Attempts to censor alleged “fake news” on the Internet will backfire massively. The main stream media and main stream politicians should rather make a better effort to convince people. The internet is open to them too.
One of the promises of the internet has been that it will bring about better democracy (here and here, for example). Even before the web was invented, Vannevar Bush, the creator of the hypertext concept and the Memex machine expected that science and information will lead to a better society (source).
Since 1990s, when those ideas started to materialize, everybody saw that the internet was vastly increasing the access to information and the ease of connecting people.
The conventional wisdom has been that better informed citizens would be making better political decisions and that the more connected people will also be forging a more tightly connected society. This would both lead to e- (for electronic) or i- (for internet) democracy.
The peak of eDemocracy
In retrospect, it would appear that the peak eDemocracy optimism was reached in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama as the president of the United States.
His was one of the first campaigns where the internet played a major – some would say decisive – role. Facebooks’ revolutions, Ukrainan and Arab Springs, reinforced the hope in the positive change that information technology can bring to the world.
Social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter were the heroes of the day. Revolutions were won on Twitter and dictators toppled on Facebook.
And then Brexit and Trump won. No longer are the social media the heroes of the day. On the contrary. The internet is now blamed for results that were not what the main stream media and the intelligentsia recommended.
There is an old saying that goes, “On the internet no one knows you are a dog”. On Facebook no one knows your news company has a skyscraper on Manhattan or offices on Fleet Street.
You could be a teenager in Macedonia or an independent writing for Breitbart News or an anonymous blogger. The internet would carry your messages in exactly the same way as if you were a “proper” media.
Social Networks would disseminate news based on enthusiasm of readers’ recommendations, not based on pedigree.
Brexit and Trump
For the first time people’s opinions were largely shaped by their peers not by professional opinion makers and thought leaders. We, the people, were the gatekeepers, not the main stream media.
Greener’s Law – don’t argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel – was proven wrong. It is a version of a saying “you don’t argue with children or the journalists”. The first would in the end throw a stone into your window, the journalist would always have the last word.
Trump was able to wage a frontal war with main stream media and was able to win it. On the Internet, the social media has the last word.
Ending up in the losing side, the main stream media invented excuses and concepts such as fake news and post truth. It had the opposite effect.
People were reminded, on the internet, that it was the old media that has been biased and openly colluded with one of the sides in the UK referendum and US elections. News from main stream media was labelled “fake news” too, just as was from the new media.
Internet as a threat
For the main stream media and main stream politics the internet suddenly fell of grace – it is not a tool of human rights and democracy any more. Free and open internet is not seen as an asset of our democracy but a threat.
Politicians, particularly in Europe, are speaking openly about the threat that Facebook and other social media are for democracy. They are calling for the regulation of social networks (Germany, France, EU).
They would like to ban fake news and make sure that only the properly verified content can be spread by the users. It is tragic to see how happy the internet companies are to comply (Facebook), instead of standing firm and not letting any form of censorship interfere with the free exchange of ideas on their networks.
The established politics and media cannot afford that democratic procedures – with the help of social networks – bring about a wrong result again. In 2017 there will be very important elections in France and Germany and the anxiety is understandable.
But calling results of a democratic election or a referendum wrong is the essence of a failed understanding of democracy and of the impacts of internet on democracy. That it causes wrong results. That democracy reaches wrong decisions.
What happened to the maxim that “in a democracy the people are always right”?
Friction free democracy
Bill Gates famously said that the essential contribution of the internet is that it reduces friction in the economy. That it brings buyers and sellers closer together and is providing more information about each other.
The same that was said about the economic market can be said about the political market. There is less friction between the will of the people and politics. There is more information about the people and about politicians.
It would be wrong to re-introduce friction – with measures that are essentially censorship by some kind of an Orwellian ministry of truth. In Germany an organization called Correctiv will be telling what is the Truth and what is not. In France a panel of old media representatives will be doing the same.
I have no doubt in the good intentions of all that. As I have no doubt that the social media companies are playing along not because of good intentions but because of business interests.
I am just afraid that it will backfire. Backfire massively. And the stakes are simply too high. The very existence of the European Union is hanging by the thread of the French elections. And with the existence of the European Union the existence of European Civilization. It can’t be protected by former superpowers individually.
Use the level playing field
Instead of shaping the internet according to their wishes, the main stream media and main stream politicians should make a better effort to convince people. The internet is open to them too.
They will need to do better than calling someone a fascist or a populist. The net should be used to debate issues not exchange labels and hashtags. It should be used to argue. To speak to people’s fears and dreams. This is not populism, this is democracy.
Will we get a wrong result? When asked if the French Revolution was a positive or a negative event in history, chairman Mao answered that it may be too early to tell.
This may be a post truth story but it helps introduced my point. Which is, it may be too early to tell if Brexit was wrong. I think it was a mistake. But I also think blaming the internet for it is a mistake as well. And drawing policy decisions from this wrong diagnosis would lead to even graver mistakes.
The internet is making democracy more challenging and open. Having friends and support in main stream media is not enough anymore.
People, not just journalists, are gatekeepers and they need to be convinced. So let’s stop bashing Facebook, let’s stop blaming Russian hackers, lets scrap the ideas for censorship of social networks. Let’s stand for the freedom of speech with includes freedom to fake news!
The so called populists thrive on “us” vs. “them” narrative. People have sympathy for the underdogs. They elected Trump and chose Brexit against the better advice of the dominant speech in the main stream media.
If that domination spreads to the social media as well, the job of “populists” would only be easier. Whole internet cannot be controlled. Somewhere they will read how unfair the battle of their David against the enemies’ Goliath is.
