How Does Technology Transform Media and Public Opinion? A Conference with the Swedish Embassy in Den Haag at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht

HU Poster Digital Platforms conference

Last week I had the great privilege to host an event in collaboration with the Swedish embassy in Den Haag, Netherlands, on the highly urgent and somewhat controversial topic of ‘How Does Technology Transform Media & Public Opinion?” at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht.

Seven prolific speakers discussed current developments and challenges that come with the digitalisation of public communication and the rise of online platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter.

The program was based on ‘fireside talks’ between the invited experts from academia, governments, and media; emphasis was placed on three aspects:

 

  1. Technological Foundations and the Revolution of Communication – How Big Tech Changes the Public Sphere

The first section deals with how the rise of Internet technology first provided seemingly endless potentials to new modes of communication and access to the public for individuals and marginalised groups. News Media is no longer the sole source of mass-distributed information.

The mass distribution of Internet access enabled the rise of big tech companiessuch as Google and Facebook, that responded with constantly evolving services to the needs of a highly interconnected digital society. Leading Internet companies have turned into complex multi-purpose platforms that aim for binding users to their brands with a diversity of functions. They create spheres of increasing economic, cultural and political influence.

The implications for freedom of expression become apparent in transformations in media consumption and production. Traditional news media find themselves in a tough spotbetween ethical considerations, political missions, business goals, and an increasingly sceptical audience with access to countless alternative sources for information. Finally, there is the emerging trend to rely more increasingly on artificial intelligence in many web services which comes with an additional baggage of ethical and political questions.

 

  1. Potentials vs. Threats – Assessing the Pro’s and Con’s for Free Speech

On one hand, there are progressive social movements such as #metoo and Black Lives Matter, that make use of the open accessibility of the Web and highlight how marginalised groups apply freedom of expression in the digital public sphere. On the other, the Web is often a highly toxic place where racism, misogynism, trolling, hate speech, misinformation, and cyberbullying thrive; the so-called ‘Alt-Right’ and current forms of right-wing populism partly originated from or made intensive use of online platforms. Groups apply the technologies in order to organize their members, spread the message, contest mainstream politics and media, and thus framing issues from their world views.

Fake news and filter bubbles are often-cited downsides of the rise of social media and personalised web experiences. But is the situation that black and white? It’s a fact that trust in mainstream politics and media is undermined and questioned and the fact that political factions engage in trench warfare and hate speech in various forms is a widespread problem.

Today, when determining freedom of expression one has to consider that no one really lives a completely private life in the age social media and search engines.

The question is also what the role of businesses, journalists/media and governments is in all of this? There are different levels of ‘public’ communication that are affected by current tech trends and obviously all three play central roles the digital public sphere but the relationships between them are changing.

 

  1. Responsibilities and Remedies

The question of responsibility where different social, economic and political factors need to be considered. Tech is not going away; the Internet is not some separate place we got to but has become an integral part of our daily lives in various ways. What is the role of journalism in a data-driven age? How can companies be creative and innovative without losing sight of mid- to long-term consequences? How can they balance ‘what they can do’ with ‘what they should do’? What is the role of regulators and governments? Finally, what are the responsibilities of the user?

You can watch a recording of the session here!

 

 

 

 

Ethics, Journalists, and the Use of New Media

Media producers of all branches or genres, respectively, increase their efforts to use the Internet and the various forms of social media as both a new communication channel and a source for research. Contemporary journalistic work not using new media became almost unthinkable – certain forms like “citizen journalism” or online news (all genres) would not even exist. A modern and successful news/media producer must be aware of the opportunities  but also limits of the world wide web.

Though the digitalised environment of today’s information societies creates and demands different, new modes of  news/knowledge production as well as distribution, there have to be certain guidelines and rules, basing on traditional perceptions of this ‘media craft’ – at least according to some professionals. Especially ethics, which always have been a often heatedly discussed issue in journalism, seem thereby to be an important topic in online media production discourses, too. How to handle social network media sources? How to treat statements made on blogposts, comments or in fora? How to sustain fairness – and guarantee ‘accuracy’, ‘truth’ (or at least ‘objectivity’ – if this is even possible) online? Though some of the basics behind those questions are long known points of contention (especially on ‘truth’ and ‘neutrality’), the Internet confronts the critical observer with various new and complex problems in this context. Especially concerning the alleged freedom of information, property rights, and privacy issues.

To find an interesting example for such ethical guidelines, please visit Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). Here, media professionals postulate rules for using and treating online sources – and try to approach crucial questions like the ones mentioned above. It shows how those who are directly involved in the production process of online content attempt to meet the challenges of a changed information economy.

