Evidence-led and principled approach to urgent policy development
Even in the absence of specific evidence as to the effectiveness of different interventions, there are areas in which action is urgently needed. In those cases, there are key principles that can be followed to reduce the risk of implementing solutions that do more harm than good. As a primary principle, we can take an evidence-informed, hierarchical approach to exploring and understanding problems, and investigating and analysing solutions, policies and practices to overcome them. This involves identifying underlying drivers of the problem, and those interventions which are most likely to have the greatest impact.
We set these principles out in more detail in the section on solutions above, but the key point is that we need to focus on tackling the structural drivers that underlie all the more specific problems outlined above - such as online abuse, the spread of disinformation, radicalisation and polarisation, political interference and manipulation or distraction. Solutions should then be designed to intervene at that structural level addressing and rebalancing power through, for example, governance structures, regulation to restore transparency, accountability and fair competition and genuinely participatory and representative multi-stakeholder processes.
None of this is to say that design solutions and platform affordances are not important. As the research shows, they will be essential. But without some rebalancing of power, without increasing the diversity of people involved in decision-making at the highest levels, those design solutions run the risk of replicating very similar problems to those we now face.