Ethical design is the answer to some of social media’s problems

Many of the challenges faced by social media companies come down to failures of design. shutterstock.com

Ethical design is the answer to some of social media’s problems

Facebook last week announced a redesign of its news feed to prioritise posts from friends and family over those of news publishers.

While struggling news organisations are likely to take a hit on their social traffic, the move suggests that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been paying attention to criticisms around issues such as fake news and adverse mental health outcomes.

In many cases, the biggest shortcomings of these technologies are failures of design.

There is often a disconnect between what digital designers originally intend with a product or feature, and how consumers use or interpret it.

Ethical user experience design – meaning, for example, designing technologies in ways that promote good online behaviour and intuit how they might be used – may help bridge that gap.


Read more: Explainer: what is experience design?


A case study: the Twitter tick

The furor over Twitter’s blue verification tick is a good example of the disconnect between business intent and user interpretation.

The Twitter community has taken the tick to signify an endorsement of a Twitter user and their tweets, or a VIP status symbol indicating power and recognition.

Meanwhile, the company says the tick is intended to authenticate and protect the voices of high-profile users who are vulnerable to identity theft by imposters.

The confusion has caused outrage among Twitter users who accuse Twitter of endorsing white supremacists who spread hate speech on the platform.

The popular meaning of this function has developed over time within the Twitter community through collective action and opinion, and it speaks louder than formal explanation released by Twitter.