Why EUNOMIA builds on Mastodon; what is a decentralised social network

July 31st, 2020 by

EUNOMIA is being built on top of Mastodon. Mastodon has some unique qualities that make it a great foundation for research projects and businesses. It is a social network where people can post text messages, images, videos, polls, subscribe to each other to receive those posts in their chronological home feeds, and otherwise interact with each other through replies, favourites, and re-shares of each others’ posts.

But unlike traditional social networks, Mastodon is decentralised. It’s a collection of websites that almost seamlessly integrate with each other. A person who signed up on one of those websites is able to subscribe to and interact with someone who signed up on a totally different website, and there is no one who controls all of them: Each is controlled by a different entity, be it an individual or an organization (let’s call them servers instead of websites from here on). There is no central authority that owns all data or tells people how to use the network or how it should be financed; every participant has full agency over their own participation.

What’s more, Mastodon is free, open-source software. That means that anyone can download its code, inspect it, or modify it to their needs, and more importantly, anyone can run it to create their own place in the network. Because the integration between Mastodon servers is covered by a standard protocol approved by the World Wide Web Consortium, nobody is locked down to always using Mastodon code — anything that implements that same protocol will integrate just as easily. Furthermore, Mastodon puts a lot of weight behind its API (application programming interface). Everything that Mastodon’s default user interface can do, is done through its API, an API fully available to app developers. Developing alternative user interfaces is not only possible, but encouraged.

So, why is Mastodon great for EUNOMIA? A seamless integration of EUNOMIA’s user interface within Mastodon demonstrates these benefits: EUNOMIA has first-class access to a well-documented API that does not lock away any features and will never be paywalled. What’s more, with our own Mastodon server, we have the perfect testing environment of a fully-featured modern social network entirely under our own control.

It’s not me, it’s you: The Third Person Effect

July 16th, 2020 by

A well-documented phenomenon in communication science is the fact that individuals seem to think that others are more susceptible to media effects than themselves. We tend to assume that commercials, misinformation, or other manipulation by and via the media affect ‘the others’ more than ourselves. This is called the Third Person Effect (Davison, 1983).

Because of this, individuals also tend to overestimate the influence of the media on the attitudes and behaviour of others, and underestimate the influence on themselves. Both of these facts can be harmful: when individuals underestimate the influence of misinformation on their own attitudes and behaviour, they may become more susceptible to it. And when they overestimate the effects on others, this might lead them to take action based on their expectation of other people’s reaction to it.

Expertise plays also a relevant role in this process, especially an individual’s own (perceived) expertise as compared to others’:

“In a sense, we are all experts on those subjects that matter to us, in that we have information not available to others people. This information may not be of factual or technical nature; it may have to do with our own experiences, likes, and dislikes. Other people, we reason, do not know what we know. Therefore, they are more likely to be influenced by the media.” (Davison, 1983, p. 9)

Another relevant factor are in-group and out-group effects. Researchers have observed differences between in-group and out-group members (Jang & Kim, 2018), depending on the idea of ‘the others’, e.g. as an individual, an average person, ‘people just like me’ etc. (Conners, 2005). Jang & Kim (2018) also reported a positive relationship between media literacy and third-person perception, stating that media literacy education could minimize the potential harm of false information. The third-person effect is also related to self-enhancing tendencies such as the belief that one has a greater ability to learn from an experience than others, which seem to be cross-cultural (Johansson, 2005).

In the context of misinformation, this is an important issue: if people do not think they are influenced by false information (as opposed to others), “they may develop the false impression that information shared among them, regardless of their actual accuracy, is perceived true.” (Jang & Kim, 2018, S. 299) Previous results from EUNOMIA co-design research showed that misinformation was claimed to be dangerous because it might have great power over the population and influence their acts and/or decisions.

Sources

Conners, J. L. (2005). Understanding the Third-Person Effect. Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture (CSCC).

Davison, W. P. (1983). The Third-Person Effect in Communication. The Public Opinion Quarterly, 47(1), 1-15.

Jang, S., & Kim, J. (2018). Third person effects of fake news: Fake news regulation and media literacy interventions. Computers in Human Behavior, 80, 295-302.

Johansson, B. (2005). The Third-Person Effect. Only a Media Perception? Nordicom Review, 26(1), 81-94.