In the face of COVID-19, social media platforms are adopting various approaches to govern their users’ behaviors. Most platforms are carrying on with typical response techniques they believe to be effective, like blocking users, removing content, or using automated enforcement for bulk removal. However, some progressive platforms are taking pro-social approaches to address COVID-19.
Pro-social governance promotes action that guides people to behave in a way that benefits others. This can be as simple as encouraging people to follow the rules and in doing so influencing others’ to follow the rules too. In this health crisis, we want to highlight some of the pro-social initiatives that have emerged but may have gone unnoticed.
- Twitter and Pinterest: Twitter is helping people follow rules by deactivating suggested key terms that would take them to non-credible sources. Similarly, Pinterest limited their search results to only verified health news channels. This might reduce potential exposure to shared disinformation, which we hope prevents data void.
- Nextdoor: Nextdoor is encouraging people to help one another in their neighborhoods. They recently launched a “help map” that allows users to add themselves to a map announcing what help (services) they can offer. The interesting part of this feature is that the users inspired Nextdoor to launch the help map, because there was an organic increase in offers to help on the platform after the COVID-19 spread. This is a great example of how existing pro-social attitudes among users can influence and find their way into a platform’s feature set.
- Facebook: Facebook continues with its standard block and remove tactics but has reduced its content reviewer’s work force. As a result, it has reduced the number of contents reviews and relies on other methods. For examples, it uses third party fact checkers to fact check and rate false information.
- Joint tech-companies hackathon: some tech companies have also started a hackathon competition for developers to build software that drives social impact. This is worthy, but it may be tricky. It is not clear what they mean by “social impact” and it seems that it encourages tech community to wade into pro-social efforts for public health without including health, public policy, or legal experts. This shows that to “just be pro-social” is not as easy as it might sound, and tech companies need to take a more holistic approach in their pro-social efforts.
The difference between an innovative pro-social approach and the standard punitive approach is that pro-social approaches are designed to encourage people’s basic desire to connect. The punitive measures focus on the outcome and technology, and this model of governance is prevailing because social media platforms believe that punitive methods are effective and measurable. In contrast, pro-social measures focus on people and their social interactions, but the effect is perceived as hard to measure and gradual.
To foster pro-social initiatives and embed them as the prevailing governance approach, platforms should highlight them, deploy them, and provide methods to measure their effect. It is equally important to illustrate that quick, technical fixes (like removing content with artificial intelligence) are often not effective in the long run — especially when they try to address a deeper social problem.
At the Justice Collaboratory’s Social Media Governance Initiative, we are hopeful that social media platforms will continue deploying pro-social initiatives; and with the help of our network of scholars and platform partners, we aim to follow these developments while providing a pro-social governance narrative and using serious science to measure their impact.