The quality of public discourse online is not going to get better and may actually get worse over the next decade, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center that invited 8,000 technology experts, scholars, corporate practitioners and government leaders” to respond.
Forty-two percent of the 1,537 participants said they anticipate “no major change” in levels of online trolling and other harmful behavior that is found online. Another 39 percent said the next decade will be “more shaped” by these types of online behaviors.
“While respondents expressed a range of opinions from deep concern to disappointment to resignation to optimism, most agreed that people — at their best and their worst — are empowered by networked communication technologies,” the study’s authors wrote. “Some said the flame wars and strategic manipulation of the zeitgeist might just be getting started if technological and human solutions are not put in place to bolster diverse civil discourse.”
Pew and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted the survey between July 1 and August 12, 2016, before the height of the divisive U.S. election.
The report categorizes responses into four primary themes that outline what the future of online discourse might hold:
“Things will stay bad because to troll is human; anonymity abets anti-social behavior; inequities drive at least some inflammatory dialogue; and the growing scale and complexity of internet discourse makes this difficult to defeat.”
Many respondents think things will just get worse as humans continue to evolve to a relatively new medium.
“I would very much love to believe that discourse will improve over the next decade, but I fear the forces making it worse haven’t played out at all yet,” technology consultant Jerry Michalski said. “After all, it took us almost 70 years to mandate seatbelts. And we’re not uniformly wise about how to conduct dependable online conversations, never mind debates on difficult subjects. In that long arc of history that bends toward justice, particularly given our accelerated times, I do think we figure this out. But not within the decade.”
“We see a dark current of people who equate free speech with the right to say anything, even hate speech, even speech that does not sync with respected research findings,” an anonymous MIT professor said. “They find in unmediated technology a place where their opinions can have a multiplier effect, where they become the elites.”
“Things will stay bad because tangible and intangible economic and political incentives support trolling. Participation = power and profits.”
The social media ecosystem is attention-driven; the platforms themselves make money from advertising and, as a result, want to continue to drive participation. And because the platforms are so crowded, it’s often the loudest voices that get the most attention, which carries over into our larger political debates.
“Distrust and trolling is happening at the highest levels of political debate, and the lowest,” said researcher Kate Crawford. “The Overton Window has been widened considerably by the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, and not in a good way. We have heard presidential candidates speak of banning Muslims from entering the country, asking foreign powers to hack former White House officials, retweeting neo-Nazis. Trolling is a mainstream form of political discourse.”
And as social media’s influence has grown, traditional media outlets have seen their influence wane. Here’s how Steven Waldman, the founder and CEO of LifePosts, explained it:
“It certainly sounds noble to say the internet has democratized public opinion. But it’s now clear: It has given voice to those who had been voiceless because they were oppressed minorities and to those who were voiceless because they are crackpots. … It may not necessarily be ‘bad actors’ — i.e., racists, misogynists, etc. — who win the day, but I do fear it will be the more strident.”
“Things will get better because technical and human solutions will arise as the online world splinters into segmented, controlled social zones with the help of artificial intelligence.”
Some respondents were more optimistic that the levels of online discourse would improve over the next decade. Artificial intelligence and other technological improvements will help improve dialogue, some said.
“I expect we will develop more social bots and algorithmic filters that would weed out the some of the trolls and hateful speech,” Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future, said. “I expect we will create bots that would promote beneficial connections and potentially insert context-specific data/facts/stories that would benefit more positive discourse. Of course, any filters and algorithms will create issues around what is being filtered out and what values are embedded in algorithms.”
Additionally, as platforms become more influenced by algorithms, respondents expect to see continued fragmentation of the online ecosystem.
“There will still be some places where you can find those with whom to argue, but they will be more concentrated into only a few locations than they are now,” senior design researcher Lindsay Kenzig said.
“Oversight and community moderation come with a cost. Some solutions could further change the nature of the internet because surveillance will rise; the state may regulate debate; and these changes will polarize people and limit access to information and free speech.”
