Who owns the social web? Academic Article uri icon


  • Eight studies were conducted over the course of five years portray attitudes about how user-contributed content may be saved, reused, and removed by people other than the content's most obvious owner. The results reveal how far public attitudes have strayed from conventional legal concepts and how much they are tied to media type and other circumstantial factors. Yet these attitudes are surprisingly robust, regular, and predictable, suggesting emerging norms for the ownership and control of social media. Study participants have felt they have the right to save almost anything they encounter on the open web. They reject notions of artificially imposed limits on the right to save content but also respect the explicit constraints introduced by a social network like Facebook. The study participants take information veracity seriously, though they put excessive responsibility for it into the hands of infrastructure providers. Content removed in blatant self-interest falls under this rubric, and participants generally deny others the right to remove content if self-interest is the only rationale. Fairness and accuracy are, however, seen by the participants as part of a right to remove content. Ownership-driven questions need to be approached thoughtfully, lest we impose legal restrictions when none are necessary or fail to anticipate normal actions that will trigger reactions that could have been averted. Gaps between desired policy and current social norms may yet be bridged through education and thoughtful design.

altmetric score

  • 8.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Marshall, C. C., & Shipman, F. M.

citation count

  • 4

publication date

  • April 2017