Civic Media could be Trustworthy
The technology exists to create a trustworthy Civic-social media. The need is urgent. It needs to be built quickly, literally from the ground up, based on the legal voting residence of participants.
"Safe Communities": The Quaint Early Days of Facebook
In the quaint early days of Facebook, only thirteen short years ago, membership was available exclusively to college students on 30 selected campuses. Membership had reached 150,000 and the original plan of Mark Zuckerberg and his two Harvard roommates who co-founded the service was to return to Harvard that fall and grow their company cautiously, adding schools slowly because as Zuckerberg explained “we wanted to create safe communities” and according to a New York Times article the following year, “make sure the system could handle the increased use.”
Sloppy and Slap-dash: an Industry is Born
The founding lads soon threw caution to the winds and fueled by venture capital, focused not on safety but on rapid growth. A whole industry of sloppy, slap-dash social media was born. This June, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had attracted 2 billion users.
Weaponizing the Tools of Social Media
The danger in what these smart Harvard boys created is underscored by the today’s New York Times headline: “To Sway Vote, Russia Used Army of Fake Americans.” The article documents how fake social media participants (including centrally controlled robots) and hacked information were orchestrated apparently by Russia, to move minds against Hillary Clinton in the American presidential election. Before Twitter has even turned a dime of profit, it has been weaponized for political battle.
Through the Looking Glass
Now we live in a tweetle-dum, tweetle-dee world were truth and trust seem evermore allusive. Grown men and women now wait to see what our President Trump will tweet next.
The social media genie is out of the bottle. We will never return to the days of Walter Cronkite telling us the news. The technical, business and regulatory structures of media have been radically altered. But people who were active citizens then also know that a lot of what passed for news then was no better than what we have today.
Imagine the Possibilities; Civic-social Media as a Tool for Truth
Imagine, however, civic media as a specialized type of social media wherein the civic information enterprise is:
- Location-based: The enterprise is location based down to the precinct and even neighborhood level based on the participant resident address for information development and distribution as well as internal governance.
- Open only to known participants vetted to some degree: Audience or member participation includes processes by which contributors are tested or vetted e.g. classed by earning certain internal certifications.
- Member funded and governed: The enterprise has some of the character of a public radio station but with paying members who actually have a direct role in the governance of the outlet.
- Transparent in structure: The enterprise structure includes internal representative and deliberative functions; executive functions and adjudicating functions, operating transparently according to a clear charter.
- Explicitly designed to support civic action: The enterprise issues specific calls to civic action governed ultimately by members.
- A truly social and rewarding experience: Participation includes opportunities for face-to-face meetings at the local level and options for civic games and certifications yielding status and recognition within the civic network.
- Reasonable and scientific: Scientific norms of data transparency, attribution, replicability, professional and earned authority are applied to civic information.
There is no one model for Civic-social media. New media models are even less constrained than the possibilities that existed in the “Golden Age” of print and broadcast when advertising dollars dominated. It won't be non-partisan but it might be "novpartisan" With a little civic imagination we can create a media that spreads wisdom rather than confusion.