Governments Need to Ensure Citizen-centric Social Media Engagement

Governments Need to Ensure Citizen-centric Social Media Engagement

In Part 2 of his exclusive interview with MarTech Vibe, Dr Lukasz Porwol, E-Government Deputy Unit Leader at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG), talks about citizen-centric social media approach, government policies in the EU, and whether social media should be regulated.

To read the first part of this interview, click here. 

1. What are the three most essential strategies governments need to focus on while devising a social media engagement program with its citizens?

The three major strategies that a government need to focus on are as follows:

  1. Ensure a citizen-centric approach where citizens are the customers and government is a service provider in implementing e-Participation channels. Thereby that government is present on the channels which are a primary choice for citizens, i.e. social media. The presence should be personal, therefore champions and influencers should take the role of educators and motivators as well as moderators of communication between government and citizens.
  2. Governments should tap into emerging technologies like AR, VR, and especially social VR, to reach out to citizens, offering trust and ensuring better communication.
  3. Effective, modern, and flexible approach to media policy and regulation of social media should ensure that the contemporary and emerging communication channels will serve its purpose to connect people, governments, and business; the major risks such as fake news, inappropriate content propagation and manipulation need to be minimised. Raising awareness of communication challenges and solid education of the general population is a pivotal block in building 21st century-digital society and should be in the core of policymaking.

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2. As the coordinator of the European project on Social Media and Media Convergence – COMPACT (Fake News, Media Regulation and Innovation) informing EU policy, how do you see Social Media platforms working along with governments to combat fake news?

Fake news can be effectively combated, but it requires active collaboration and co-creation between business (platform providers) and governments. Fake news can be tackled by socio-technical means, both, through relevant frameworks, technology as well as relevant policy and legislation. With the advent of powerful AI technologies, it has become increasingly more feasible to filter and identify malicious content before they reach a critical mass of users and to stop them from spreading virally across the networks.

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In terms of policy and legislation, the co-regulation is generally foreseen as an essential approach to ensuring smooth online content moderation and fair social media. Self-regulation of platform providers is mainly insufficient, considering the range and scale of issues that emerged in the last decade that could not be anticipated before. The sheer size of the problem and the global context of social media requires the providers to get in touch with governments to address the major issues. Therefore there is a need to ensure constant dialogue between business and governments on the emerging issues and the way of alleviating them. Finally, relevant educational programs should be designed and run in partnership between businesses and governments so that the general public can become gradually more immune to the impacts of fake news.

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3. Do you think social media platforms should be regulated?

Major platform providers currently face a significant dilemma when dealing with content disseminated via their platforms. In particular, the issue goes down to the problem of liability and responsibility for the content. Currently, it is mainly the platform providers who are responsible for the content, even though they rely almost entirely on user-generated content. Specifically, if malicious content is blocked or removed by the platform operator, they can be accused of bias or censorship. On the other hand, if bad content is blocked or not removed in-time, it may create significant damage to individuals and societies. In either case, usually, the social media providers take all the blame and can face substantial financial fines.

Therefore, relevant social media regulation realised through an effective co-regulation process, will not only help to combat fake news and other problems found in the social-media sphere but also would be most welcomed by the providers who need legal clarity to adjust their internal policies.

Some grassroots movements in that regard can be seen in the European Union (EU) and broader Europe. In particular, legislation in Ireland and Sweden already tackles the issue of defamation and threat in the public sphere, which also includes social media. If we go beyond the EU, in Russia, for instance, users who spread fake news (whether create or share) can face significant fines. Therefore, in the new legislation proposals, we can observe more delegation of responsibility to the user for the content they disseminate, and that is expected to make social media “more civilised” public space.

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