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Tuesday, July 12 • 13:30 - 14:30
Panel 2A: Digital Wildfire: examining the spread of provocative and inflammatory content on social media and exploring opportunities for the responsible governance of digital social spaces

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG02, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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Panel Participants: 
  • Marina Jirotkamarina, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • William Housley, Cardiff University, United Kingdom
  • Omer Ranao Cardiff University, United Kingdom
  • Adam Edwards, Cardiff University, United Kingdom
  • Pete Burnapp, Cardiff University, United Kingdom
  • Matthew Williams, Cardiff University, United Kingdom
  • Bernd Carsten Stahl, De Montfort University, United Kingdom
  • Rob Procter, University of Warwick, United Kingdom
  • Helena Webb, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

In 2013 a World Economic Forum (WEF) report positioned social media as a threat to global security. The report (World Economic Forum, 2013) describes the status of hyperconnectivity created through the contemporary popularity of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter as a risk factor for ‘digital wildfires’ in which provocative content spreads rapidly and causes serious harm. This provocative content may take the form of a rumour, false information, hate speech, or a malicious campaign against others. When it spreads rapidly it can damage the reputation and well-being of individuals, groups and entire communities. The WEF report argues that the prevalence and potential seriousness of digital wildfires mean it is necessary to consider how they – and the harms they cause - can be managed, prevented and limited. A central practical and ethical question is: how can the prevention of harm be balanced with rights to freedom of speech?

The researchers in this panel session have been working together over the last two years to investigate the issues raised by the WEF report. The ‘Digital Wildfire’ project is part of the Research Councils UK Global Uncertainties programme and aims to establish an empirically grounded methodology for the study and advancement of the responsible governance of social media (Webb et al. 2015). In this session we report on some of the key findings from this inter-disciplinary project. This includes: the analysis of social media datasets to assess how digital wildfires emerge and unfold; examination of the interactions between users on social media and practices of ‘self-governance’ through which social media users might manage their own and others’ online behaviours; and the experiences and perspectives of key stakeholders (such as legislators, the police, civil liberties groups, anti-harassment organisations, and educators) on the challenges posed by rapidly spreading provocative content on social media. We draw on these analytic findings to explore potential regulatory tools and mechanisms on social media– in particular focusing on the ways that practices of user self-governance might be encouraged, consolidated and enhanced to limit the damage caused by digital wildfires.

Tuesday July 12, 2016 13:30 - 14:30 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG02 Goldsmiths University, Building 2