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Rights and Responsibilities Online: A Paradox for Our Times

Webwiseday2tape1eh Jonathan F. Fanton, President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation delivered the Keynote address at the IMLS - Webwise Conference, Miami, Florida, March 6, 2008.

Titled "Rights and Responsibilities Online: A Paradox for Our Times,"  it was a cautionary tale of potential human rights violations in cyberspace and why the time to address these concerns is long overdue.  You can see all of Mr. Fanton's remarks on uVu, our video site, but here is a small sample:

Some see the activity in MySpace and Facebook as an alarming invasion of privacy; many young people see it as an essential tool of communication, learning and personal validation. Some view Wikipedia as a threat to traditional notions of credibility, authority, and expertise; others see it as an exciting new approach to sharing knowledge and authorship...


Social networking sites and virtual worlds can invite or deny access to anyone. No one has a right, under the Constitution, in common law, or by statute, to enter Second Life. Facebook accounts can be terminated without notice for no reason. Relationships between participants, players, and site owners are governed only by use agreements, activated by a click of the “I accept” button and subject to small type that may say that terms and conditions can be changed at anytime without notice.

Participants or players may experience social networking sites and virtual worlds as traditional meeting sites, town squares, or local communities. They are indeed this, but with one important difference. These sites are private spaces, designed, owned, and operated by individuals and corporations. While they are game-like, private spaces today, over time, they are likely to used for much more serious purposes—commerce, education, training , medical consultation, therapy, and for social and economic experimentation. Again, what rules, regulations and rights should apply?

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