Harvard University set up Social Media Reboot institute

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The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society (BKC) of Harvard University introducing the Institute for Rebooting Social Media, a three-year ‘pop-up’ research programme.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Craig Newmark Philanthropies have made significant contributions to the new project with £1.5 million, which will bring together practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and students to better the future of social media and online communication.

The Institute website states that its mission is to Spark genuine, practical improvements in how online social media operates. Its goal is to help produce, identify, elevate, and unite work across disciplines and sectors and to explore how efforts in one segment might intersect with those elsewhere.

Aside from disinformation, BKCIS experts have pointed out that social media has driven decreased trust in institutions and elections and a surge in discriminating racial, political, and religious sentiments.

According to Mitchell Marovitz, head of the communications, journalism, and speech department at the University of Maryland Global Campus, “when social media first came out, it was meant to usher in a new renaissance of thinking because everyone would have a voice. Something is wrong.” 

Despite all the negative repercussions, there are obvious benefits and positive use cases for social networking.

Social media can disseminate vast amounts of educational material, help to educate the general public, and build supportive and productive communities.

Craig Newmark, the creator of Craig List, told the BBC that current social media has a propensity to magnify differences in individuals, anger, and radicalise. In many situations, this is part of the business model.

We need social media where people listen to each other, discover common ground, and collaborate.

The Institute will develop based on the ideas, concepts, and networks generated by BKC’s Assembly programme, sponsored generously by the Knight Foundation and Craig Newmark Philanthropies.

More than 150 students, fellows, and professionals shared perspectives on misinformation, the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence, and online privacy and security through Assembly. The Assembly’s five-year tenure was structured in targeted short sprints to accomplish substantial progress within the time restrictions.

The Institute’s three-year timeframe aims to create progressive, significant, and practical change for the short and long term.

The Institute will have a soft debut this autumn, followed by a full launch in the spring term of the following year.

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