Social Media Is Too Important to Leave Up to the Market
Sponsored by the Berkeley Algorithmic Fairness & Opacity Working Group (AFOG) as part of the Public Interest Technology University Network lecture series
Social media has emerged as an important digital public sphere, a set of virtual spaces in which contemporary political and moral dialogs unfold. As the importance of the digital public sphere has become more clear, so have its failings; concerns about whether social media is politically polarizing, recruiting grounds for extremists or threatening the notion of a shared reality have become routine scholarly and popular concerns. Despite ongoing conversations about mitigating disinformation and regulating social media networks, there is little conversation about reimagining and rebuilding social media as a set of spaces that strengthen rather than weaken democratic society.
This talk explores a model for rethinking and rebuilding social media — and a broader set of digital institutions — as public goods, governed by their users and supported by taxpayer funding. This model — Digital Public Infrastructure — posits that a healthy, pro-civic digital public sphere may be as important to participatory democracy as strong, independent journalism and looks at a possible pathway for building healthy complements and alternatives to existing social media platforms.
Ethan Zuckerman is an associate professor of public policy, communication, and information at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is the founder of the Institute for Digital Public Infrastructure, a research group that is studying and building alternatives to the existing commercial internet. He is the author of two books: Mistrust: Why Losing Faith in Institutions Provides the Tools to Transform Them and Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, both published through W.W. Norton. He is the co-founder of global blogging community Global Voices, and he works with social change nonprofit organizations around the world. He is an alumnus of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard, the MIT Media Lab and Comparative Media Studies at MIT, Geekcorps, and Tripod.