User-Generated Content and Revolutions: Towards a Theorization of Web 2.0
The purpose of this dissertation is to examine how characteristics of Web 2.0, users’ beliefs on freedom of information in the Web, and external forces combine to create social stability and how changes in these factors can lead to revolts. While still an emerging phenomenon, the web has evolved from a set of hyperlinked pages to an increasingly social experience with user-generated content. Sites that harness Web 2.0 technologies typically increase in usefulness as more users interact with and contribute to the site. Web 2.0 sites are different from previous iterations of web sites because users are essentially co-developers and the “wisdom of crowds” prevails (O’Reilly, 2007). However, providing users with the powers to control the content of a site can have dangerous consequences if stability breaks down and unrest develops. Specifically, this multi-paper dissertation is composed of three papers that demonstrate how user revolts, a harsh reality for sites that rely on user-generated content, can occur. These revolts arise when a site's administrators take actions that conflict with the desires of users. For example, the act of removing posts because of cease-and-desist letters and copyright violations is viewed as a threat to freedom of speech. Subsequently, users take advantage of the technology, mobilize quickly with little organization or planning, and protest against administrative actions. User revolts have significant implications for society, web-based companies that employ Web 2.0 technologies, and traditional organizations seeking to use these technologies in the workplace. Capitalizing on user-generated content requires a careful consideration of the risks and challenges involved. Therefore, this dissertation takes a critical view towards the overwhelmingly optimistic perspective of Web 2.0 presented by technology enthusiasts and the mainstream media. A critical stance is necessary because a rosy democratic picture founded on partial assumptions is likely to generate unrealistic actions and expectations regarding Web 2.0 technology. By applying well-established theories from the philosophy of technology, political science, and philosophy of science, this dissertation attempts to provide a more holistic and realistic picture of Web 2.0 - reflecting and theorizing on how efforts to democratize media and provide an avenue for users to contribute can backfire and produce unintended consequences.