Research News

Can Crowdsourcing Rescue the Social Marketplace of Ideas?

  • 24 August, 2023


A new study tracing the evolution of social Web platforms indicates that diverse moderation teams could be the key to promoting healthier online ecosystems.

Published in Communications of the ACM, the research examines social online platforms’ early promise of democratisation, in contrast to present-day realities of misinformation and polarisation.

Co-author on the paper and an Associate Professor at UCD School of Sociology, Dr Taha Yasseri said, “The dawn of social Web platforms in the 2000s was seen as a harbinger of more democratic participation in the information and knowledge economy. Wikipedia is an icon of such utopian dreams: the revolutionary vision of an encyclopedia that can be read and edited by anyone. Facebook and Twitter appeared a few years later, and democratic revolutions have since been credited to these platforms! But before long, hate speech, misinformation, extremism and data privacy scandals became commonplace in many of these online spaces. What can we learn from this as we strive to fix the broken marketplace of ideas?"

At a time when both Facebook and Twitter (now X) have announced community-based review platforms to address misinformation, the study investigates why some crowd-based social Web technologies provide successful examples of healthy information sharing, while others are associated with driving epistemic chaos. Insights from the work of Associate Professor Yasseri and his co-author Professor Filippo Menczer, Indiana University Bloomington, suggest that collaborative content generation plays a crucial role.

"Social media platforms should prioritise empowerment of users by fostering civil interactions, rather than facilitating division through simplistic solutions like blocking and unfollowing. Our research indicates that this approach not only promotes healthier online discourse, but can contribute to the creation of a more inclusive and constructive online community.” continued Dr Yasseri.

Drawing lessons from platforms like Wikipedia and preliminary analyses of Twitter's Community Notes initiative, the study underscores the importance of  of consensus-building and engagement with varied groups of reviewers. “Direct collaboration of diverse moderators seems to be a key element in successful crowd-based systems. Some design elements of platforms like Twitter are outdated and I welcome the changes that appear to be underway. It is crucial to approach these changes with a well-informed perspective based on thorough research to ensure that we are not operating in eco-chambers going forward.”

The research findings offer valuable insights into potential solutions for the social marketplace of ideas and social media platform design strategy. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, collaborative and community-based approaches hold the promise of creating a more constructive and informed online environment. Read more.