One of my tech folks called this morning with a concern about Google Earth. It seems there was a placemark entitled "Can’t fucking get there from here." The tech wanted to know if a student at the school might have been able to create that placemark for the entire school, since it seemed to be on multiple computers. I was able see that it was part of the Panoramio layer under the Geographic Web link. I assured the tech that a student at the school did not (to my knowledge) create the placemark, but that it was part of the Google Earth content contributed by the Internet community at large. The tech was still concerned about the language, and I promised to follow-up. This led me to an interesting discovery.
First, some background…Panoramio is a photo service similar to Flickr. It differs from that service in that geotagging is an essential element, and the ability to view maps with the photos is a key component. It does share some of the same Web 2.0 elements as Flickr, namely, that users contribute content, organizational structure, and commentary on other content. As a Web 2.0 service, Panoramio also provides RSS feeds and an API for its content so that it can be included with programs such as Google Earth.
I followed the link in the placemark to the photo’s page. The first few comments were an exchange between another offended user and the photographer about the language of the title. I contributed my own comment, which stated that the concerns were valid, since this was an active layer in Google Earth and was used by children for whom the language may not be appropriate. The photographer graciously changed the titled, and responded to me by saying that he had no clue that his photo and title might wind up in such a context.
So here’s the dilemma. In Web 2.0 content from one social network can wind up in a completely different context. In this case, the photographer probably intended his work for a more mature audience, completely unaware that it would be featured so prominently in something used by school children. Should we as social network authors self-censor our work because it might show up in some inappropriate context? Should such content be filtered, strained, and refined because it might (actually, probably) contain content that is not age appropriate? Or should we, as my tech had suggested, completely remove a rich tool such as Google Earth (and, by extension, the Internet itself) because it most certainly will contain content that offends someone? I think not.
Try as we might, we cannot prevent, block or filter everything we consider offensive from children. Our best bet is to teach them to be media savvy, and to learn how to interpret things in context. We can teach them that some may choose to use strong language, but that they themselves can show restraint in the language they choose to use. With any type of content available just about anywhere, context becomes almost as important as the content.
For this very reason, I have chosen to completely spell out the F-word in the placemark’s title at the beginning of this post rather than self-censor. It is an accurate reflection of the situation, and in this context and for my typical audience, I believe it to be appropriate. However, some narrow-minded control freak will now probably place my website on some block list. So be it. Such are the perils of Web 2.0.
[tags] Web 2.0, social network, Panoramio, Google Earth[/tags]