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7-Digital media and its impact on Democracy;Responses to the spread of misinformation in socialmedia

Media and journalism have changed dramatically as digital technologies have continued to disrupt the industry. In the past, a citizen’s exposure to local and global news was dependent on print media. The digitisation of media has seen the expansion of of new communication sources and media.

While an open access to news and information is crucial for a healthy democracy(allows citizens to make informed decisions and keep elected officials and policymakers accountable to the people they represent) it has also introduced unexpected downsides – such as confusion, cynicism, irresponsibility, which have negatively affected political communications and democratic processes


The difference between journalism and media


mass media refers to “all forms of communication where large numbers of people are exposed to an identical message. Media has predominantly served a “watchdog” role by providing checks and balances on government’s accountability

Journalism is a subset of mass media and has the additional role of serving as a gatekeeper, filtering what information is released to the public. Journalism attempts to make sense of past and current world events and communicates those findings to the public in a way that is easy to digest.

All the media serves as the public’s representative, providing a direct line of communication to those in authority. It therefore has the democratic responsibility of providing accurate and trustworthy information to the public, allowing individuals to make informed decisions and participate in rational democratic debate.


The rise of new media

Driven by the introduction of the internet, the evolution of the media in the information age has meant the inclusion of a wider variety of digital media and platforms. The rapid shift of media towards a more digital future has potentially significant implications for democracy and political communication:


-A decentralized environment

Given that the internet is a decentralized environment, not owned by any sovereign entity and free speech is protected in most democracies, any person wishing to share their opinions or connect with others online has the right to do so. This means that the public can often bypass the gatekeeper role expected of the journalistic profession. While this ability of the public to participate in political debate can support democracy, there are also situations where it can interfere.

-The rise of the networked society

The new capabilities that digital technologies provide has changed citizens from passive receivers of information to active participants with spatial and time constraints.

This "networked Society" has also caused a new form of journalism to emerge. This “networked journalism” allows the public to be involved in every aspect of journalism production (collaboration instead of top down approach)

The benefits are that : 1)it encourages editorial diversity (public has access to a variety of info);2) It promotes interactivity keeping the public engaged in important discussions and debates; 3) potentially It promotes trust and transparency by bringing together people and experts. The risk is that this diverse and widespread participation with informal communication brings also subjective, biased, unrepresentative, or misinformed information.


-Distributed democracy

The rise of the networked society brought on by digital technologies and social media is profoundly disrupting the mechanics of democracy. While contemporary democracies gradually removed the public from democratic deliberation, with most power handed to political or corporate elites with special interests, technology has transferred much of that power directly back to citizens, promising a prominent role in engaging with policymakers.Main effects:


Disintermediation Distributed democracy allows for disintermediation. political actors and citizens can communicate with each other directly without relying on traditional gatekeepers. As a result of this new channel for democratic debate, the media’s role as a mediator, its ability to serve as the public’s representative to government, is diluted.The risk of disintermediation is that those who produce most public information are often the powerful elites who hope to exert their influence


Information overload With the new media more people are able and willing to produce content, meaning that more and more information is now continuously and instantly accessible. A side effect of this information overload is the public’s inability to decipher the credibility of a source and an increased potential for misinformation. where information is shared for the purposes of virality or profits, not credibility –. this encourage emotional, sometimes extremist, speech to proliferate, resulting in polarised debates that are harmful to a healthy political culture.


A shift in power With the public’s increasing reliance on technology and social media, power continues to shift from traditional gatekeepers (i.e. professional journalism,editors) to technology corporations that rely on unmoderated peer-to-peer information-sharing. Platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Google have come to monopolize important aspects of the public’s everyday life, including social, professional, and political communication



-Hegemonic power struggle

Throughout history, dominant elites – whether political or corporate actors – have relied on the news media to frame political issues in a way that supports their worldviews and win over public opinion. Not surprisingly, the emergence of new types of media, particularly social media, has fueled this battle for hegemonic power. Is it time for a "new-age oligarchy” to replace an old one ? An example of battle between opposing ideologies is the COVID-19 theories flooding social media


-Surveillance Society

Large technology corporations such as Facebook and Google appear to know a lot about users’ personal lives. This phenomenon is a result of companies adopting an economic model known as surveillance capitalism, a model that relies on the collection and analysis of big data to understand (and exploit or shape) the behaviors and preferences of its data subjects. Not surprisingly, this model extends to the political realm too. A Surveillance society can get worse if Government or corporations collaborate to gather information about the personal lives of citizens.


