Social Integrity and Responsibility in 2022
As billions of people around the world continue to use social media every day, and as those numbers continue to grow each year, the way social media works and the way those platforms are used continues to evolve. From in-depth examinations of the infrastructure of disinformation to Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, 2022 turned out to be another fascinating year in which social media played a critical role in crisis, crucial conversations, and community engagement.
Are there ways to prevent misinformation while still supporting freedom of speech? Should content be filtered, and if so, by whom? How dangerous is cyberbullying? How do we give children the ability to connect with others through these spaces while maintaining digital wellness? And where does the responsibility lie: with the platforms or with the users?
Throughout the past year, experts from across the University of Michigan have answered these questions, addressed concerns, and offered insight into what this all means for the current age of social media.
Algorithms and the Spread of Misinformation
Misinformation and disinformation can span multiple platforms, applications, and forums, creating an infrastructure that presents evidence of theories that they think is informational. This can lead to expanded networks that contribute to continuous growth of the disinformation infrastructure. Moderation by platforms while maintaining the freedom of expression they promote is a major challenge. Can social media algorithms help to establish healthier digital environments while still providing opportunities for open dialogue? U-M experts weighed in throughout the year:
- Irene Pasquetto, PhD, assistant professor at the U-M School of Information (UMSI), joined the Michigan Minds podcast to discuss social media algorithms and the infrastructure of disinformation.
- Dan Delmonaco, a UMSI doctoral student, and Oliver Haimson, assistant professor at UMSI, were co-authors on a study that suggests moderating online content increases accountability but can harm some platform users.
- UMSI’s new tool CSMR WiseDex helps fight misinformation on social media
- UMSI associate professor Libby Hemphill was featured in Undark Magazine to talk about whether algorithms can create healthier digital spaces without stifling online debates.
- Paul Resnick, UMSI professor and associate dean, was interviewed by the Concord Times on how to control the dissemination of misinformation.
- Pasquetto was featured on BBC The Media Show to discuss how conspiracists rekindle the spread of disinformation.
- Hemphill told VentureBeat that effective hate speech moderating must go beyond civility.
Navigating Platforms as a Social Media User
Navigating social media platforms can be tumultuous on the best days, but especially when there is an international crisis. The reliability of content being distributed and the varying thresholds on social media platforms can make it difficult to participate in positive public communication. Where does the responsibility lie when it comes to having functional conversations online? Can information on social media platforms be trusted? Do social media users find meaning in the experiences that others share? Hear what the experts said this year:
- Scott Campbell, the Constance F. and Arnold C. Pohs Professor of Telecommunication at the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts talked about the responsibilities of social media platforms and users on the Michigan Minds podcast.
- Paul Resnick, UMSI professor and associate dean, explained a paper he published with colleagues on how social media usage and online navigation change during a crisis, such as the war in Ukraine.
- The Online Identity Help Center website launched by UMSI scholars aims to help marginalized people navigate the gray areas in social media moderation.
- Assistant professor at the U-M School of Social Work Ashley Lacombe-Duncan joined Michigan Minds to discuss the role of online spaces in navigating health care access for people who experience multiple forms of intersection oppressions.
Harassment and Cyberbullying
It’s no secret that harassment, cyberbullying, and trolling occur in social media spaces and present one of the most dangerous aspects of the platforms. Who is most at risk? How is a cyberbully identified? What can social media sites do to create safer environments? Researchers provide their insights:
- Doctoral student at UMSI Song Mi Lee examined the characters of a cyberbully on the Michigan Minds podcast.
- An article by Them quoted UMSI assistant professor Oliver Haimson on the disproportionate harassment trans people face on Twitter.
- UMSI associate professor Sarita Schoenebeck told Science that social media companies need to improve moderation strategies to tamp down harassment of scientists.
- UMSI associate professor Libby Hemphill explored how social media platforms can do better when it comes to hate speech in a report from the Anti-Defamation League.
Twitter Ownership Changeover
One of the largest social media news stories of the year was Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and the changes that have been made since he took ownership of the platform. UMSI professor of information Cliff Lampe talked about the outbursts that occurred upon the original announcement of the pending purchase, and then later discussed the adjustments Musk has made and the many questions it has raised in regard to the platform’s future:
- The Outcry Over Elon: How Twitter May Evolve & Why It Matters on the Michigan Minds podcast
- Elon Musk’s Overhaul of Twitter from Michigan News
The ways in which people—especially children and families—use technology has shifted over the past several years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the increased need to connect with others, learn from teachers, and share special moments with family and friends, it’s important to promote positive boundaries and practice digital wellness. Experts from the School of Information, School of Education, and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital provide their tips for healthy use of social media platforms:
- On the Michigan Minds podcast, Liz Kolb, clinical associate professor in the U-M School of Education, and Kristin Fontichiaro, clinical professor in UMSI, outline digital wellness tips for families, students, and parents.
- Experts from C.S Mott Children’s Hospital share their tips for promoting positive boundaries and mental well-being for young people in the Michigan Health Blog.
- Jenny Radesky, MD, developmental behavioral pediatrician at CS Mott was featured in the New York Times to discuss how teenage girls use Instagram and why it raises concerns about how the platform conveys validation.
By Erica Colaianne and Samantha Stante