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Do Universities Need Internal Social Networks?

Posted: 30/01/2013 16:44

Why has King's College London has launched it's own private social network? Its called KINSHIP, by the way.

"Is the university tying to police our every word? Won't we get into trouble because lecturers will see our photographs and judge us?"

You know I am almost reluctant to get into why I feel it is so important for a progressive University to have its own internal social network, I worry that the students will think I don't want them to enjoy using social media and that is most certainly not the case.

I am someone who adores social, I live, eat and breathe it - I think that anyone who has heard me speak about social will pick that up quite quickly. Social media has provided me with a terrific outlet for my frustrations. As a result of my satirical blog I have sat in the front row at London Fashion week, reviewed tropical spa breaks, restaurants and beauty treatments - things I could never have otherwise afforded. Social media has provided me with a wonderful, hedonistic escape from my chaotic life as a working mum. It has been glorious, on my blog I was a 5ft 10 inch blonde with a Captain of the Universe - hedge fund manager for a husband, a psychotic, live in housekeeper and a selection of luxury homes. It was all simply creative writing, just my imagination, but it was powerful enough to make big brands seek my approval and I had a blast. Social gave me the opportunity to publish to thousands from my phone on the bus on the way home from work! My very own gossip column, I even got offered a book deal and column in The Telegraph.

Why then the need to corral our staff and students into a private, internal social network?

Last weekend, I read that Twitter has been ordered to identify anti-Semitic users by a court in France. All Twitter user data is stored in the United States and as Twitter's official company policy is apparently not to reveal anonymous users unless there is a court order from an American Court, they have not been handed over, yet. However, back in September, it was reported that Twitter handed over tweets from an Occupy Wall Street protestor to a New York criminal judge in a case pitting privacy and free speech advocates against law enforcement, so the French could simply go for a court order in a US court - I imagine it is just a matter of time. Twitter doesn't only keep the Tweets, apparently it has enough location data to work effectively as a retrospective electronic tag on these protestors...

There is a part of me that delights in the thought that social media could be used to expose racists, pedophiles, homophobic and intolerant people, haters in general - but where will it stop?

When I arrived in London 25 years ago, I didn't realize it at the time, but I was wearing my parents Roman Catholic constructs like a straight jacket. It took university to enable me to explore political, religious and social ideologies I had never, ever questioned. I did this in the privacy of my own head, in classrooms, in lectures, in debate and heated dialogue with new friends. That is what university is for.

"Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privileged to do so too" (Voltaire).

Are we allowing our students to sleep walk into a situation where they lose their right to free speech, to free thought? They seem to say everything they think online. Yes, everything. I hear that there is a university in China where they are working on an algorithm that will define the personality type of any Facebook user, based on their content... Will we all ultimately be defined and classified by the content we create in the end? Our beliefs, our behaviors, our personal data used against us?

We must all be very clear, on commercial social networks we are not the customer, we are the commodity - our data is there to be mined for commercial exploitation.

If nothing else, KINSHIP could encourage debate and dialogue, it should help us raise awareness. When students ask us whey we have KINSHIP, it allows King's staff to engage in conversations about why we should all measure what we say. Social is a public space - most commercial platforms are USA hosted. That alone is unsettling.

Wouldn't Kinship be forced to hand over content - like any other platform? Yes it would. But we are not collating location data, it is UK hosted, and actually, if members are slightly inhibited about what they post, isn't that protective? Reserve is a good thing. Surely it is time we all took a step back?

Even Debrett's has published social media guidelines.

 

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