Ethics and Information on Listservs (SOCNET)

Over at Socnet, the listserv (what is a listserv, anyway?  A-ha.) that has been so valuable for me over the years as I found networks and worked through how to do something productive with them, a debate has been unfolding over the posting of a research position with a military agency that would involve using social network tools and insights to do intelligence type work in counter-insurgency.

Some objected to the very position, some to the use of the listserv to distribute information, some to the initial objectors, and some to the politicization of the listserv.

I pondered whether or not to add anything.  Part of me , like may others, felt like I could not add anything that would advance the discussion, and I would be simply adding chatter and emails to our already clogged information pathways and in boxes.  Part of me also felt like there are real ethical conundrums around the issue and also the scope and use of the listserv itself which still anchors much of the network research network (or community if you prefer.  So, maybe against my better judgment, I tried to be constructive.

According to the INSNA website, the purpose of the listserv is:

“The purpose of SOCNET is to allow network researchers worldwide to discuss research and professional issues, make announcements, and request help from each other.”

What exactly constitutes “professional issues” may be up for debate, but the ethics of the tools and theories we develop and use seems to me entirely consistent with a discussion of the professional issues.  I write this without implying that there is one correct answer to the recent debate over the posting of a position at CORE for a post-doc to which several people have made comments.

I think two issues have been raised which may be conflated and can usefully be separated.

1)      Is it ethical to accept the position at CORE?

2)      Is it ethical to post the information on this list serv?

I am not sure what I think of the first question (accepting the position).

I do think it is acceptable to post the position(#2) and also to have others raise concerns and discuss the implications of the professional ethics of our specialized tools and knowledge.  How can we discuss professional issues unless we know about them?  Plus, I favor information transparency whenever possible, as opposed to banning or moderating heavily.  I am not sure how we could even formally execute such an intention.  We rely on more informal norms.

I suggest that this listserv is a kind of commons, as discussed by David Weinberger in this Berkman Center podcast.  Thus, participating includes a certain tolerance for internal dissent and working through the common expectations of how to use the commonly held and valued resource.

Hopefully, I have been succinct and constructive, if not conclusive.

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