Thanks to my colleague Tomi, who passed me the link – visit her blog here.

Sexual Harassment and Social Media

A couple of days ago I saw a quite disturbing news story about a paedophilic postman from Cornwall on the BBC. A 28-year old used primarily applications of the New Media to groom hundreds of underage victims. By using various fake identities on social networking sites like Facebook, he approached and befriended youngsters and children – pretending he would be a teenage boy or girl of their age. After establishing a relationship, he started to harass them sexually. He admitted 27 charges of “inciting sexual activity, grooming and possessing and distributing indecent images” (BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cornwall/8652124.stm, 30/05/2010). He used several computers simultaneously to lead his digital “second life”. See a brief news clip from sky-news here:

The whole issue highlights another very important dimension of the discourse on cyber-bullying/-criminality/-violence: The directed misuse of contemporary technology for sexual harassment and (psychological as well as physical) abuse of minors. It also shows once more to what extent an individual can “live” more than one self-created identity in cyberspace; this “freedom” proves to be a janus-faced one, as advantages in terms of self-determination and digital self-fulfilmet coexist with irrefutable dangers and threats. Furthermore, the (still wide) gap between generations is clearly perceptible, too. Many parents did not know what their children were doing online and who they were engaging with.

Sexual harassment in the Internet is nothing new – various cases occurred during the last years (Weller, http://www.uiowa.edu/~cyberlaw/cls06/papers/bwfinfin.htm 30/05/2010). The concrete manifestations of this behaviour range from e.g. constantly e-mailing, over cyber-stalking to actual physical assaults. In some cases culprits used the web to search and contact possible victims , before approaching and assaulting them offline. Pedophiliacs often establish a bond of trust to children before they attempt to seduce them (Deirmenjian, http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Pedophilia_on_the_Internet.pdf 30/05/2010) – just like the postman from Cornwall did.

Many causes for and forms of sexual harassment exist. For instance, various cases among adults took place at work (between employers/employees). Though the majority of such activities come from men, the number of victims seems to increase on both sides (Wall Street Journal, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704117304575137881438719028.html 30/05/2010), at least in the USA. Other incidents resulted from failed relationships. There is a wide range of psychological reasons for such dangerous behaviour. Nevertheless, online paedophilia and child abuse are extraordinary repulsive delicts.

There are lot of heated discussions on negative media effects of violent/sexual content on young people; it is undoubtedly a crucial task to debate and examine the actual form and impact of the many media-transported influences on recipients of all age. However, examples like this show to what extent the World Wide Web can entail concrete threats to an individuals safety, especially concerning children.  The Internet provides a lot of possibilities to communicate and engage with other people – but proper education and information about certain downsides of these benefits is needed. These considerations forces the critical observer to face some difficult questions, which have to deal with e.g. privacy, identity-controll, and media capacity: How can I be sure the person I contact is really the one he/she supposes to be? Where should be the legal limits to the creation of online effigies/identities? How can young people be effectively warned about the existing threats? What can the  providers of social networking sites do – without further cutting down an user’s privacy rights? What would appropriate safety measures look like? Approaching answers is crucial but also very difficult: hasty measures could lead to certain disadvantages, though not reacting to such incidents cannot be an option. Thus, current discourses on the subject should focus and revise contemporary concepts of preparation and protection.

List of References

BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cornwall/8652124.stm,  (30/05/2010)

Deirmenjian, http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Pedophilia_on_the_Internet.pdf  (30/05/2010)

Sky News, youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1ermaR1emM (30/05/2010)

Wall Street Journal, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704117304575137881438719028.html  (30/05/2010)

Weller, http://www.uiowa.edu/~cyberlaw/cls06/papers/bwfinfin.htm  (30/05/2010)

17 Rules for Mobile Social Networks

The European Network and Information Security Agency (Enisa) recently published a report on mobile social media. The paper includes an examination of the chances and dangers of mobile social networking as well as recommendations for a safer use of this technology. It focuses for instance identity-stealing, loss of sensible data, and risks for reputation. To avoid these dangers the authors of the report provide 17 “golden” rules: some are just “common sense” others mere commonplaces.

Find the press release here.

Find the full report here.

New Report on Social Media and Young Adults

The US Pew Internet Project has published a report on social media usage by young adults – read here the overview:

“Two Pew Internet Project surveys of teens and adults reveal a decline in blogging among teens and young adults and a modest rise among adults 30 and older. Even as blogging declines among those under 30, wireless connectivity continues to rise in this age group, as does social network use. Teens ages 12-17 do not use Twitter in large numbers, though high school-aged girls show the greatest enthusiasm for the application.”

You can download the whole report as a pdf-file.