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Civic Algorithms: A digital intermediation challenge

Recently, I was invite to deliver a keynote for a joint session with the News and Media Research Center and the Centre for Deliberative Democracy to explore the ideas and concepts of digital intermediation.

The blurb:

How might generative artificial intelligence (AI) and automation be undertaken to produce social good? In an increasingly automated digital media world, user agency is challenged through the loss of interaction functionality on the platforms, technologies and interfaces of everyday digital media use. Instead, algorithmically designed decision making processes function for users to assist them in making sense of these environments as a means of assisting them to seek out content that is relevant, of interest and entertaining. However, if the last five years are anything to go by, these sorts of recommendations, particularly across social media, have caused anything but social cohesion and unity amongst users, and have instead spread misinformation, vitriol and hurtful media. Would our society be different had we designed systems that focused on, while still entertaining, content that places the wellbeing of humans at the forefront over content that is, for the most part, popular?

This presentation uses the lens of digital intermediation to explore how civic algorithms might be designed and implemented in digital spaces to improve social cohesion. By unpacking the technologies, institutions and automation surrounding the cultural production practices of digital intermediation, it becomes clearer how these leavers can be adjusted to nudge and encourage platforms, users and content creators to engage in improved civic processes. As a digital intermediation challenge, creating and working with civic algorithms presents as a potentially useful approach towards improving the cornerstone of our democracies by ensuring citizens have access to accurate information, are engaging in the discussions that are important and relevant to them, and are operating within digital environments that value social good alongside commercial gains.

And here’s the recording of the session, slides included: