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  • 16th Nov 2022

Helping users shape their digital world

Who should make decisions regarding governance of a social media platform that connects billions of people?

It’s a question that’s been top-of-mind over the past month, as recent headlines have raised questions regarding the merits of governance models that centralise power and decision making. There’s a growing sense that more sophisticated and innovative approaches are needed, which empower users to help shape the rules of platforms that fill such important roles in their lives. There can be much wisdom in crowds, the question is how you create a structure that gives groups the time and space to really think things through.

Recently, BIT teams from the US, UK and APAC have been piloting just such a model, exploring how representative samples of users rather than elites can help in setting rules. In Meta’s words, we’ve been exploring ways to “bring together diverse groups of people from all over the world to discuss tough issues, consider hard choices and share their perspectives on a set of recommendations.’’  We’re proud to be partnering with Meta and the Stanford Deliberative Democracy Lab on this effort to decentralise decision-making, which will soon expand to a global Community Forum.

In earlier posts in this series, we’ve outlined why we believe in the power and potential of deliberative processes and shared more detail on our pilot assembly, along with our initial thoughts tied to refining and scaling deliberative democracy. Today, given Meta’s announcement of the global Community Forum, we’d like to discuss where we see important opportunities (and potential need) to apply deliberative approaches, in the world of social media governance and beyond. 

In a recent op-ed, Brent Harris, Vice President of Governance at Meta, spoke directly to the challenge of moderating content online. There’s no question that balancing free expression and accuracy of content is an enormous issue facing all social media platforms. It’s also an area in which there are large swathes of grey. Content that is misleading, but not demonstrably false, or content that skirts the lines of what is currently acceptable.

Here, there is a role for users to grapple with this complexity, deliberate with one another and make informed recommendations to platforms. Indeed, this was the topic of our initial pilot, which focused on how Meta should tackle climate content that may be misleading or confusing, yet does not contain a demonstrably false claim. 

We envision that the potential value of deliberative mechanisms expands far beyond a single issue or challenge. In fact, our upcoming project illustrates this, as we will address the larger issue of behaviour in online environments. New online environments (such as the metaverse) present exciting opportunities to establish new norms regarding acceptable behaviour.

For example, metaverse users may decide that they want to set more stringent rules (and consequences) around negative behaviours than exist in well-established social media channels. Their input can then supplement and inform those of social media executives and external oversight bodies. The result will be policies that reflect diversity of opinion and are more likely to be widely recognized as legitimate.

In addition, as technology continues to accelerate, it’s clear that online platforms will face new challenges, such as managing increasingly sophisticated generative AI platforms.  While we may not yet fully understand the nature of these dilemmas, we can apply a consistent thought process to gauge if they are well-suited to a deliberative approach. Based on our experience so far, we believe that deliberative approaches are particularly valuable in addressing topics that:

  • Lack a clear internal consensus
  • May directly and significantly impact users’ experiences 
  • Involve difficult trade offs, in which people with different perspectives or values may reasonably come to different conclusions 

Yet this effort goes beyond specific issues and policy decisions, towards the larger objective of decentralizing governance. Through Community Forums, Meta is leading the industry in seeking the right balance between executive decision making, external oversight and user input.

We applaud Meta for taking this important step towards a new, more inclusive and deliberative form of decision making. It’s an exciting agenda with far reaching implications. Not just for the tech world – but for organisations, institutions, and governments at all levels, as they evolve and face ever more complex challenges. We are pleased to be part of this journey and look forward to supporting Meta and others, as they build innovative new governance models.