Social media is increasingly the medium through which people live their social and civic lives. This reality has important implications both for the governance of social interactions and for broader issues of democratic governance.
Social media companies have gradually become the authorities that set policies for their users. The Justice Collaboratory has undertaken research on procedural justice and social media platforms over the past two years. It recently launched the Social Media Governance Initiative in 2019, looking specifically at social media platforms processes in terms of maintaining conditions and values that are necessary for democracy. This involves reviewing two issues and developing evidence-informed policies to address them:
1. What might be done to make social media a source of revitalized community?
2. Can social media platforms cultivate values that are essential to successful civic discourse and democratic governance, and if so, how?
Overall, this is an exciting opportunity to leverage new possibilities provided by social media to address issues in democratic governance.
SMGI’s Unique Angle
At the Justice Collaboratory, we study the circumstances under which the subjects of institutions perceive those institutions as legitimate. Such legitimacy should be found in all the three stages of governance: policymaking, adjudication and enforcement.
Our work does not focus on tech corporations’ top-down policies or states’ regulations. We focus on the perception of the users and those who are subject to or affected by these platforms’ rules. We consider the users’ perception of institutional legitimacy in the three stages of governance.
Objectives of SMGI
1. Translate research on public trust, legitimacy and their impact on behavior - specifically the impact of procedural justice — to the social media context.
2. Use these findings to test whether different types of platform designs affect trust, legitimacy, and respect for platform policies, prosocial behavior, or any combination of these.
3. Apply lessons from the social media context to inform the design of government institutions — to identify specific designs for government institutions that will promote respect for law and prosocial behavior.
4. Study how government institutions (e.g., police) are using social media to interact with the public, and how this bears on public trust and legitimacy of both the police and the platforms.
At present, we focus on social media platforms but our vision and our studies might be expanded and applied to online communities and networks as a whole. The Internet facilitates many kinds of discourse, and online communities have emerged throughout the Internet and not only on social media platforms. Considering this, our research might step outside of the boundaries of social media platforms and include other intermediaries.
What Issues Do We Tackle?
One of the main issues that social media platforms try to tackle is related to content. While some of our efforts are related to content moderation, our approach is more holistic and includes broader governance issues – mainly the legitimacy of institutional decision-making. This could include decisions about many issues that online platforms and intermediaries focus on when operating on the Internet such as content moderation, encryption, cybersecurity, or privacy, to name a few.
Policy and Advocacy Activities
We hope that we can facilitate the work of online intermediaries on the global Internet by informing their policies and guidelines with research-based evidence. We will be looking for chances to contribute to policymaking by filing commentaries, publishing blogs, and reacting to issues as they unfold in these arenas. We will also pro-actively share our research results about the issues we believe platforms should tackle.
On May 4–5, 2019, the Justice Collaboratory held a two-day conference as the inaugural meeting to launch SMGI in a consultative manner. A strategic document as a result of that meeting will be published soon.