Respondents also expressed concern that increased regulation of online spaces could result in surveillance and censorship. They also worried that people would begin to change their positive online behaviors as surveillance increase.
Rebecca MacKinnon, director of the Ranking Digital Rights project at the New America foundation, said she’s worried about the state of free speech online:
“The demands for governments and companies to censor and monitor internet users are coming from an increasingly diverse set of actors with very legitimate concerns about safety and security, as well as concerns about whether civil discourse is becoming so poisoned as to make rational governance based on actual facts impossible. I’m increasingly inclined to think that the solutions, if they ever come about, will be human/social/political/cultural and not technical.”
Queensland University of Technology professor Marcus Foth warned that the increased regulation of online speech could result in polarization and filter bubbles:
“With less anonymity and less diversity, the two biggest problems of the Web 1.0 era have been solved from a commercial perspective: fewer trolls who can hide behind anonymity. Yet what are we losing in the process? Algorithmic culture creates filter bubbles, which risk an opinion polarization inside echo chambers.”
The full report, in which you are certain to find at least one opinion you agree with, s available here.
“Whenever you get the new generation, you get new language, and whenever you get new language you get people saying it’s not news because ‘you’re not doing it the way I did,'” said Mika Rahkonen, head of development at Finland’s national public broadcaster Yle.
In January 2015, the broadcaster launched Kioski, which has evolved into a social video service that covers news and current affairs for younger audiences and publishes across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp. (Kioski also runs as a Thursday evening program on Finnish TV.) For this project, buy-in from a development department within Yle concerned specifically with facilitating the creation of news products was crucial, protecting the editorial team tasked with coming up with a “youth product” from any resistance to the product’s new voice.
Buy-in from the wider newsroom was one critical factor in Kioski’s success, according to a new Reuters Institute report that profiles eight digital news projects across six countries in Europe. The report’s authors interviewed editors and managers responsible for shepherding projects ranging from news video offerings to news apps and highlighted four (perhaps obvious) requirements to getting a digital project from a legacy organization off the ground:
— Strong and public support from senior leadership
— buy-in from the wider newsroom
— The creation of cross-functional teams with the autonomy, skills, and resources to lead and deliver on projects
— An audience-centric approach
The report also identified three “facilitating factors” for these digital projects:
— Having a development department specifically for news
— Being able to bring in new talent
— Working with external partners
Most of these large newsrooms had similar goals in trying to launch projects: They wanted to attract younger audiences, increasingly on mobile, with a tailored distributed publishing strategy.
The BBC, for instance, introduced Videos of the Day, a vertical video product, into its main news app last November, in response to the reality that BBC News gets more than 60 percent of its online traffic via mobile. Uniting different teams from a giant organization was important:
BBC mobile editor Nathalie Malinarich describes the core challenge as not necessarily being to develop new ideas, but to get buy-in for them from the organization: ‘It’s not necessarily easy to get buy-in from the organization, and I think it’s partly to do with the fact that different parts of the organization are responsible for their own little bits so you can’t always do it within your own team.’ She concludes that this was relatively easy for the vertical video project, helped by the fact that the project was initiated by the director of news and current affairs.
The BBC also has a variety of people with strategy roles as well as its own BBC News Labs, working at the edge of news, research and development, and news, product and systems. The BBC tries to foster ideas for new pilots not only top-down, but also within their teams. For example, so-called ‘Digital Away Days; are organized, explains Ramaa Sharma, editor, digital pilots and skills, BBC News, to give journalists an overview of the current challenges and changes.
