On the occasion of UNESCO’s conference on “Internet for Trust”, the Forum on Information and Democracy (I&D) published on February 21 a series of recommendations on the pluralism of curation and indexing algorithms, for the attention of States and digital platforms.
Ensuring pluralism in content curation is a priority for the Forum on Information and Democracy
This is a major issue identified by the Forum on Information and Democracy, the implementing body of the Partnership of the same name signed by 50 democratic States: tools used for curating and indexing information – meaning aggregating, sorting and prioritizing information – must provide alternative solutions, allowing for a pluralism of indexation, and allowing for freedom of choice for users.
To implement this principle, the Forum makes several recommendations to States and digital platforms, including:
- Separate the hosting and curation of content functions to open up the algorithm market to competition
- Ensure that platforms offer their users several options for curating and indexing content, including non-algorithmic options
- Support, through public funding, the development of technical standards that promote content diversity on online platforms
- Require platforms to disclose content selection criteria so that users can choose the algorithms they will use
The report also proposes several ways to give users the power over algorithms, in particular through a better control over their personal data used to profile and target them with specific content. For the authors of the report, several solutions should allow users to more easily get out of the filtering bubbles in which they are trapped:
- Give users more control over the content they see by strengthening transparency requirements and offering users the right to customize their feeds
- Ensure that alternative options are accessible and understandable to the general public
- Require platforms to implement interoperability measures, making it easier for users to switch services
These recommendations will be addressed to the 50 member states of the International Partnership for Information and Democracy, which meets at annual summits on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to implement democratic principles in the digital space.
The risks of algorithmic bubbles for democracy and freedom
The attacks on democratic institutions such as the Capitol in Washington or Planalto in Brasilia are a major concern for the future. According to the members of the report, they are the result of a threatening groundswell for democracies: the polarization of public debate, if not the fragmentation of societies, linked to the functioning of digital platforms and social networks.
Moreover, the report highlights the business model of platforms, based on the attention economy, which encourages misinformation, conspiracy theory and the exacerbation of tensions between individuals, social groups and political camps. This radicalization of points of view and opinions tends to polarize democratic societies, to the detriment of a pluralist logic.
ABOUT THE REPORT
The steering committee of the working group was chaired by Professor Pier Luigi Parcu, Director of the Center for Media Freedom and Pluralism at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. Researchers, journalists and technology experts such as William Bird of Media Monitoring Africa in South Africa, Brazilian journalist Patricia Campos Mello, known for her coverage of the disinformation of former president Jair Bolsonaro, and Angela Phillips, professor emeritus at the University of London, contributed their expertise to the team of rapporteurs led by Ayden Férdeline. The group mobilized dozens of experts in the field and received contributions from around the world.
Steering Committee Members
- Chairperson: Pier Luigi Parcu, Director of the Center for Media Pluralism and Freedom at the European University Institute, Italy
- William Bird, Director of Media Monitoring Africa, South Africa
- Taina Bucher, Associate Professor, University of Oslo, Norway
- Patrícia Campos Mello, Journalist, Folha de S.Paulo, Brazil
- Dominique Cardon, Director of MediaLab, SciencesPo, France
- Luis Fernando García, Director, R3D, Mexico
- Anita Gurumurthy, Executive Director and Senior Fellow, IT for Change, India
- Stefan Heumann, Director, Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, Germany
- Angela Phillips, Professor Emeritus, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK
ABOUT THE FORUM ON INFORMATION AND DEMOCRACY
The Forum on Information and Democracy is the implementing body of the International Partnership for Information and Democracy signed by 50 states around the world. The organization provides legislative recommendations to states and self-regulation to actors that structure the information and communication space (social networks, search engines, etc.).