The Mansbridge Summit’s panel discussion on Friday, Nov. 20 focused on misinformation and accountability within the use of social media. The Mansbridge Summit provides students the opportunity to ask questions, connect with, and learn from their peers and visiting panelists. Students were immersed in discussions with one another and the panelists to speak to the panels theme, ways in which “social media can mobilize revolutionary ideas.”
The panel was the main event of the summit. Throughout the day students created questions designed for the panel.
“Because we had the chance to speak with the panelists during the summit, and raise a lot of our questions and concerns to them, we knew where their expertise intersected with student concerns and interests,” said Morgan McGinn, fourth-year international relations student. “I think that because we created the discussion questions in the summit that the panel spoke to what students were interested in.”
Mount Allison University Chan-cellor Peter Mansbridge was able to attend the summit this year, but was unable to moderate the panel. Xavier Gould, fourth-year drama studies student, stepped in to moderate.
In his opening address, Mansbridge remarked upon his work in Paris last week, as well as the role of social media.
Mansbridge visited a Paris café which had been attacked. “Next door to one of the cafés hit was a butcher shop and bakery shop […] while this place had been shot up, the clock had stopped at exactly the time the shootings began,” said Mansbridge. He said he viewed this as a symbol of the aftermath of the attacks. “Everything stopped; people are unsure of how to get back to normalcy.”
On a related note, Mansbridge also said that the misinformation surrounding the refugee crisis may indicate deeper struggles encompassing social media.
The panel conversation ranged from the way social media is used to the ways in which it can be misused.
Mike MacMillan, who represented one half of the Research2Reality team, said that the most impressive aspect of social media is the speed at which we can receive information through it. “We live on these sites and use these things for communication tools,” said MacMillan.
Research2Reality is an initiative which attempts to highlight Canadian scientific research through online videos.
Molly Shoichet, the other half of Research2Reality, said the challenge we face with this speed of information is that people have the perception that they are informed when in reality they may not be.
Shoichet also said finding credibility in information can be a challenge due to information from friends and what she described as “celebrity science.” “I would like people to have some information before they make a conclusion,” said Shoichet. She used the example of the problems of misinformation in the anti-vaccination movement to emphasize how misinformation on social media can be spread and believed with relatively few actual scientific facts.
Kevin Chang, head of policy for Canadian Facebook, argued that social media is actually a way people can stay more engaged. “[Social media] gives people a way to be more connected to the world,” said Chang. “Individuals have a responsibility to be informed about things.”
Steve Ladurantaye, head of Canadian news and governmental partnerships for Twitter, said that social media can connect people that are in some way considered “underground.”
Ladurantaye spoke about a schizophrenic woman who called the newspaper he had previously worked at every day she was healthy enough to not be institutionalized. Ladurantaye said that her perspective allowed his paper to investigate stories of which they may not otherwise have been made aware.
Chang also gave examples of how people in different communities can connect through social media in a way they had not been able to before. He said First Nations were buying and selling goods through Facebook due to the remoteness of their area.
Chang also gave the example of LGBTQ communities and said that Facebook was one of the few sites on which people tended to feel comfortable coming out.
The question which seemed to create the most debate and robust conversation was whether social media sites are a neutral platform or an active player.
Rhonda McEwen, assistant professor of communications, culture, information and technology at the iSchool at the University of Toronto, said neutrality doesn’t always come from these social media platforms. McEwen brought up Facebook’s profile pictures after the Paris attacks and how only the French flag was available to add to one’s profile as a filter. “The decision to not put up Beirut [… or] Nigeria [… or] Russia – there are so many other cases we are seeing atrocities – that we were seeing horrible things happen to people, yet a decision was clearly made for one particular country, and I think that sends a message.”