Social Media for Social Change is a design research project that investigates how social media may be used to create digital public spaces where civil discourse and meaningful democratic participation are facilitated, organized, and nurtured at a grass-roots level. If communities are formed around shared values that engender mutual respect and a sense of common cause, then our work must explore how social media and networked technologies can bridge the divide between disparate, multiple, often competing, perspectives in networked public spheres.
We are designing situations in which the limitations and failures of mediated communication are magnified and then purged, thereby providing opportunities for critical awareness and self-reflection capable of transforming the participants’ understanding and practice of civil discourse. Through an iterative process of isolating and emphasizing such communicative limitations, we hope to discover productive configurations of social media and networked technologies in the public sphere. This first phase of our prototyping involves building and testing game structures that can be used to improve the nature of civil discourse in digital public spaces. With each successive iteration of this set of rules, we will also begin to
introduce different configurations of social media within the structure of the interactions between participants. For example, one iteration might to use two kiosks in remote public spaces that are networked with a two-way video feed (without audio) and instant messaging software. Participants would be solicited to debate issues of importance specific to their local context via these kiosks using only short-form text and whatever visual language they invent for capture on video.
The fate of democratic spaces is no longer just a matter of physical space but also involves the virtual spaces that we create and inhabit via social media and networked technologies. The level of discourse and debate required by civil societies has depended on and flourished in open, accessible, and guaranteed public spaces where the populace can assemble to share and discuss information and ideas. At their best, these town squares and city plazas welcome the full range of citizenry to commune with each other; rich and poor, blue-collar and white-collar, young and old, right and left share a civic space where difference and diversity are inherently of value. Conversely, our virtual spaces tend to coalesce more around people of like minds, the tendency being for individuals to seek out comfortable communities based on shared affinities. The future of civil society will be in part determined by how conventional, physical communities are augmented, re-imagined, and redesigned in the creation of an open, accessible, and guaranteed digital public spaces; and it will be essential to build into this digital terrain a framework that accepts and encourages civil debate, disagreement, and divergent perspectives.
- Jeremy Beaudry, University of the Arts, London, UK
- Nick Jehlen & Jethro Heiko, The Action Mill, UK
- Ona Krass, Hunter Augeri & Alie Thomer, Student Research Assistants