Paul Tembo, Olivia Graham, Yong Dich, Katherine Lou
As preparation for this Q&A session with Jonathan Zittrain, we were all asked to watch his talk: Between Suffocation and Abdication: Three Eras of Governing Digital Platforms. Thus, in our activation, we decided to focus on what internet governance may look like in this new ‘process’ era. How are we to balance individual rights with public health concerns? Or, more broadly, what are platforms to do when disinformation circulates?
Ultimately, our goal was to get a discussion going that was approachable and relevant to Professor Zittrain’s lecture, as well as the current disinfo climate. We felt that, occasionally, discussions about these problems can feel detached from reality. For this reason, we wanted to put participants in the hot seat – faced with a crisis (disinformation circulating on a platform) they would need to decide what an appropriate response might be. The format bore resemblance to a Model UN style discussion, but with a few twists thrown in! The twists were: 1) providing policy recommendations in the form of a haiku and 2) adding in some short term perspective via urgency at the end of the discussion. However, the goal of the activity remained quite simple: for participants to provide policy recommendations for how to deal with identified disinfo on social media platforms.
We hoped that the format would allow for a less intimidating yet still stimulating and focused environment to discuss how to tackle disinformation from the perspective of government or from that of a technology company.
Recipe for activation
- [Optional warm-up activity] Use pollev.com or similar to create a word cloud to get people thinking about the topic (Fig 1 under Post Activation Outputs). We started with this to focus on topics we want to explore because the preceding seminar discussed many topics in Q&A. This may not be necessary if the participants are already discussing the subject. (5 min)
- Have one facilitator play the role of a convener (Dack Jorsey, in our example, Fig 2 in Post Activation Outputs) and greet the participants in character. Explain the situation, the roles the participants are embodying, and the “technical glitch” that requires outputs to be in haiku format. (2 min)
- Have one facilitator out-of-character answer questions and send more detailed written instructions to participants.
- Send participants into breakout rooms. Make sure to give enough warning before closing the rooms. (10-15 min)
- Give around a 5 minute warning to post haiku’s or whichever expression you chose (i.e. freeform poem with 140 character limit) in a shared doc or dedicated slack channel (Fig 3 in Post Activation outputs section)
- In character as the convener, ask participants to share out their haikus and discuss them more broadly (15-20 min)
- As participants are sharing out haikus, have one facilitator call the convener and interrupt the participants. In this phone call more information (previously unknown) is shared that affects the solutions participants created. In our activity, we had participants come up with long-term solutions in breakout sessions, but then added information that required short-term solutions.
- Continue to share out haikus, however, also discuss whether or not the haikus still apply given this new piece of information. In our activity, we asked participants if their solution will still work or be adaptable in the short-term.
- Wrap-up/debrief the discussion! Share word cloud from the poll if appropriate (5 min)
The activation was engaging overall and starting with a word cloud was a nice, low effort warm up. However, we could have done more with connecting the word cloud with the haiku policy recommendation activity because there wasn’t a smooth transition that related the activities.
We adapted the activation based on attendance as well. We had half of the breakout rooms take on one role (i.e. govt) and the others take on another (i.e. tech company). We kept the breakout rooms short so that we could have a bigger group discussion, though it probably would have been helpful for everyone to share their thoughts in an organized document before creating haiku’s. The scenario based activation around a real news story of Hunter Biden emails mixed with a ‘fake’ tech company (like Tweeter ran by Dack Jorsey) definitely injected some fun, though it would have been interesting to have allocated more time for the twist we had at the end to induce urgency. The haiku’s generated were awesome and kept in line with the theme of tweet limits. We loved seeing the serious conversations that came from processing thoughts via haiku’s since we didn’t know what to expect from that deliverable. Another idea is to also allow a free form poem with a 140 character limit (or another number of your choosing) instead of just a haiku.
Adaptations & recommendations
- For the haikus, it would probably be great if we had people enter them in a communal google doc for permanency instead of in the slack channel.
- Connect the word cloud warm up with the haiku recommendations (for example, people have to use one of the words from the word cloud as part of their haiku recommendations).
- Having people share something solid they built together (haiku) and then explain what they built is always creativity inducing and interesting.
- Overall, the different elements the group brainstormed were there, but making sure there is an overall theme / tells a smoother story could make an even more coherent / fantastic activation.
- Think about how people can represent their thoughts in an abstract way!
Fig 1. Word cloud of one word people think of when describing a disinformation solution
Fig 2. Slack facilitation of the activation
(putting down questions to consider, posting the end products in the #activation channel)