Keeping Social Media Social

Keeping Social Media Social


Our desire to communicate and interact on
social media, documenting our lives, sharing our passions, our plans, our videos, took
off long before ever considered how this vast and ever-growing mass of information might
shape our world: for better, or worse. As just, post by post, the patterns of our
offline lives are reflected and refracted in the virtual world, scientists at the University
of Oxford are searching for ways to make sense, and use, of the huge volume of publicly-accessible
data that our social media obsession has created. They know that the unique way in which information
travels across social media networks can be a force for good in our lives. But, it can also enable the uncontrollable
spread of misinformation, unfounded rumour and inflammatory hate speech; causing tension
and division, between individuals, groups and entire communities. And the information we post, can add up to
make us targets for crime online and offline. But, on the flip-side, the police and security
services can use social media to their advantage by gathering intelligence on criminals, their
locations and their activities. A deeper understanding of how information
passes over social networks could be helpful to us in several ways. We could develop computer algorithms to help
us determine the trustworthiness of information posted online, which could help prevent the
spread of misinformation before it does any harm. Or, we could gain faster insight into unfolding
crises. We could better understand how the offline
world is distorted through social media, how our personalities differ online and offline,
and how virtual interactions differ from face-to-face conversations. And the more that researchers explore the
new territories of these networks, the more ethical questions they uncover. Is it possible to prevent the spread of harmful
or provocative content? What, if anything, should social media companies
do to help? And where does an individual’s right to free
speech collide with a responsibility to wider society? Answers to these questions and many more beside
could hold the key to making the world, on and offline, a safer and fairer place. Find out more at OxfordSparks.ox.ac.uk, find
us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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