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[POLICY BRIEF] Social Media Reset, by Dominique Boullier

Social Media Reset: Redesigning the infrastructure of digital propagation to cut the chains of contagion

As governments face the tremendous influence of social media on personal relationships and the public sphere, they have developed a series of methods to regulate social media platforms that do not seem to adequately address the high level of disruption they have introduced. In this paper, several reasons for this inability to properly curb these harms are discussed, including a flawed understanding of the effects of platforms on media consumption, referred to in this article as “propagation processes”. High frequency propagation processes on social media platforms have created a milieu of self-replicating messages that “go viral” and influence the types of media people are more likely to consume and their attention capacities. The virality and rhythm of propagation must be a core target of public policies in order to slow down all communication activities. Regulators should also take into account the role of interface design in promoting virality and invite expertise that can define standards to limit the rhythm of propagation on social media platforms. Technically and socially feasible recommendations are presented, contingent on political will to nudge all digital platforms towards legal and social responsibility. Curbing the rhythm of propagation on media platforms can change public media consumption and attention to information, through the design of new interfaces preventing any toxic rhythm of virality.

This policy brief was co-produced with Project Liberty.

Dominique Boullier was trained as a sociologist and a linguist. He is a full professor of sociology at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) since 2009 (emeritus since 2022). Researcher at CEE (Centre d’Etudes Européennes et de Politique Comparée). Former director of the Social Media Lab at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) (2015-2019). Former scientific coordinator of the Medialab at Sciences Po with Bruno Latour (2009-2013). Former director of Lutin User Lab (Cité des Sciences, Paris (2004-2008) and Costech lab (Université de Technologie de Compiègne (1998-2005). Former entrepreneur in the 90s.

He is the author of articles and books on urban issues (L’urbanité numérique, L’Harmattan, 1999; La ville-événement, PUF, 2010), on digital technologies (Sociologie du numérique, Armand Colin, 2019, 2nd edition). His current research focuses on the technical and institutional conditions for survival in the digital world: “Comment sortir de l’emprise des réseaux sociaux” (Le Passeur éditeur, 2020), ”Puissance des plateformes. Territoires et souverainetés” (Sciences Po Chaire digital, 2021), “Habiter le numérique. L’habitèle”, (forthcoming) and on the conceptual and methodological mutations required for the social sciences: “Propagations. A new paradigm for the social sciences” (Armand Colin, 2023).