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Redefining Social Media's Impact: From Antisocial Trends to Prosocial Engagement

By Mariano Bernardez, PhD, CPT

In the digital era, where 67% of the world taps on smartphones and 63% navigates the vast world of the internet, social media's power is undeniable. With over 4.62 billion – or 58.7% of the global population – active on platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, these platforms carry immense influence.

These tech giants, with a combined market value of a whopping $3.9 trillion in 2021, must recognize and counter the unintended negative societal impacts emerging from their platforms. Here, we delve into the research highlighting these impacts and suggest an integrative approach using A.I. technology to foster a more positive, constructive online space.

From Print to Digital: The Evolution of Misinformation

Historically, misinformation isn't a new phenomenon. The printed word once revolutionized the way conspiracy theories and hate speech proliferated, extending their reach and lifespan. Consider the malicious hoax, "Protocols of the Wisemen of Zion" from 1903, which spread antisemitic prejudice across continents, influencing significant historical atrocities.

Today, social media accelerates this spread exponentially. With easy shareability, echo chambers, and the allure of likes and followers – even artificially boosted by bots – a single baseless claim can transform into a viral sensation within days.

The Echo Chamber Dilemma: Bridging or Bonding?

Robert Putnam's concept of relational social capital offers two perspectives: bonding (connections within similar groups) and bridging (connecting diverse groups). While the original intent of the internet and platforms like Wikipedia was to bridge diverse communities, current algorithms on many social platforms emphasize bonding, thereby perpetuating echo chambers.

The emphasis on likes, shares, and engagements inadvertently rewards aggressive discourse, which further deepens divisions and fosters antisocial behaviors such as cyberbullying. It's high time we pivot from a divisive digital environment to one that fosters inclusivity, understanding, and civil discourse.

Redefining Social Performance in the Digital Age

Drawing on three decades of research across multiple nations, we define social performance as the net societal value added or subtracted by any action. This research introduces three pivotal dimensions at the individual, organizational, and societal levels:

1. Interpersonal Performance: Ranging from individual emotional interactions to larger societal state-of-the-union perspectives.

2. Organizational Performance: From personal economic productivity to broader economic prosperity at a societal level.

3. Institutional Performance: Encompasses individual ethics, corporate standards, and the overarching rule of law.

Each dimension interplays across levels, creating a comprehensive matrix of societal influences that needs continual assessment.

The A.I. Vanguard Against Misinformation

Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) are at the frontline against toxic online interactions and misinformation. However, as the digital landscape evolves, an imminent A.I. "arms race" emerges, where the tools to create and spread fake news become as advanced as those designed to detect them.

Stanford's GROVER algorithm serves as a testament to this dynamic, effectively generating fake news that's hard for other models to detect. The solution? Continued innovation in A.I., coupled with an emphasis on media literacy and critical thinking. As stakeholders in this digital realm, platforms need to lead the charge in not just removing but actively preventing the spread of fake news.

The digital world holds immense promise. But to ensure that its potential is harnessed for the collective good, it's essential that we use AI and advamced technology to proactively fostering a prosocial, inclusive digital community


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