The UK parliament to everyone online: slow down

The case for chiller social media interactions.
The case for chiller social media interactions.
Image: Reuters/Juan Medina
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A UK parliamentary committee published a report Monday (Feb. 18), bashing Facebook for everything from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the spread of misinformation on the platform. It’s absolutely scathing: the members of parliament call the platform a “digital gangster,” accuse its executives of lying, and the company of undermining democracy. 

They also offer a number of solutions to the pernicious effects of social media, many through government regulation. They call for UK government agencies to have a more robust and unified approach to promoting digital literacy as an antidote against misinformation online. And one of the ideas is relatively simple: slow everything down.

We recommend that participating in social media should allow more pause for thought. More obstacles or ‘friction’ should be both incorporated into social media platforms and into users’ own activities—to give people time to consider what they are writing and sharing. Techniques for slowing down interaction online should be taught, so that people themselves question both what they write and what they read—and that they pause and think further, before they make a judgement online.

Media literacy educators support the notion of “slowing down” our interactions with the online world, starting at a young age. A “digital citizenship” curriculum designed by the advocacy group Common Sense Media and recently updated, outlines how to teach children this particular approach to using the internet:

  • “Notice your gut reaction”
  • “Push beyond your first impression”
  • “Recognize that situations can be complex”
  • “Routinely take stock of your habits”
  • “Pay attention to ‘red flag feelings'” (defined as “when something happens on digital media that makes you feel uncomfortable, worried, sad, or anxious.”)

A group of digital literacy educators and experts came to a similar conclusion during a Twitter chat in September, underlining this applies to adults as well:

And Justin Kosslyn, the head of product management at Jigsaw, Alphabet’s technology incubator, wrote an op-ed for Motherboard in November suggesting this kind of thinking should extend to the companies as well. “It is time to abandon our groupthink bias against friction as a design principle,” he wrote.

For example, he said that only really timely information requires a push notification to someone’s phone. “Only urgent content should be fast.”

Reducing obstacles and increasing speeds online has made the internet more efficient for everyone, including bad actors, he argues. “Friction buys time, and time reduces systemic risk.”

If information comes at a slower pace, those consuming it will have more time to process it, versus making a snap judgement.

Users have started to introduce friction on their own, largely to break from what they see as an addiction, but also to avoid information overload. People who feel like they spend too much time on their phone or specific social media apps will turn their screens to grayscale, set time limits on apps, or take apps like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter off their phones altogether.