Harvard University has launched an academic initiative called the Institute for Rebooting Social Media, which aims to fix social media’s most urgent problems.
Described as a “three-year pop up initiative”, the institute will focus on addressing misinformation, privacy breaches, harassment and content governance.
The institute is part of the University’s Berkman Klein Centre for Internet & Society (BKCIS) and it is being funded with £1.5 million from the John S. and John L. Knight Foundation.
According to the institute’s website, its goal is to “spur real, practical changes in how online social media works. It aims to help generate, identify, elevate, and connect work across disciplines and sectors, and to see how efforts in one sector…might mesh with efforts elsewhere”.
Outside of just misinformation, BKCIS experts have highlighted that social media has contributed to reduced confidence in institutions and elections, as well as an increase in discriminatory racial, political, and religious views.
Mitchell Marovitz, director of the communications, journalism, and speech program at the University of Maryland Global Campus, told the BBC: “When social media started, it was supposed to bring about this new renaissance of thought because everyone would have a voice. Clearly, something is off.”
Despite these negative consequences of social media, there are clear benefits and positive use cases.
Social media can provide huge swathes of educational information, support a more informed general public, and foster supportive and productive communities.
Craig Newmark, founder of Craig’s List, said to the BBC: “Current social media has a tendency to exaggerate differences in people, to outrage and to radicalise. That’s part of the business model in many cases.
“We need social media where people listen to each other, where they can find common ground, and work together.”
The institute is scheduled for a soft launch this autumn, followed by a full launch in the spring term next year.