In a time of an epidemic of fake news and the questioning of social media, Amanda Germanio and Julia Jäckle, two students working toward a Master in Development Studies at the Graduate Institute, developed, in collaboration with Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS), an Applied Research Seminar (ARS) Capstone project on the regulation of social media in democracies.
The ARS Capstones, part of the interdisciplinary Master’s curriculum, allow Graduate Institute students to conduct real world research in conjunction with the Institute’s partner organisations and under academic supervision. The ARS Capstones give students the possibility to work on concrete subjects and familiarise themselves with the realities of the professional world all while expanding their conceptual knowledge and analytical capacities.
Julia Jäckle and Amanda Germanio explained that “social media presented itself as a democratic tool during the Arab Spring yet its image completely degraded after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This was the reason the Géopolitis team asked us to analyse the impact of social media on democracies, and whether it was necessary to regulate them or not”.
“We began with the idea that social media constituted a business model, with the objective of assembling user data but with a capitalistic logic,” they added. “Since, in democracies, social media plays an agora-like role, the communication culture and the debate and the way to inform oneself subjects the people themselves to this capitalist logic. We then concluded that to promote equality and protect democracy, a regulatory system—simultaneously surveilled by different actors—was necessary.”
The research done by Ms Jäckle and Ms Germanio won first prize under the Power, Conflict and Development track of the ARS Capstone project, placed under the direction of Professor Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou. About the project, Professor Mohamedou said that the students’ work was “remarkable, for its rigour and equally for its pertinence. The students went above and beyond the well-known aspects of issues raised more frequently by social media in democracies (surveillance, interference, control, etc.) to confront, in an innovative way, ethical questions and the inequalities that social media’s own economic model produces and encourages.”
Julia Jäckle was invited by Marcel Mione to be a guest on his show, Geopolitis, which aired 20 January 2019 and covered the theme of fake news.