Raise Your Flag

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

When you create your own online page, on MySpace, Facebook or any other user generated site, a personal flag is planted in the ground. The flag is your statement about who you are and what you celebrate. And because millions have planted their personal flags, companies like MySpace and Facebook have become multi-million-dollar organizations.

But what if the delicate trust built between online creator and corporate owner is breached? What if one of these sites, advertently, or inadvertently, misrepresents your interests to your friends and readers? Welcome to the latest issue in online ethics.

I run an active record label, in addition to being a radio commentator. Like many labels, we have our own MySpace page, where we announce label signings, tour schedules and other relevant news.

It came as a big surprise to us that one week before the last election, MySpace had placed a huge banner on the front of our label’s online page, announcing, “Vote Yes on Proposition 8.” The online service had sold the space to the Yes on Prop 8 campaign.

Ordinarily, on a site like CNN or Fox News.com, a political ad might be seen as just that. But on a personal webpage, advertising the highly contentious ballot measure takes on a whole different meaning. Without any effort at all, one could easily think our record label was advocating a Yes-on-8 position. That was simply not true.

Businesses like Wikipedia and Craigs’ List operate with little to no advertising dollars, as do many blog sites, but destinations like MySpace and Facebook count advertising as their primary income stream. And that’s the conundrum of many of the free user generated web pages. You may lose control over what else is seen on your page.

The added irony is that in September, the four major labels and The Orchard have just partnered with MySpace to sell music on MySpace Music.

If labels accept political advertising on positions with which they may disagree, and with which their key artists also oppose, we have entered uncharted waters. The law of unintended consequences will prevail.

So the next time, dear listener, you check on your MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn page, take note of what else is being said. You may not like the company you’re keeping.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.