Results of a workshop held June 2023 in Bonn
DW Akademie’s "Reclaiming Social Media" research and advocacy project examines how media outlets and journalists in the Global South tackle the challenges that social media poses to constructive public dialogue, and aims to create inspiring and innovative solutions to enhance online discussions. The goal of the project is twofold: to inspire more journalists to experiment, innovate and create new solutions, and to develop specific recommendations for various stakeholders to improve online public dialogue.
In June 2023, DW Akademie invited the researchers and journalists working on the project from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and Middle East/North Africa to join DW Akademie’s experts for a workshop in Bonn. A total of 17 people came together for a day of intensive thinking and inspiring conversations to conclude the project’s research phase and formulate our recommendations.
In the first part of this article, we summarized our proposed recommendations for social media platforms, private actors, and governments. This second part provides an overview of the suggested recommendations to media outlets, civil society organizations, and innovation hubs.
Before turning to the recommendations, it is important to note that the workshop did not aim to be representative of all stakeholder groups, or to create a comprehensive list of recommendations. These suggestions represent exclusively the opinion of the participants, as concerned individuals and experts, and not necessarily the opinion of the organizations they work for. DW Akademie plans to use these recommendations as inspiration for the advocacy phase of the project. They will serve as a starting point and basis for consultations with different stakeholders.
During the workshop, participants also discussed what role media organizations, journalists, media development organizations, civil society organizations, and tech/innovation hubs can play in bringing about meaningful changes to help create a digital ecosystem that encourages constructive public dialogue. These media actors may work on developing and creating alternative spaces and formats, while social media platforms and regulators should focus their efforts on improving existing infrastructure.
The Reclaiming Social Media project dossier aims to inspire media actors by showcasing initiatives that develop spaces and formats to encourage constructive public dialogue on social media.
In the past, the primary gatekeepers of information were journalists and media companies, who served to drive public debates and ensure that conversations were grounded in facts. They also played a crucial role in moderating online discussions to ensure inclusivity and respect, and guarantee that all voices were heard.
However, the journalism and media landscape has been transformed dramatically over recent years. Free and independent media outlets, especially in the Global South, struggle for their survival. Given the overwhelming volume of online interactions and user generated content, independent media organisations lack the time and resources necessary for successful community management. As a result, many smaller news organizations have substantially reduced or even abandoned their community management efforts in the belief that their time and resources are better allocated towards expanding their distribution networks and reaching diverse audiences.
Yet journalists are ideally positioned to re-establish their role in online public dialogue. To do so, they must adapt to more suitable content, formats, and channels that enable them to actively engage in public interest discussions affecting their audiences, and create new spaces for public dialogue. To chart a path forward, media outlets seeking to reclaim social media for such constructive conversations should consider the following recommendations.
Media Organizations & Journalists
In the rapidly evolving technology and media landscape, journalists and media outlets cannot work alone. They will need to collaborate on joint projects with various actors including civil society organizations (CSOs) and tech and innovation hubs in order to develop new formats, channels, and spaces for meaningful public dialogue. Civil society organizations bring their expertise and grassroot connections, helping to ensure that new solutions align with the needs and concerns of the public. Tech and innovation hubs, on the other hand, provide access to cutting-edge tools and solutions that can transform the way information is collected, disseminated, and interacted with. Tech and innovation hubs and CSOs therefore should consider the following recommendations.
Tech and innovation hubs and civil society organizations (CSOs)
We need to bear in mind that online public discussions will continue to take place on private infrastructure, the social media platforms whose business logic will not change fundamentally. Because innovation will mainly be shaped by for-profit companies, such as social media platforms and their commercial interests, media development organizations have a special responsibility to support innovation departing from a different logic. The aim should be to foster new solutions and approaches that help societies exert greater control over their public discussions on social media. Media development organizations should consider the following recommendations.
Media development organizations
Note from the authors:
As these recommendations were discussed and agreed by a limited number of 17 actors at a short one-day workshop, we are aware that there is room for further development.
Future discussions should also focus on the need for social media councils and local oversight boards, and how they could best work together effectively. Furthermore, all suggested recommendations on oversight and accountability need to be carefully adjusted to the regional context.
These recommendations were developed by participants in a DW Akademie workshop that brought together researchers from five different world regions with research and advocacy experts. No legal or regulation experts were part of the development process to date; their input will be included in the next steps of this project.
We hope that these recommendations can inform the complex debate on social media regulation and freedom of speech. On the one hand, we see them being used as a basis for regional consultations bringing stakeholders from diverse backgrounds together to address their specific regional challenges and needs. Through these consultations, stakeholders can collaboratively develop advocacy plans that encompass region-specific concerns, allowing for targeted and effective advocacy efforts. It is important to note that these recommendations cannot be used for advocacy activities as they are, but carefully need to be tailored and adjusted to the regional context.
On the other hand, these recommendations should be discussed in international consultations with organizations focused on the rights of freedom of expression and access to information. Such international consultations should, in turn, incorporate the feedback from regional consultations.