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The Future of Social Networks and Artificial Intelligence

  • Milano
  • 6 February 2024

        Twenty years after the birth of the digital platform Facebook – the first to connect 4 billion users globally – the social media sector is focused on a new challenge: the future implications of artificial intelligence and AI’s broad impact on personal devices. If efforts to promote the reception of digital content on mobile devices started back in 2010, the newest and growing trend is the use of wearable devices.

        AI is playing a crucial role in this, transforming the very concept of social media; indeed, navigating with wearable devices constitutes a new chapter in the history of connectivity. These objects are not merely content access tools, but become veritable personal assistants capable of predicting and satisfying user needs in increasingly sophisticated ways.

        The paradigm shift is even greater if we consider AI’s evolution from simple support to protagonist in the context of content generation. The question is no longer one of solely responding to user requests but of predicting them based on data regarding behavior and habits. Thus, the main issue is how to make sure this technological evolution stays centered on people and their role in the process. In the past, social media users tended to adapt to the innovations introduced by platforms; thus, the capacity for vision of major tech companies lay in innovative offerings designed in response to users’ perceived sensibilities, employing the Care About Users (CAU) approach for example. The anthropocentric approach has now come face to face with a new reality in which machines not only respond to human needs but actively shape them.

        The social responsibility of digital platforms therefore becomes an issue, since they are not only vehicles for information but outright influencers of social dynamics. Hence the undeniable need for transparency and regulation so as to ensure the ethical and responsible use of AI in the media.

        Moreover, as the social impact of new technologies is by no means secondary, major sector firms are recognizing the need for open discussion on policy, privacy and transparency. This assumes particular importance in a decisive year for global democracy when 51% of the world population will be summoned to the polls. The “digital square” offered by the social media will be open terrain for heated debate involving politicians and ideologues – a circumstance that, in addition to further questioning the value incarnated in political parties, will reinforce concerns about information-overload and the spread of falsehoods. 

        The ethical questions that inevitably come to the fore cannot be ignored. The media’s growing embrace of AI raises questions about the transparency of algorithms and platforms’ responsibility for shaping public opinion. There is no doubt that AI has gone from playing a supporting role in the business of big tech to the more pivotal generation of novel content. Automated content generation can have a significant influence on users’ perception of reality, to the point of creating “filter bubbles” and disseminating fake news, with the consequent need for fact-checkers. All of which constitutes the basic underlying challenge of how to balance technological innovation against the need to maintain the integrity and veracity of online information?

        The achievement of that goal must trigger open and inclusive dialogue that includes the civil society, the media, sector experts and many other actors. The contribution of a wide range of viewpoints can contribute to shaping a more balanced public opinion and to ensuring that decisions made are a reflection of the collective wellbeing. Addressing the complex challenges represented by AI in the media calls for a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach focused on promoting a future in which technology and society coexist in harmony. 


        The transformative impact of new technologies applied to the social network also requires national and supranational regulation; indeed, leading private sector companies have been urging legislators to act in this regard for some years now. Europe has responded to the challenge with a series of virtuous provisions: from the well-entrenched GDPR on privacy to the Digital Service Act regulating electronic commerce to the AI Act recently passed by the European Parliament. 

        The convergence of public and private sectors in this undertaking becomes pivotal to defining the guidelines and standards that govern the impact of AI on society. As technology rapidly advances, consideration of its social consequences becomes key to shaping a future in which digital innovation is placed at the service of the community, respecting the fundamental values of fairness, transparency and privacy. 

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