A problem with 2.0

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Joseph Deodato

In “The Patron as Producer: Libraries, Web 2.0, and Participatory Culture,” Joseph Deodato of Rutgers University argues that Web 2.0 technologies and values are just what is needed to upend the top-down hegemonic model of information organization in libraries, which has historically privileged certain views over others. Christian, William, and I analysed this piece for one of our recent group assignments, and concluded by identifying a potential issue with the patron-as-producer utopia that Deodato imagines.  Namely, when the user produces and interacts with content (tagging, commenting, linking, etc.) in a library collection, what happens when problematic views are aired? These could range from pseudo-scientific arguments made by anti-vaxxers or evolution deniers, to commercial content aimed at selling products or services, to out-and-out hate speech directed at identifiable groups.

The first examples are very difficult to handle.  After all, yesterday’s nonsense may very well be tomorrow’s truth. And are librarians to arbitrate what is nonsense and what is not in the participatory space of Library 2.0? I won’t attempt to answer this question here, although I am most interested in your comments.  As for the second (soliciting business) and the third (hate speech), however, it seems clear that these can be prohibited by policy.

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Jeffrey Beall

Policy is one matter. Prevention is quite another. Margaret Brown-Sica and Jeffrey Beall (famous for his Scholarly Open Access blog and accompanying annual list of predatory publishers) wrote a relevant piece in 2008 called “Library 2.0 and the Problem of Hate Speech.”  In it, they acknowledge that Library 2.0 technologies and values “benefit library users by providing rich, peer-generated content that adds value to online library databases and systems.” However, they argue that these very technologies and values are also conductive to spreading hate speech.  (Not covered in their paper is commercial content, but similar approaches apply.) The onus falls on the librarian, they state, to deal with hate speech, which is illegal in the US and Canada.

The authors make a number of practical suggestions on how to deal with such content, ranging from moderating all user-generated content, to allowing other users to report offensive material, to requiring the community of users to create accounts and log in before posting anything.  All of their suggestions have pros and cons; they conclude by recommending that libraries develop and implement policies on the matter.

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Hate speech definition, United States:

“…usually thought to include communications of animosity or disparagement of an individual or a group on account of a group characteristic such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, or sexual orientation”
Source: John T. Nockleby, “Hate Speech,” in Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. Ed. Leonard W. Levy and Kenneth L. Karst. Vol. 3. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2000. p. 1277-1279.

Hate speech definitions, Canada:

Canada Human Rights Act prohibits descrimiation based on “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.”
Source: http://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/default-en.asp

Canadian Criminal Code prohibits “any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide”
Source: http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/C-46/

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Brown-Sica, Margaret, and Jeffrey Beall. “Library 2.0 and the problem of hate speech.” Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship 9.2 (2008).

Deodato, Joseph. “The patron as producer: libraries, web 2.0, and participatory culture.” Journal of Documentation 70.5 (2014): 734-758.

2 thoughts on “A problem with 2.0

  1. colleen pawliuk

    This is a really interesting topic, Fiona, and obviously something that libraries struggle with. Having clear policy in place and monitoring technology in libraries is a way to deal with it, but there is that constant tension that these kinds of restrictions are also damaging patrons’ free access to information. This brings up the complex topic of not only how far libraries should remain neutral suppliers of information, but also questions around when it is no longer acceptable to provide access to technology and online spaces that can lead to illegal or morally reprehensible behaviour.

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  2. fionahan Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Colleen! I agree that acting as moderator can be an enormous challenge — except for in the straightforward case of unambiguous hate speech, where we can rely on the law to define what is not acceptable.

    Reply

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