Disrespect, Violence, and Privacy Outcries: From the Bible to Google

Licia and I

wrote a piece for Middleware titled “Middleware for Social Computing: A Roadmap“. One of the sections was about how the middleware research agenda could promote healthy social norms at design stage. The main idea is that:

to promote the emergence of healthy social norms, system design of social media sites is crucially important. The way a new system is designed partly impacts which social norms emerge in it. However, once settled, social norms are hard to change, and when companies (e.g., Google) tell people how they must behave (e.g., they enforce the use of real identities), things go terribly wrong.

That is because being forcibly told how to use a service is perceived as a sign of disrespect by users, and disrespect has often cause violence in physical societies and, for now, only public outcries

in digital systems

. To explain why more unequal societies experience more violence, in their book “The Spirit Level”, Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett cite the work of the Harvard Medical School psychiatrist James Gilligan, who has said that he has

yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of being shamed and humiliated… and that did not represent the attempt to … undo this “loss of face”.

The two authors also recall that, over 2000 years ago, Cain committed the first murder in history by killing his brother Abel because God has rejected his offerings of produce but accepted the animal sacrifices brought by Abel. In King James Version of Genesis:

And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth

Disrespect as a cause for violence is a human truth recognised for millennia. It comes as no surprise that this truth still holds in our digital world. What is surprising, instead, is that large media companies keep on making the same mistake over and over again. When Google launched a social media service called Google Plus, most of its early adopters were using their real names, and a few were not. Google decided to go after those few with a heavy-handed regulatory policy to enforce the use of real names, and Google+ started to sink, and sink, and sink . The interaction designer behind ¬†Google+ Paul Adams did not agreed with those brilliant engineering decisions and “was forced to move” to Facebook. Any better over there?

- daniele

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