Section 4: Outlook and Call to Action
Multistakeholder dialogue identifies need for future action
Since the inception of the Shaping the Future Implications of Digital Media for Society project at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in 2015, the MEI industry team has brought together experts from the private and public sectors in a series of sessions to explore the ways in which digital media has disrupted online consumer patterns and is affecting human behaviour and society. The sessions helped to highlight the intended and unintended consequences of increased digital media use. They also helped to identify several actions for stakeholders to mitigate the negative, and further exploit the positive, impacts of digital media use:
“The Analogue Hearts and Digital Minds: The Impact of Digital Media on Human Behaviour” project workshop at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in April 2015 focused on identifying the consumption patterns of the contemporary Asian digital media consumer and the social implications of excessive digital media use, including change of behaviour, habits and human psychology. Early education of children by parents was identified as a main driver of responsible digital media use. Participants also discussed the many benefits of greater connectivity across the region, including better access to information, economic opportunity and financial inclusion.
“Technology is needed that not only serves individual users but also addresses the rise of societal issues such as social isolation, cyberbullying, addiction and other recent developments.”
World Economic Forum on East Asia, Jakarta, Indonesia April 2015
To better analyse the implications of increasing digital media use, the MEI industry Strategy Officers met with special guests as well as the Global Agenda Councils on the Future of Media, Entertainment & Information and on Social Media, in a project workshop during the MEI Industry Spring Strategy Meeting in May 2015. They explored the drivers behind and impact of changing media consumption habits. Among the main points of discussion were: a growing need for engaging digital content to enable participation from users, the link between higher digital connection and lower empathy levels, and the potential loss of human connection in spending excessive time online.
“Regarding the human implications of increased use of digital media and increased personalization, the challenge for both industry and the public sector will be to make sure that such trends do not ultimately disrupt healthy societal dynamics.”
MEI Industry Spring Strategy Meeting, New York, USA May 2015
At the Digital Changes in Society session during the Forum’s Young Global Leaders’ Summit in August 2015, participants discussed how the changing digital technology landscape is having an impact on the workplace, as well as other aspects of society. Participants discussed the opportunities provided by digital technology and platforms to better match labour supply and demand and increase productivity, as well as the opportunities for individuals to increase work flexibility and work-life balance.
Participants in the project workshop at the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders’ Summit, August 2015
“Improving work-life balance is the No 1 reason for people to work remotely. While only 20% of work in the USA is done remotely today, this number could be increased to 50%.”
Young Global Leaders’ Summit, Geneva, Switzerland August 2015
At the session on China’s New Media Society at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China, in September 2015, the need for multistakeholder collaboration on issues such as data privacy was deemed imperative to ensure the safety of the digital media consumer. Discussions also focused on the promise of digital media for cross-cultural communication, cultural diversity and transparency.
Panellists during the project workshop at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China September 2015
“The explosion of content, its accessibility and the multifaceted views that the internet exposes individuals to, has made the typical content consumer cautious about the source of information, the validity of the information and the authoritative power of the source. This reality has put a strain on trust in the content ecosystem.”
Annual Meeting of the New Champions, Dalian, China September 2015
Through this ongoing dialogue between the MEI industry partners and engaged stakeholders such as NGOs, academia and civil society, ideas have been collected to address some concerns and to promote the benefits of increased digital media use. In addition, this dialogue has pointed the way towards future research and discussion needed to create maximum value for the MEI industry, digital media users, and society overall.
The power of multistakeholder collaboration – a call to action
The research presented suggests that action from all sectors of society can help to ensure that humans make the most of increasing use of digital media while mitigating the related risks:
The public and private sectors should partner together to drive action on the impacts of digital media hyperconnectivity noted in this report. The Forum can facilitate this public-private collaboration. Both regulators and industry can engage with academia and NGOs to incorporate research findings and initiatives in designing and creating new socially responsible MEI industry offerings and updating current public policies.
Multistakeholder collaboration will be critical to moving forward in several key areas:
- Creating and building on standards that improve and redefine the digital user experience.
- Building on existing standards and regulations for personal data privacy and security by supporting initiatives that help companies, the public sector and consumers to better understand how data can be collected and used to create social, economic and personal outcomes in ways that protect privacy, e.g., Facebook’s Data Drive Economy Roundtable series.142
- Establishing and reinforcing governance on making digital media an instrument for freedom of speech and expression, while simultaneously preventing hateful, harmful speech or propaganda.
- Establishing and reinforcing governance around content to prevent cybercrime and safeguard citizens, especially minors.
- Educating children about digital citizenship, including internet safety and ethical codes of conduct for using digital media and technology.
