On the future on Social Media

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PARC hosted an NSF-funded workshop devoted to Technology Mediated Social Participation. This was an invitation-only workshop, coupled with a public panel discussion at the PARC Forum yesterday.

All around us, technology-mediated social participation has been harnessed for remarkable social benefits. New thrusts in basic research and engineering are likely to move beyond existing socio-technical media to produce new participatory systems spanning people, computation, communication and action. These developments could produce profound transformations in health care, community safety, disaster response, life-long learning, business innovation, energy sustainability, environmental protection, and other spheres of important national priorities.

The goal of the workshop is to foster a discussion of these topics, including:

Theoretical integration; Shareable Infrastructure, ethics, and protections; Social capital, social intelligence, and effective action; Design to motivate participation; Graduate Training; and – Unique challenges for government use of social media.

The panel consisted of Ben Shneiderman (U. Maryland), Amy Bruckman (Georgia Tech), Bernardo Huberman (HP Labs), and  Cameron Marlow (Facebook). Panelists argued that “it is our responsibility to shape the conversations on social media” (Ben), that “We want to build technology to enable communities to police themselves” (Cameron), and “Different spaces need different rules” (Amy).

Meanwhile, in Old Europe…

Evgeny Morozov published another article about the use of social media in totalitarian regimes, this time focusing on his native Belorus.  The nascent democratic movement there had used social media to organize peaceful flash mob protests against an oppressive regime, only to have the government monitor the web traffic to intercept and disrupt the protests.   Morozov’s thesis–that oppressive regimes can and do use social media for control and propaganda reasons–should be heeded by those who see a rosy democratic future fueled by social media. In fact, the very openness of the media makes it considerably harder for dissenters to hide from the government. See this post for more examples of such dastardly behaviors.

When considering the future that Social Media can empower, it is worth remembering that technology intended for good can also be readily adopted for evil. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to invent new and useful ways of communicating. But neither should we be blind to the consequences.

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