The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online

Deviant behavior has always existed online, the question is- will it continue and what can we do about it? Pew has a new report about the future of the Internetand what will happen amidst major ongoing societal issues associated with trolls, anonymity, free speech, and fake news.

There are many utopian and dystopian views- these issues are complex- but I was quoted here with a somewhat optimistic outlook:

“Bad actors and harassment will not go away, and some services may lose users for trying to aggressively eliminate these forces while others do not, but certain technologies that target underage users will be able to create ‘safe’ places where negativity will be constrained to constructive criticism. These safe places will arise through a joint effort between community policing and system designs that encourage supportive behavior. Mainstream social media services will not be initiating this – rather it will arise from youth with coding and social skills who self-identify this need for a safe space.”

I provided this opinion in 2016- the good/bad news is that the issue is become so severe that mainstream social media services are just starting to take more measures. Most of these measures, however, are reactive, meaning they are things that happen after deviant content is posted. After a major fiasco related to a murder that was livestreamed, Facebook hired 3,000 people to monitor and handle disturbing content online. Twitter now allows users to filter content so they don’t see certain terms.

How does one design a supportive online environment? I begin to tackle this a bit in a new ICWSM short paper (PDF), which outlines how we designed a system where every function took into consideration what the social impact would be. We found that even small design choices- like having Hugs for feedback instead of Likes, and hiding feedback metrics on other posts so you’re not comparing yourself to others, are small steps that can be taken to nurture a supportive online norm.

I will also be discussing this in a panel at CHI with some other awesome academics who do similar and different work on this topic: Casey Fiesler, Libby Hemphill, Munmun de Choudhury, and Nathan Matias.


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