In the middle of the assault of revelations about Facebook, Twitter and exactly what’s been occurring online during election projects worldwide, there’s a glimmer of (potentially) great news: governments could take steps now to enforce some order on the political activity happening on social media platforms.
Now, the problem: social networks is just one part of the present danger to Western democracy.
” There’s always a risk when you have a scandal like Cambridge Analytica that we attribute a huge problem to the villain du jour,” stated Ben Scott, a senior adviser to the Open Innovation Institute in Washington, D.C. and a previous State Department authorities.
” It evokes the reasoning that if we resolve for Cambridge Analytica, we reverse all these underlying issues which have been weakening democratic institutions for a generation. And obviously, that’s not real.”
Scott remained in Ottawa this week to participate in discussions, organized by the Public Policy Online forum, on social networks and its impacts on democracy — including an invitation-only workshop on Tuesday that was participated in by senior federal government authorities.
In February, Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould recommended the federal government would only act if online platforms proved unwilling or not able to resolve issues about what social media has been doing to the political procedure. But ever since, public issue has taken off over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
And though not everything individuals fear about social media’s impacts on the democratic playing field can be tidily attended to by government action, academics and policy specialists see numerous options for controling the online sphere.
Tidying up online campaign guidelines
Michael Buddy, a law teacher at the University of Ottawa, recommends existing laws, composed to cover the pre-Facebook world, might be reached consist of a different limitation for spending on social media promotion and new limits on costs in between election duration.
Online ads could, for instance, included real-time disclosures of who paid for them, just how much was spent to promote them and the audiences the ads are targeting. Facebook and other companies likewise could be held accountable for breaches of electoral law that happen on their platforms.
” We have this egalitarian set of values that underpins the Elections Act and we have a set of tools, like costs limits and disclosure rules, so let’s apply those to exactly what’s happening online,” Pal said.
Managing social networks is something federal governments around the world are thinking about, following Facebook’s latest data breach. Canada’s personal privacy commissioner is examining, however it’s unclear if there will be any effects. For now, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is putting the onus of protective privacy in the hands of social media business..
New rules and extra examination for Canadian political actors also could indirectly assist to limit foreign interference. “The cleaner the domestic project finance system is, the easier it is to identify rogue or bad actors,” Buddy stated.
Governments could go even more in regulating how online platforms collect data from users, and how that data is used. Scott, for instance, recommends that users be given the right to restrict how their data is used to target political advertising.
But Scott also argues for a big-picture view– one that exceeds blaming social networks for whatever failing with democracy in the 21st century.
It’s not all Zuckerberg’s fault.
” The issues with Western democracy can not all be laid at the feet of Mark Zuckerberg, nor [Cambridge Analytica chief executive officer] Alexander Nix,” he said.
” The tools that they have developed and implemented over the last few years are brand-new and while they are pernicious and have actually likely accelerated negative trends, they did not begin those trends.”.
Worries about the health of Western democracies — set out in worldwide surveys by Flexibility House and The Economist’ sIntelligence System — precede the furor over Cambridge Analytica and extend beyond the Donald Trump and Brexit phenomena. They’re sustained in part by gains made by reactionary celebrations in Europe and the slide of democratic nations like Poland, Hungary and Turkey into authoritarianism.
Scott explains online “disinformation” as part of a web of democratic dysfunction that includes tribal partisan divisions, prevalent wonder about of states, expanding economic inequality, fragmented media markets and the breaking of standards in democratic organizations.
Not all what affects the American system is always suitable to Canada, but Scott stated he figures he could draw a similar flowchart to represent how unhealthy online activity speeds up the bigger weaknesses in many countries.
At the same time, Scott stated he thinks digital media could be utilized to help resolve those systemic issues; possibly online tools might be utilized to show individuals how such polarization occurs in the first location. However regardless, he stated, people need to avoid thinking about this crisis moment for democracy as simply a byproduct of social media.
” I eventually think we as a neighborhood working on the disinformation issue require to comprehend ourselves as operating arm-in-arm with enhancing the integrity of our elections system against cyberattacks, and reinforcing the function of public service journalism at a time when there is less and less money to employ professional reporters,” Scott stated.
” All of these things are interrelated. And we have to see this as a democracy job and not as a ‘regulate Facebook’ problem.”.