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Social media technology rather than anonymity is the problem

Martin Herrema thumbnail By Martin Herrema | 21 January 2016
Problems of anti-social behaviour, privacy, and free speech on social media are not caused by anonymity but instead result from the way technology changes our presence.
Picture by Jason Howie.
Social Media apps

That’s the startling conclusion of a new book by Dr Vincent Miller, a sociologist at the University and an expert on the information society and developing media. In contending that the cause of issues such as online anti-social behaviour is the design/software of social media itself, Dr Miller suggests that social media architecture needs to be managed and planned in the same way as physical architecture.

In the book, entitled The Crisis of Presence in Contemporary Culture: Ethics, Privacy and Speech in Mediated Social Life, Dr Miller examines the relationship between the freedom provided by the contemporary online world and the control, surveillance and censorship that operate in this environment. He questions the origins and sincerity of moral panics about use – and abuse – in the contemporary online environment and offers an analysis of ethics, privacy and free speech in this setting.

Investigating the ethical challenges that confront our increasingly digital culture, Dr Miller suggests a number of revisions to our ethical, legal and technological regimes to meet these challenges. These include changing what he describes as ‘dehumanising’ social media software, expanding the notion of our ‘selves’ or ‘bodies’ to include our digital traces, and the re-introduction of ‘time’ into social media through the creation of ‘expiry dates’ on social media communications.

Dr Miller is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Cultural Studies within the University’s School of Social Research, Sociology and Social Policy. The Crisis of Presence in Contemporary Culture: Ethics, Privacy and Speech in Mediated Social Life, is published by Sage.

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