The report, which is the culmination of a two-year joint research initiative between Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center and Shorenstein Center, delves into the rationale and components of a “new risk-centered approach” to analyze and address the negative impacts of digital platforms, including influences on mental and physical health, financial security, privacy, social and reputational wellbeing, professional security, sovereignty, and strength of public goods.
Ultimately, the paper aims to deliver insights and recommendations to push the dialogue of social media governance toward action. The authors begin by examining how Myspace, the digital social platform launched in 2004, laid the groundwork for modern interaction through the internet.
News Corporation (now Fox Corporation), led by chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, took over the site, intending to leverage the social platform as a distribution outlet for Fox studio content. This, in turn, marked what the report described as “the beginning of an increasingly complex, and arguably convoluted, relationship between information and social networks.”
The report assesses that “the Myspace story, though brief, shows the foreseeable risk born from the intermingling of digital platforms, information, and power. It also foreshadows something bigger: the potential of digital platforms to drastically change how we as humans interact with ourselves and the world.”
The authors state that their goal was to offer an updated approach to conversations around problems caused by digital platforms, as well as recommendations that could provide infrastructure to move governance from conversation and debate to targeted action.
Throughout the report researchers outline three key insights:
Centering risk in our efforts to govern social media can provide us with an actionable north star.
There exists a deep information asymmetry problem – and there is only so much the government and civil society can do with limited information from technology companies.
We should not wait for the government to take action; as seen in other industries, we can leverage market dynamics to encourage private sector actors and experts across civil society to lead the charge on disclosures and the development of standards. This would simultaneously lay the foundation for informed and comprehensive government regulation.
Throughout the course of the report, the authors expand upon these insights and make the case that a new risk-based approach to platform governance and a focused effort on platform disclosures can put us on the path to a better regulating potentially harmful digital spaces.