, Carpenter, and Slauson (2007). – A Social Networking Sight and Social Contract Theory. Information Systems Education Journal, 5 (2).
Van Dijk, Jan A.G.M. The Deepening Divide: Inequality in the Information Society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 2005.
Zeynep Tufecki. Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society. 1st ed. Vol. 28. Sage Publications, 2008.

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