The rise of a "post-truth" era


there is An increasing reliance on sensationalism rather than reliability so no surprise that public scepticism has risen. This distrust has helped creating a new era for the news media, characterized by “post-truth” politics and fake news, making it significantly more difficult for the public to source reliable, objective information.


In fact social media can be used to distort political debate and interfere in democratic processes in two primary ways. 1)First, it can be weaponized by authoritarian states to interfere in electoral processes in democratic societies. 2)Second, it can act as an amplifier of intellectual biases, thereby promoting fringe beliefs and ideologies. By giving the public more of what it likes rather than truthful information, social media has been blamed for creating a public sphere that shares information based on emotion rather than rationality, with sometimes dire consequences for democracy.

The public often feels more confused, and society appears more fragmented, and that it’s less clear who is responsible for providing trustworthy information.



Industry and Governments' responses to combat the spread of misinformation in social media


Competition regulation and structural remedies:

By the time a disinformation campaign targeting emerge it is usually too late. It gains momentum and goes viral fast.Social media companies acknowledge that it is also their goal to protect end user autonomy, enhance democracy, and facilitate free speech.That is because social media companies are not really willing to give up control of their business models based on data collection, behavioural ads, and other aspects of surveillance capitalism. Policies to regulate social media should start from competition law and Privacy and consumer protection


Competition regulation should aim first at producing many smaller companies, with different applications, communities, and norms (goal should be to increase the number of players, so there can be many different companies, communities, and editorial policies).Then, competition policy should seek to prevent new start-ups from being bought up early to helps innovation and prevent large companies from buying up potential competitors and killing off innovators that are not consistent with their current business models. Third, competition policy should seek to separate different functions that are currently housed in the same company (different from a focus on questions of company size and market share).Fourth, Government shouldn’t rush to impose direct regulation on social media moderation practices; the goal should be instead to give social media companies incentives to take responsibility for the health of the public sphere in exchange for more transparency since they assert that they have obligations to the public and their businesses depend on public trust.


Content moderation and fact-checking and credibility-signalling efforts

Social media emerged as profit-making technology companies with the goal to expand their user base and make money through digital surveillance that enables advertising. They are encouraged to highlight content that keeps viewers’ attention superficial(instead of informative),and to appeal to emotions instead of reason. Only recently came to view themselves as media companies;That is why digital Advertising is central to the misinformation problem.How can the industry self-regulate and also fulfil its new social function?


Disinformation costs will grow exponentially so brand reputation will become important as the industry understands their businesses also depend on public trust. To safeguard their “audience experience” the media platforms are engaging in content moderation,and making greater investment in fact-checking and credibility-signalling efforts, to help readers distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources. How? To improve content moderation they are investing in “human-in-the-loop AI”(augmented intelligence) where human workforce and AI are both implemented;In this way the weaknesses of human workers are complemented by the strengths of AI, and vice versa.This function shouldn’t be outsourced anymore.This would help to improve standards of ethical platform responsibility prioritizing ethics-minded “should we…” questions over technically-minded “can we…” questions as they embrace AI to drive business outcomes


In response to criticism of censorship and to improve their commitment to more transparency and accountability of their editorial function they partner with fact-checking external organisations to reduce fake-news and provide trust marks for quality content and warnings about suspect posts. Engaging with them to identify and track disinformation campaigns will facilitate a response to disinformation rapidly and decisively with detailed, factual answers.Facebook has instead followed the path of creating its own “Supreme Court” with experts from academia,non profit,journalism, politics and nobel price.These decisions will be made public and can overturn Facebook’s initial decisions. This should help bring some of Facebook decisions into the light (one challenge has been the lack of info about how its automated systems are trained and evaluated).





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