German public TV broadcaster ZDF launched its new participatory news program heute+ to fit better with viewers’ social media consumption habits. Nudging colleagues to begin to shape the types of stories they were producing to fit the heute+ format was a challenge:
At German ZDF, a small team was set up for heute+ consisting of journalists who had worked for the news bulletin heute nacht that heute+ replaced and members from the working groups that developed the concept of heute+. However, as several interviewees explain, a bigger challenge was to motivate and teach correspondents in the different regional studios and abroad to produce news pieces in the new format needed for heute+. Elmar Theveßen of ZDF related that they toured the regional studios before the implementation, in order to motivate and show the colleagues there how to produce news pieces in the new format. Templates had been distributed before the launch to facilitate the production.
The report also profiles Telewizja Polska in Poland, RAI in Italy, ARD in Germany, and France Télévisions and Radio France in France. You can read the full report about their unique challenges — and the solutions they settled on — here.
“I see this as a chance to bring coverage of what’s happening in America to a large global audience, but also to bring an understanding of what’s happening around the world the American audience that we already largely serve.”
Breaking news alerts, more analytics, summaries of what your followers are tweeting about: Twitter is considering a “new, more enhanced Tweetdeck,” with no ads, The Verge reported Thursday. Some users received a survey about it:
Scoop: Twitter is developing an 'advanced TweetDeck' that would be available for monthly subscription fee & feature a range of new features: pic.twitter.com/MlKw8xZlVS
Several of the premium features listed, like advanced publishing features and analytics, are already available through third-party social media management tools like Socialflow and Buffer. Last summer, Twitter released a tool called Twitter Dashboard aimed at tweet scheduling for businesses, but it shut down just a few months later.
NowThis’s success with its short newsy clips and distributed content ambitions gave it a model worth emulating. Now it’s looking beyond the format as it invests in longform video, investigative journalism, and other original content.
Far more men than women are reporting the news, at least at some of the most prominent news organizations in the United States.
At ABC’s World News Tonight, 88 percent of the on-camera and producer credits on stories went to men. At the New York Daily News, 76 percent of bylines were men’s.
Those are a few of the numbers from the Women’s Media Center 2017 study released Wednesday, which tracked reporting from broadcast, wire, newspaper, and digital-only outlets for three months in 2016. The study analyzed bylines, on-air anchor and correspondent appearances, and producer credits on 24,117 news pieces produced between September and November of last year by four broadcast TV outlets, 10 newspapers, four digital outlets, and two major wire services.
Across all platforms, a gender gap persists, but the report found the starkest disparity in the TV news outlets it examined, where women — counting anchors and on-air correspondents — reported only a quarter of the news (down from the 32 percent found in WMC’s last report in 2015). PBS NewsHour, which prior to Gwen Ifill’s death in November had two female coanchors, was closest to achieving gender parity:
At the 10 newspapers analyzed, men reported 62 percent of the news and women 38 percent:
None of the print outlets achieve gender parity, although the San Jose Mercury News (55.7 percent men; 44.3 percent women) and The Washington Post (57.5 percent men; 42.5 percent women) have the narrowest gap. The New York Times has done the most to narrow the gap — now 61.0 percent men; 39.0 percent women, up from 32.3 percent.
The gender gap was smaller at the digital outlets analyzed, with women making up 46 percent of the bylines. The best performer: FoxNews.com, which finished at 50.1 percent men and 49.9 percent women.
The imbalance was also reflected in the sources quoted in stories that touch on women’s lives.
Women wrote 37 percent of stories around reproductive rights from the newspapers and wire services analyzed in the WMC report, versus 52 percent by men. (About 11 percent of stories analyzed had no byline, including unsigned editorials.) Men and women writing about reproductive issues quoted people differently, too: Women quoted other women in 42 percent of the quotes in those stories, while men quoted women in only 27 percent of theirs.
A similar pattern emerged in stories about campus sexual assault. Men wrote 55 percent of the stories vs. 31 percent by women (the remainder having no byline). In the stories by men, 28 percent of the quotes were from women; in stories by women, 42 percent were.
The full report, which includes analysis of other industries such as film and entertainment and summaries of reports on the gender gap done by other groups, is available here.