Social Protocols

Essays on the design of social protocols for improving public discourse

Featured image of post Deliberative Consensus Protocols

Deliberative Consensus Protocols

Introduction: Scalable Group Decision-Making A deliberative consensus protocol is a process that online groups can use to make decisions. It’s designed to produce good decisions that are fair and manifest the collective intelligence of the group. And it’s designed to work at scale. This is not easy, especially on the Internet, where bad-faith actors can easily create bots and sock-puppets to try to manipulate the results. And even if everyone acts in good faith, collective intelligence does not always scale well.
Featured image of post Understanding Community Notes and Bridging-Based Ranking

Understanding Community Notes and Bridging-Based Ranking


UPDATE: See a discussion of this article on Hacker News.

Bridging-Based Ranking is a way of scoring and ranking content on social platforms that bridges divides. The term “Bridging-Based Ranking” was introduced in this essay by Aviv Ovadya of the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center.

In this essay Ovadya explains how scocial media algorithms today tend to promote polarization and division. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Why can’t ranking algorithms be designed so that they tend to bridge divides instead of widening them? Instead of promoting divisive comment that triggers people’s tribal instincts, couldn’t the algorithms help find and promote areas of common ground?

Featured image of post Multidimensional Community Notes

Multidimensional Community Notes

Introduction In my article on Understanding Community Notes, I describe the basic Matrix Factorization algorithm used to identify notes that are helpful despite user polarization. In this article, I introduce a way to break this algorithm and describe an variation of the algorithm that uses 2-dimensional Matrix factorization. Breaking the Algorithm The algorithm uses Matrix Factorization to find a latent factor that best explains the variation among users’ votes. It assumes that this latent factor corresponds to some sort of polarization within the community.
Featured image of post What Deserves Our Attention?

What Deserves Our Attention?

Every online community has rules that determine how the attention of the community is directed. For example in an online forum, the most up-voted posts may be shown on at the top of the page. This rule concentrates attention on popular content. But this is a terrible rule. It creates perverse incentives for people to share content that people will reflexively upvote based on first impressions. It encourages shallow conversation on lowbrow topics.
Featured image of post The Law of Attention

The Law of Attention

Part of the Game Theory in Social Media series

In this article, I argue that we can apply game theory to explain and control the behaviors that dominate in an online community. Not only can game theory explain why misinformation and abuse are so common in social platforms, it can be used to design social platforms that will be filled with honest, informed, civil, and behavior. Attention Games “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Featured image of post Truthtelling Games

Truthtelling Games

Part of the Game Theory in Social Media series

In this article, I will use game theory to explain why, under certain conditions, otherwise dishonest Internet people will behave with scrupulous honesty, and how social platforms can be intentionally engineered to create these conditions.
Featured image of post Intelligent Social Networks

Intelligent Social Networks

We depend on other people for most of what we know about the world. I can observe for myself that the sun rises in the east, but I have never been to Cleveland; I believe it exists because other people do.
Featured image of post Moderation as Consensus

Moderation as Consensus

In this article I argue that a decentralized community moderation system can be seen as is a kind of consensus protocol, similar to those used to secure blockchains; and that such a protocol can be designed to produce a Nash equilibrium where users reliably enforce a commonly-understood set of community standards of relevance and civility. The Fundamental Moderation Problem Most casual users of social media have no idea of the magnitude of the moderation problem.
Featured image of post The Deliberative Poll

The Deliberative Poll

A deliberative poll measures the informed opinion of a group of people who have participated in a discussion about the topic of the poll. This essay introduces a method for integrating deliberative polling into online discussions in social platforms, in order to discover the informed opinion of a group.

Featured image of post Truth in the Time of Coronavirus

Truth in the Time of Coronavirus

Many of us struggle to separate the information from the misinformation on social media, especially in the past weeks and months as we seek facts regarding COVID-19. The platforms themselves do not help much. It seems increasingly clear that the algorithms used to determine which posts and tweets show up at the top of your feed, having been optimized for engagement, are inadvertently optimized for misinformation. But social media is still useful, because accurate information does spread too.
Featured image of post The Decision Engine and Prediction Markets

The Decision Engine and Prediction Markets

Today I have been thinking about Prediction Markets, and thought I would share some thoughts on how the Decision Engine could be designed to behave very much like a Prediction Market. If you aren’t familiar with prediction markets, check out this explanation from Argon Group. Verifiable Events Prediction markets rely on events that will at some point in the future be objectively and unambiguously verifiable (e.g. who won a game, who was elected president).
Featured image of post Example Decision Engine Process Walkthrough

Example Decision Engine Process Walkthrough

In my last post, I introduced the general idea behind the decision engine. This post walks you through an example of what the decision engine might look like from a user’s point of view, and hopefully give you an idea of how it could result in more intelligent group conversations. You see a screen that says: Consider the following statement: "Romney would make a better President than Obama" Do you:
Featured image of post Introducing the "Decision Engine"

Introducing the "Decision Engine"

My big project right now is something called a “decision engine”. Put simply, a decision engine is: "a conversation-based process for group decision making" At its simplest it is a comments system that facilitates better online discourse, by adding a layer of structure and process designed to unlock the potential of the group to arrive at positive, useful results -- a mechanism for aggregating the collective intelligence of a group. The process helps ensures that the contributions of each individual are fairly considered by other members of the group, so that relevant information and useful arguments are surfaced and discussed.