People in virtual communities use words on screens to exchange pleasantries and argue, engage in intellectual discourse, conduct commerce, exchange knowledge, share emotional support, make plans, brainstorm, gossip, feud, fall in love, find friends and lose them, play games, flirt, create a little high art and a lot of idle talk. People in virtual communities do just about everything people do in real life, but we leave our bodies behind. You can't kiss anybody and nobody can punch you in the nose, but a lot can happen within those boundaries.
The Social Layer consists of the new behaviours and interactions between people that are enabled as a result of the underlying technologies. This layer could be considered to happen 'offline' as well as 'online'.
In 1998, venture capitalist John Doerr described what he considered to be 'the single greatest creation of wealth in the history of the planet' (Ryan, 2010, p. 123) as he looked at the then ever-expanding financial peaks of the 'dot com bubble' in the first wave of commercialisation of the Internet. In 2006, Time magazine famously put an image of a computer with a reflective screen on their front cover and declared 'You' as 'Person Of The Year', due to what they described as 'community and collaboration on a scale never seen before resulting from the rise of 'Web 2.0' and 'social media'. In 2010, the organisation Wikileaks published video footage and tens of thousands of documents from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming to operate under the slogan 'We open governments'. The role of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were widely cited and analysed in the unrest and revolutions that characterised what came to become known as 'the Arab Spring'.
The subject of how people are enabled to act with the addition of certain technologies cannot be covered in a single paragraph. What these four examples illustrate however, are some of the actions, behaviours and social changes enabled as a result of the openness of the Internet. The openness to build a business, even in the absence of a business model. The openness to build mediated connections on areas of common interest with strangers all over the world. The openness to expose or uncover corruption or violence before a global audience. The openness to organise in the face of oppression. It is this openness that also requires new forms of literacy or even virtual citizenship, as well as erosions in the notion of privacy.
Following are ten recommendations for maintaining openness at the Social Layer, including for individuals, educationalists, governments and international bodies, and digital rights groups operating at a social level:
What else could be done to keep the Social Layer open?
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