Supporters of US President Donald Trump, including member of the QAnon conspiracy group Jake A, aka Yellowstone Wolf (C), enter the US Capitol on Wednesday. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Instead of reforming Facebook, should we just build something else?

By Matt Field, May 13, 2021

It’s no surprise that in recent years, right-wing extremists, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and Russian intelligence agents have each co-opted social media platforms like Facebook in their quests to undermine elections or spread disinformation. The big social platforms aren’t, first and foremost, designed to promote a well-functioning society.

As the author Shoshana Zuboff, who wrote about a business model she called “surveillance capitalism,” might say, it isn’t the sea shanties, cat pics, or political takes, that keep the lights on in Silicon Valley, it’s the data-sucking engines that hoover up personal information to feed users all those targeted ads for vacations or breakfast bars. But does social media have to work like this? Ethan Zuckerman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, thinks the answer is no. The internet pioneer turned professor argues that like the BBC, the public broadcaster in the United Kingdom, neighborhoods, governments, and other groups can purposefully build social media platforms to serve a civic benefit.


(UMASS) University of Massachusetts Amherst. 2021. The Institute for Digital Public Infrastructure. University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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