Social networks have evolved to play central roles in people’s access to information, exposure to ideas, community building, mental health, and participation in democracy. While there is great potential for social networks to positively contribute to these roles, they also cause harm by enabling polarization, online harassment, and mis/disinformation. It is important that we consider how social networks might evolve to mitigate harm and support pro-social goals. The boundaries for incentives for social network companies remain unclear, where profit stems from engagement at scale, and moderation becomes increasingly complicated and controversial to implement. Legislators and regulators are also increasingly looking to craft policy unique to this media while balancing the protections in place for traditional media.
The Pro-Social Networks track challenges students to address at least one problem associated with social networking or online communities. Students could propose new social networking platforms or extensions to existing platforms, such as those that reduce online harassment, harmful mis/disinformation, and dark patterns that exploit users. Ideas will be evaluated for the possibility to attract participation and lead to more responsible discourse, higher quality information access, or other improvements to society. Solutions may address a wide range of topics, including but not limited to:— algorithmic/technological features or social interventions that support pro-social behavior, impactful measurement and metrics to support greater transparency and public understanding, and effective policy proposals for either/both the public and private sectors.
Students are encouraged to reconceptualize social networking in ways that encourage pro-social interactions (e.g., supporting community building, fact-based discourse, empathy, healthy deliberation, access to credible information, and exposure to diverse perspectives). For example, students may develop new user interfaces and interaction features that reduce online harassment, harmful mis/disinformation, and dark patterns that exploit users.