As false or manipulated information continues to proliferate online during the Covid-19 epidemic, the Forum on Information and Democracy is publishing a report entitled How to end infodemics. Based on more than 100 contributions from international experts, it offers 250 recommendations on how to rein in a phenomenon that threatens democracies and human rights, including the right to health.
Launched in 2019 by 11 non-governmental organizations and research centres, the Forum on Information and Democracy created a working group on infodemics in June to devise a “regulatory Read the reportHEREframework” to respond to the information chaos on online platforms and social media. After five months of work, this group, whose steering committee is co-chaired by Maria Ressa and Marietje Schaake, is publishing a detailed report with 250 recommendations for governments and digital platforms.
The report, written by a team of rapporteurs led by Delphine Halgand-Mishra, identifies four structural challenges and proposes concrete solutions for each of them:
- platform transparency
- content moderation
- promotion of reliable news and information
- private messaging services
Many countries that are members of the Alliance for Multilateralism expressed their support when the Forum’s president, Christophe Deloire, gave a presentation about the working group to nearly 50 foreign ministers during an Alliance meeting on 26 June that was also attended by World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay
During another meeting of the Alliance to be held on 12 November as part of the Paris Peace Forum, Deloire will give a presentation on the Forum on Information and Democracy report and its main recommendations to Alliance foreign ministers.
“This report is proof that a structural solution is possible for ending the information chaos that poses a deadly danger to our democracies,” Christophe Deloire said. “All those adopting legislative initiatives with regard to platforms should be guided by this report, whether in India with Section 79, the United States with Section 230, Canada with the Digital Charter, the United Kingdom with the Online Harms Bill and, of course, the European Union with the Digital Services Act.”
"It's been an honor to work with experts across many disciplines - exactly what is needed today, says Maria Ressa, co-chair of the steering committee. These times show more than ever that information is power, and when lies spread faster than facts, all human endeavor is threatened. It's an existential moment for democracy and journalism. This is a concrete step forward to find systemic global solutions."
“Democracy is under threat and the lack of trust or outright manipulation increasingly has an information component, explains Marietje Schaake, also co-chair of the steering committee. Governance of our digital world must be wrestled back from private companies and authoritarian states alike if democracy is to survive. Democratic leaders must take their responsibility to preserve democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms now.”
The twelve main recommendations of the working group
Public regulation is needed to impose transparency requirements on online service providers.
- Transparency requirements should relate to all platforms’ core functions in the public information ecosystem: content moderation, content ranking, content targeting, and social influence building.
- Regulators in charge of enforcing transparency requirements should have strong democratic oversight and audit processes.
- Sanctions for non-compliance could include large fines, mandatory publicity in the form of banners, liability of the CEO, and administrative sanctions such as closing access to a country’s market.
A new model of meta-regulation with regards to content moderation is required.
- Platforms should follow a set of Human Rights Principles for Content Moderation based on international human rights law: legality, necessity and proportionality, legitimacy, equality and non discrimination.
- Platforms should assume the same kinds of obligation in terms of pluralism that broadcasters have in the different jurisdictions where they operate. An example would be the voluntary fairness doctrine.
- Platforms should expand the number of moderators and spend a minimal percentage of their income to improve quality of content review, and particularly, in at-risk countries.
New approaches to the design of platforms have to be initiated.
- Safety and quality standards of digital architecture and software engineering should be enforced by a Digital Standards Enforcement Agency. The Forum on Information and Democracy could launch a feasibility study on how such an agency would operate.
- Conflicts of interests of platforms should be prohibited, in order to avoid the information and communication space being governed or influenced by commercial, political or any other interests.
- A co-regulatory framework for the promotion of public interest journalistic contents should be defined, based on self-regulatory standards such as the Journalism Trust Initiative; friction to slow down the spread of potentially harmful viral content should be added.
Safeguards should be established in closed messaging services when they enter into a public space logic.
- Measures that limit the virality of misleading content should be implemented through limitations of some functionalities; opt-in features to receive group messages, and measures to combat bulk messaging and automated behavior.
- Online service providers should be required to better inform users regarding the origin of the messages they receive, especially by labelling those which have been forwarded.
- Notification mechanisms of illegal content by users, and appeal mechanisms for users that were banned from services should be reinforced.
Members of the steering committee
- Maria Ressa (co-chair) : Journalist, CEO of the investigation website Rappler in the Philippines. Time magazine Person of the Year in 2018. Member of the Commission on Information and Democracy.
- Marietje Schaake (co-chair): Former member of the European Parliament (2009 – 2019). Currently international policy director of the Stanford Cyber Policy Center and president of the Cyber Peace Institute.
- Sinan Aral: David Austin Professor of Management, Marketing, IT and Data Science at MIT, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) and a founding partner at Manifest Capital. Author of forthcoming book The Hype Machine.
- Julia Cagé: Author of bestselling books about democracy and media. Assistant Professor of Economics at Sciences Po and co-director of LIEPP “Evaluation of Democracy” Research Group. Specialized in development economics, political economy, and economic history.
- Ronald Deibert: Professor of Political Science and Director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto. Co-founder and principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative and Information Warfare Monitor projects.
- Camille François: Chief Innovation Officer at Graphika, leads the company’s work to detect and mitigate disinformation and media manipulation. Previously the Principal Researcher at Jigsaw.
- Roukaya Kasenally : CEO of the African Media Initiative. Associate Professor in Media and Political Systems at the University of Mauritius. Chair Board of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.
- David Kaye: Former United Nations special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. Clinical professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law.
- Edison Lanza: Lawyer, former special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Directed and founded several non-governmental organizations which defend the right to freedom of expression.
- Roger McNamee: Author of Zucked: waking up the Facebook catastrophe and tech venture capitalist. Founding partner of Elevation Partners. Former investor in Facebook.
- Jun Murai: Distinguished Professor, Keio University. Co-Director, Keio University Cyber Civilization Research Center. Founder of the Japan University UNIX Network (JUNET) and the WIDE project. Known as the “father of the Internet in Japan”.
- Peter Pomerantsev: Journalist, author and TV producer. Visiting Senior Fellow at the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economics. Senior Fellow at the Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
- Julie Posetti: Global Director of Research at the International Center for Journalists. Previously, Senior Research Fellow and lead of the Journalism Innovation Project at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
- Anya Schiffrin: Former journalist, director of the Technology, Media, and Communications specialization at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs.
- Vivian Schiller: Executive director of Aspen Digital program at the Aspen Institute. Former President and CEO of NPR and founding head of the Civil Foundation. Board member of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) USA.
- Wolfgang Schulz: Director of the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society. Lecturer within the field of information and communication at the law faculty of the University of Hamburg. Member of the directorate of the Hans-Bredow Institut.
- Christopher Wylie: Data scientist and the whistleblower who reported Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. Listed in TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World and Forbes’ 30 Under 30. Author of bestselling book Mindf*ck: inside Cambridge Analytica’s plot to break the world.