The human design of platforms and the algorithms that fuel them are directly linked to social media’s impact on society. Panelists at the recent MIT Social Media Summit discussed ways to humanize the design process and to more consciously think about the data used to run the algorithms. They also weighed the overarching dangers that result without this type of thinking.
“We need to consider that these algorithms relate to myriad crises and outcomes in our society, including bias, racism, polarization, amplification of hatred, and violence,” said moderator, and IDE Director, Sinan Aral, at the April 22 event. “They are not the only cause, but we’re seeing effects on intermediate outcomes as a result of their design.”
Safiya Noble, Associate Professor/Co-Founder at the Center for Critical Internet Inquiry at UCLA, emphasized that social media and search engines are large-scale advertising platforms that “have become a proxy for how we organize and access information and knowledge.” Yet, the companies that run them “are interested in a profit imperative that has nothing to do with democracy, civil rights, human rights, and broader issues of justice and fairness in our societies.”
The problem with “prioritizing return on investment at all costs” is that the people who are most vulnerable are exploited for a tremendous profit,” she said.
Noble, author of the book, Algorithms of Oppression, said it’s not enough to diversify software engineering teams by race and gender, “which of course needs to happen. We also need to diversify the entire engineering core to include people who understand society: Social scientists, cognitive scientists, and people trained in different types of histories and different perspectives.”
And, Noble said, we definitely have “to re-imagine the way we think about harm” to consumers, civil rights, and to democracy. Once understood, design teams can intervene all through the process.
“Human-centered design sounds really nice,” she said, “but in practice, we have more work to do.” One big obstacle is reducing the “appetite for systems that are frictionless. When everything is so easy and so fast, users can re-blog, retweet, and make statements that support many of the negative outputs of social media without enough thought.” Designers build systems “that harness this automatic thinking way too much.”
Gosline recommends that users slow down their online interactions to gain time for introspection before sharing false news or trusting unknown sources
His current focus is viewing social media in terms of “spaces” where new digital communities can flourish. “When we look at space as a metaphor, especially urban public spaces, we start to see a lot of the same challenges” online and offline — a lot of the same dynamics, design decisions, and issues around inclusion and exclusion, policing, and how strangers relate, he said.
It’s not Facebook’s job or Google’s job to serve everyone equally. We need new online institutions to do that.”
Social media doesn’t have to remain as is, he said. “There are so many valid and wonderful productive uses of social media, AI, and other technologies that are being buried because surveillance capitalism creates attractive economics.”
Pariser agreed that algorithms promote what is unusual, causing bad behavior to be normalized and amplified. “There are plenty of opportunities to create new ways of mediating conversation, but it’s really hard to do that if you’re also chasing hockey-stick growth.”
IDE, MIT. “Designing Better AI and Social Media.” MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (blog), June 24, 2021. https://medium.com/mit-initiative-on-the-digital-economy/designing-better-ai-and-social-media-30686ef3e8b8.
This article has discussed a number of fascinating topics. First, it talks about the importance of multidisciplinary teams in social media design teams. Many companies may attempt to have a diverse engineering team regarding race and gender, but this is insufficient. Additionally, people from various majors who are specialists in psychology and social studies should be included on the team, People who can reframe the harm and consequences of media design decisions. The second interesting point is that one of the factors that cause users to ignore the consequences of their actions is that doing anything on social media is so simple and quick that it does not provide individuals enough time to think. As a result, it is proposed that modifying the design and slowing down the procedure might be a solution. Comparing social media with the urban design was an entirely new concept for me. However, I would like the article to elaborate more on it to clarify it. The article concludes by highlighting that while technology and social media have many significant aspects, they are overshadowed by their negative consequences.