Online platforms as key players in political debate: power without responsibility?

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Online platforms as key players in political debate: power without responsibility?
Presenter(s) Katarzyna Szymielewicz
Title(s)
Organization(s) Panoptykon Foundation, European Digital Rights
Project(s) on-going advocacy for digital rights; fighting abusive surveillance in Poland and beyond
Country(ies) Poland, EU
Social media https://twitter.com/szymielewicz
2017 theme Internet Freedom: Present and Future

Democracy cannot function without open, pluralistic public debate. This is why media is often labeled "the fourth power" in democratic regimes - the broader their reach, the higher their influence on people's political believes and potential impact on elections. In XX century political analysts and legal regulators focused on TV as "the medium". For the sake of their power, public TV stations have been heavily regulated and surrounded by more or less politicized institutions (supervisory boards, ethical councils etc.). Now everybody - from politicians to media experts - seem to have realized that it is no longer TV but on-line platforms, such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, that matter. Regulators have also spotted their importance, but so far focused on data protection challenges, fair terms of providing on-line services and liability for illegal content (such as "notice and take-down" mechanisms).

While key legal questions and many practical problems in these areas of regulation are still far from being solved (let's take for example the right to be forgotten), we have to face another - probably the most important - battlefield involving the cyber-corporations, which is their potential for influencing political debate and public policies.

We no longer need to discuss whether they can influence political processes in democratic states and worldwide, as this has been proven in various contexts - from Middle East (catalyst for political dissent, but also a powerful tool for controlling the opposition) and Russia (tool of propaganda and control) to UK and US (misinformation and mobilization). On one hand we experience various forms of censorship (due to arbitrary terms of service and non-transparent, internal enforcement mechanisms), on the other - increasingly sophisticated mechanisms of profiling and filtering content, which lead to closing users in information bubbles and enable political manipulation. Once we understand that, the key question follows: how we can respond to such practices? How can we ensure more transparency and pluralism, without giving politicians even more control over the new media? Is legal regulation enough? Most certainly not! But other answers and tactics are far from obvious.

Let's talk! After my introduction, I will propose an open conversation. I am sure that together we can find the less obvious answers and come up with some interesting strategies. So come and share your ideas!

Format (open) Conversation
Target Groups activists, researchers and everybody interested in understanding the role of on-line platforms in political processes
Length 1 hour
Skill Level Intermediate
Language English


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