The University of Michigan launched a new website called Social Integrity, designed to encourage informed, respectful online behavior and foster digital literacy, on Saturday, June 30. Released on National Social Media Day, the website offers tips on how to be a good digital citizen, connects users with resources related to privacy, social media usage and safe online activity.
The site was born from years of brainstorming between U-M Social Media, School of Information faculty and other University professors and administrators [could just replace with “years of cross-campus brainstorming”], U-M Director of Social Media Nikki Sunstrum wrote in an email interview with The Daily. A partnership between Social Media and the School of Information’s Center for Social Media Responsibility, which opened earlier this year and works with social media platforms to encourage public responsibility, enabled the idea to come to fruition.
CSMR Executive Director Garlin Gilchrist II said the initiative is meant to help social media users have a safe and productive online experience. In addition, Gilchrist said he hopes to spark conversation about social media companies’ responsibilities to their users and their role in protecting information.
“It’s important for us to always be willing to take a step back, to understand how people as individuals exist in this information ecosystem, in this social media landscape, how we are representing ourselves, what we are bringing to the table and contributing to the conversation and experiences online,” Gilchrist said. “At the same time, it’s also important to take a step back and think about why social media works the way it does.”
The site contains facts and online resources to teach visitors about the propagation of fake news. It’s also designed to help users protect personal data, recognize online harassment and report inappropriate behavior. Gilchrist said the site will continue to evolve, and website developers will spearhead strategic promotions as new content goes up online. One of CSMR’s goals for the site is to present information on how to hold private social media companies responsible for issues related to user experience and safety.
“We’re thinking really broadly around what can we do to help and encourage social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, YouTube, of the world to meet their responsibilities to us as users or to the public at large,” Gilchrist said. “We are working on, and working with our research faculty, to put together those resources and we’re going to start rolling more of those out later this summer.”
According to UMSI Associate Professor Clifford Lampey, who began outlining ideas for the site with Sunstrum last summer, one major goal of the site is to promote social media usage among academics. Lampey said researchers are often hesitant to share their work on social platforms, especially since they may fear online attacks, but social media is a powerful tool for sharing new information.
“I hope that academics will look at it and think about what can they do to be more productive and more public-facing in social media,” Lampey said. “A lot of us have had great experiences with social media and it’s a great way to reach people directly with our research without having to worry about intermediaries in science reporting.”
Lampey added the site provides some resources related to safe, constructive online discussion, so he hopes it will help faculty facilitate discussion about their work.
“We think it’s the responsibility of University members to try to get people to have a conversation and to hear different viewpoints as opposed to performing rage,” Lampey said. “We think this is essential to the fundamental goal of the University, which is to create and disseminate knowledge.”
Still, Sunstrum explained the site targets a number of different audiences, including but not limited to academics.
“The Social Integrity site includes tools to help users understand their digital footprint, protect
themselves online and cultivate civil social media communities,” Sunstrum wrote. “Among the resources is an interactive game to teach children to be safe explorers of the online world, a glossary of social media vernacular to help parents communicate with their kids, best practice guides to inform faculty on how to engage publicly to share their research and tools for all users to better protect their identity and information.”
The developers of the site intended to promote widespread smart digital citizenship because, Gilchrist said, social media usage isn’t limited to one demographic.
“If you think about who are the users of social media, that spreads across the breadth of humanity,” Gilchrist said. “It spreads across income, it spreads across wealth, it spreads across race, it spreads across geography, it spreads across education level, so we really need to have resources that are usable by different people who come from different life experiences because that’s what social media is.”
Sunstrum said ultimately, the goal of Social Integrity is to put the University’s brainpower to use, enabling social media users to navigate a rapidly developing online landscape.
“As educators and communicators, we have the access and ability to create and provide tools to empower social media users to better understand the potential impact of what they post online and the value in fostering civility in online spaces,” Sunstrum wrote. “Social media is an amazing tool, but like all resources, it is up to the consumers to take responsibility for how that tool is utilized and the impact it makes.”