- Recognizing the implications of work fragmentation for social safety nets, and creating more flexible regulatory frameworks that accommodate a diversity of company-worker relationships.
- Providing equal and facilitated access to digital media for all citizens.
The public sector
Public institutions can help to update standards and regulations, as well as promote and enforce them, based on scientific evidence in order to enable the beneficial use of digital media and prevent the negative effects. This should be done maintaining a flexible and innovation-friendly framework.
The public sector can also facilitate the creation of more social institutions and programmes, such as education and awareness campaigns, designed to support both citizens and the private sector to address or foster the influences mentioned in this report. The European Commission’s DG Connect group has a directorate dedicated to digital society, trust and security, for example. Governmental bodies should set up similar resources for their countries or regions. However, any model of guidance and support should be flexible, and be able to develop quickly in step with changes in the marketplace and user behaviour.
The private sector/MEI industry
The private sector, principally industry, should consider the implications on individuals when designing platforms and services or creating content. Industry best practices and self-regulation are the optimal way to create innovative solutions in a fast-evolving environment. Examples of possible actions: restricting minors’ access to harmful content, enabling free expression and participation, accepting feedback and starting discourse with users.
In addition, the private sector can step up efforts to build trust with consumers by, among other ways, being more transparent about how personal data are used and showing a corporate ethos of accountability and social responsibility. One effective measure is to sponsor public and non-profit organizations that help to promote beneficial use of digital media. The CEO Coalition is an example of an initiative where private action is facilitated by a public body.143Company signatories to the Coalition, a cooperative voluntary intervention designed to respond to challenges of young Europeans going online, has committed to actions, including age-appropriate privacy settings, wider use of content classification and better availability and use of parental controls. Industry could also support NGOs and social enterprises, such as iZ HERO Lab, a social enterprise based in South Korea and Singapore, dedicated to educating children and parents on responsible digital media usage.
From an employer’s perspective, organizations should develop strategies to integrate digital media into workflows and should act proactively on the opportunities and pitfalls their businesses and employees encounter because of increased connectivity.
The forward-thinking employer
Digital media now touches almost every aspect of a typical organization, from how talent is sourced and deployed, to how, where and when work gets done, and how the business connects with employees and customers. Given these fundamental changes, employers are recommended to:
- Use digital media (including talent platforms) to more accurately and flexibly match an individual’s skills to a specific business need, rather than think solely in terms of traditional jobs. This will create a more flexible, collaborative and productive environment for better business results.
- Take a more nuanced approach to how work should be conducted. Recognize when collaboration and personal interaction are needed, versus when it may be optimal for work to be performed independently and remotely.
- Use social media tools to build communication and engagement within the organization.
- Source and build digital skills and develop digital leadership.
- Encourage employees not only to turn on, but also to turn off. Employers that expect employees to be accessible through digital media 24/7 run the risk of decreased productivity and burnout.
Individuals and civil society
Finally, individuals are encouraged to build digital literacy and skills and to use digital media responsibly. That means making use of digital media’s many benefits and avoiding the harmful aspects – protecting both oneself and others, especially those unable to protect themselves.
In addition, individuals can get involved with civic organizations and NGOs to help make a difference on digital media issues. Thousands of NGOs and associations promote the helpful use of digital media and the prevention of its negative effects. Their objectives range from developing digital skills and caring for people who have had negative online experiences, to enabling flexible work arrangements and supporting civic participation and community building.
The responsible individual and parent
Much can, and should, be done collaboratively across stakeholders to increase the positive impacts of digital media use. It is also imperative that individuals use digital media responsibly. Based on this report’s research, individuals are recommended to:
- Protect their digital identities by being careful about what they share online and by being aware of the terms and conditions of platforms and applications.
- Ensure sufficient time offline for human connection, healthy physical activity and the necessary “downtime”, in order to prevent information overload and stress.
- Prepare for the coming “gig economy”, taking greater care in managing professional lives, reputations and professional development.
- Make use of the abundant opportunities to learn and develop, maintain beneficial relationships, make life entertaining and meaningful, care for others, and contribute to societal welfare.
Because digital media use poses special risks to children, parents must not only educate their children but also manage their digital media use. Research findings suggest the following guidelines for parents:
- Monitor children’s digital media engagement and ensure they get: adequate physical activity, lots of face-to-face communication, uninterrupted time for academic work, downtime for free thinking, and even some alone time for self-reflection. This is crucial for cognitive, emotional and social development.
- Install content filters, parental controls and usage restriction software on devices used by children in order to mitigate overuse and protect them from harmful online content. Avoid digital media in children’s sleep environments.
- Consider fewer top-down restrictions on use (which children will evade) and focus more on education, guidance and communication about managing online risks and building digital literacy.