Fake news neutrality
Out societies need more trust. And that means trusting people that they will be able to distinguish between true and fake themselves. And trust the idea that true can win over fake without tilting the playing field against the fake.
Let’s trust in the power of true and the weakness of fake enough to keep the internet and the social networks “fake news” neutral and open to all.
Picture credit: AlexaGrace8495
If governments resort to brokering individual tax deals, such as the recent UK’s tax deal with Google, we end up with a race to the bottom that ultimately would be damaging our digital economy, says Lib-Dem MEP Catherine Bearder. Brexit? Complete economic lunacy.
What is the added value to the Digital Single Market that the UK might bring if it stays in the EU?
The UK is a world leader in e-commerce, so making it easier for businesses to sell goods and services online across the single market will bring massive benefits to our economy and to British consumers. Leaving the EU now just as we are on the cusp of this digital revolution in Europe would be complete economic lunacy.
What is your opinion about the recent UK’s tax deal with Google?
The UK Chancellor could and should have got a better deal for the UK taxpayer. It is not acceptable that there is one rule for large multinational companies and another for the small businesses paying their taxes and struggling to get by.
Companies like Google make an important contribution to jobs and the economy, but that doesn’t mean they should be able to get away with failing to pay their fair share in tax.
Broadly speaking, what sort of measures should the EU undertake to ensure that multinationals such as Google pay a fair share of tax in each country in which they operate?
The recent EU agreement to introduce greater transparency over tax deals is an important step forward. But what the history of tax deals in Europe shows us that we need a more coordinated approach to ensure accompanies pay their fair share.
If governments resort to brokering individual tax deals, we end up with a race to the bottom. The most important underlying principle should be that tax is paid where the actual economic activity takes place.
This can be a real challenge in the digital sector, but it is one we must overcome if we are to create a level-playing field and a thriving and fair economy.
Picture credits: James Petts
London’s status as the digital capital of Europe would be at risk if we shut the door on the world’s largest market, says the leader of UK Liberal Democrats Tim Farron.
The Digital Post: What are the major dangers the UK might face if it chooses to leave the EU?
Tim Farron: Leaving the EU would damage the UK’s prosperity, security and influence in the world. Our ability to tackle major international challenges like terrorism or climate change depends on us being able to work closely with our neighbours.
As the UK’s most internationalist and outward-looking party, the Liberal Democrats’ position is clear:
[Tweet “Britain is better off in Europe and Europe is better off with Britain in it.”]
The Digital Post: What Brexit would mean for the thriving UK tech sector? How leaving the EU could affect this industry?
TF: Brexit would be a disaster for the UK’s tech sector. Almost nine in ten firms in the tech sector oppose leaving the EU. The ability to recruit skilled people easily from across the continent is hugely important. Many tech start-ups in the UK have been set up by people from around Europe, driving growth and creating new jobs in our economy.
London’s status as the digital capital of Europe would be at risk if we shut the door on the world’s largest market.
The Digital Post: David Cameron’s policy on immigration has drawn criticism from the UK tech industry given that this latter is highly dependent on foreign talents. What is your opinion?
TF: I see immigration as a blessing, not a curse. Since the turn of the century, immigration has added £20 billion to the UK economy. The Conservative Government must also stop sending mixed messages to the world’s entrepreneurs. Our country thrives when we are open to the world and welcome those who want to work hard, pay into the system and contribute to our economy and society.
photo credits: Boston Public Library
In case of Brexit, UK tech would risk losing out on what is the most vibrant and growing sector of the UK economy, argues Tech London Advocates founder and chair Russ Shaw.
The Digital Post: How the UK government’s increasingly restrictive approach to immigration is affecting the domestic tech sector and why?
Russ Shaw: The pipeline for tech talent needs to be much larger, but the government’s increasingly restrictive approach to immigration is slowing this down. Experts predict that by 2020 we will suffer from a shortage of 300,000 digitally-skilled people. Members of Tech London Advocates have consistently identified a shortage of talent as the single biggest obstacle to the continued growth of London’s technology sector. The UK needs a growing, not a shrinking pool of skilled tech workers.
The Digital Post: Is this having an impact, or could it have an impact, on the European tech ecosystem as a whole?
Russ Shaw: London has been branded the most important tech hub across Europe, with the number of companies in London’s digital technology sector increasing by 46% since the launch of Tech City five years ago. Further restrictions to immigration policy could cause a redistribution of tech companies and leaders across other European capitals. Countries with more flexible immigration policies and respected tech reputations will attract much more EU and global talent deflected by UK immigration policy.
The Digital Post: The government immigration plans are not only targeting non-EU citizens. The Home Secretary openly called into question the free movement of workers across Europe. What this mean from the perspective of the UK tech industry?
Russ Shaw: The UK’s tech sector thrives off its diversity and international community. Thus, calling into question the free movement of workers across the Europe will distance us from the very tool central to much of the UK tech industry’s success.
The Digital Post: What would an EU exit mean for UK tech?
Russ Shaw: UK tech would risk losing out on what is the most vibrant and growing sector of the UK economy. Businesses will look to expand elsewhere and miss out on being part of EU-wide initiatives like the Digital Single Market, currently under development and discussion within the EU.
According to research conducted by business intelligence company Duedil and the Centre for Entrepreneurs, immigrant entrepreneurs have founded one in every seven companies in the UK and employ 1.16m people around the country. We need to continue to build the attractiveness for entrepreneurs doing business in London and across the UK in order to retain and nurture the best talent and create job growth.