Philip N Howard: ‘Social media need a radical rebuild’

Guardian Technology 15 Aug 2020 08:00
‘The solution to our current problems is more social media, not less.’ Composite: Getty Images

Social media doesn’t have to bring us only junk news and misinformation about coronavirus. Unfortunately, big platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter aren’t designed to promote healthy debate, find consensus, or solve problems. To have that kind of social media would require a radical rebuild. And the underlying principle for this would be that data about public life belongs to the public.

In important ways, our democracies grew up around a scaffolding of data. Governments collected census information, and analysed it to improve public services, and made the data available to us all. Health researchers organised large studies and shared the results. Credit card companies and marketing specialists also generated data – to be bought, sold, and made useful for private advertisers.

Now social media firms suck up and profit from all that data. We have to make these firms contribute to public archives such as libraries, and help citizens express themselves through data donations to the charities and causes they wish to support.

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