Social Media Impacts on Social & Political Goods: A Peacebuilding Perspective
By Lisa Schirch
Available online at: https://toda.org/assets/files/resources/policy-briefs/t-pb-22_lisa-schir...
Summary Written by: Brandon S. Brown
This policy brief from the Toda Peace Institute discusses how social media is both an asset and a threat to society. The brief aims to “build the capacity of civil society to understand the economic and psychological appeal of social media, identify the range of opportunities and challenges related to social media, and promote discussion on potential solutions to these challenges” (1).
The beginning of the brief offers an executive summary of points which are key to understanding how social media is both a threat and an asset, listing both the opportunities social media provides, as well as the challenges it presents. Schirch ends the executive summary with resultant policy recommendations. The full report follows the Executive Summary and discusses all of the findings-in detail.
Key ideas from both the executive summary and the full report include the following:
- All forms of media have the potential to both solve or amplify social and political problems.
- Social media vastly increases the amount of information available to people.
- Nearly half of the planet’s populace uses social media to engage in everyday exchanges of ideas, photos, and videos. This helps people stay connected to people they know and love.
But, this much use has significant downsides. Among those mentioned,
- Social media corporations are driven by profit which they receive when they sell users’ attention to advertisers. So the more addictive a platform is, the more profit the social media corporation earns.
- Social media use encourages emotional thought and engagement more than deliberative, rational thought and engagement. Social media algorithms prioritize strongly-emotional posts because “hate spreads faster than truth or love,”
- Other downsides of social media include the spread of misinformation, disinformation, and deceptive propaganda,
- Algorithm-generated echo chambers which fuel social polarization, and diminish public trust in instutitions,
- Enabling the swaying of elections with deceptive targeted ads.
- The creation of new platforms for hate speech and incivility, which at times even encourage or enable violence.
Despite all these downsides, Schirch also explains that there are opportunities for good with social media. As well as keeping friends and family connected, social media is being used by state and civil society organization to (among other things)
- Build empathy, tolerance and compassion,
- Design civic technologies to address social issues,
- Expand democratic governance,
- Enable and empower social movements both locally and globally,
- Support humanitarian efforts and crisis responses,
- Prevent and confront hate speech and threats of violence,
- Enhance public support for policy negotiation, diplomacy, and peace processes
- Crowdsource ideas and fundraising thereby engaging the public in the work of civic and nonprofit groups.
Ultimately, Schirch creates a list of policy recommendations which include:
- Inspiring “Humane Design” by realigning technology with humanity’s best interest.
- Designing an “Architecture of Serendipity” which creates opportunities for “unplanned serendipitous encounters” which challenge people’s points of view.
- Designing platforms to “Facilitate Empathy, Dialogue, and Deliberation,”
- Developing tools to assess conflict sensitivity and to prevent unintended consequences of social media use.
- Coordinating “Support of Fact Checking and Hate Monitoring,”
- Developing a Campaign for “Social Media Literacy,” and
- Advocating for “Government Regulation” to institute consumer protections and begin holding social media organizations accountable for the harms they cause.
The Full Report offers significantly more information and much more comprehensive lists, but the summary section covers the major implications of the article, especially concerning the challenges and opportunities of social media in the world today.