by Jayne Glass
Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, has warned us this week that social networking is undermining the Web as we know it. He argues that the storage of data behind virtual corporate walls, and the many deals being cut between content companies and telecoms operators, are threatening the founding principle of the Web: that systems should all work together based on sets of agreed, open standards. Berners-Lee fears that these changes have begun to ‘chip away’ at the Web’s principles by walling off information posted by site users from the rest of the Web. He also suggests that governments – totalitarian and democratic alike – are monitoring people’s online habits, which endangers important human rights.
However, in an early-view article in Area Dr Stewart Barr from the University of Exeter explores the great research potential embedded with the social networking phenomenon. Barr recognises that internet discussion forums and other forms of virtual social networking media are increasingly being used as sites of discursive practice. Using a large amount of text generated from an article in The Guardian about climate change and sustainable lifestyles, it is clear that the comments made about the article on the online discussion boards provide valuable insights into the social construction of the topic in question. Would Berners-Lee see this as an infringement of human rights?