On June 20, we presented Logic Gates and Access Records of Internet Users: From Technical Possibilities to Judicial Reasoning in Brazilian Courts, a research report on the work developed at the Institute of Reference in Internet and Society – IRIS, held in the year of 2017, at the Connected Life 2018 conference, held at Oxford University.
About the conference
Connected Life is a fully coordinated conference organized by Oxford students, more specifically, the Oxford Internet Institute (OII). Its objective is to stimulate the exchange between different disciplines and to publish emerging research in the area of internet studies. Bringing together participants from all the humanities, social sciences and applied sciences, Connected Life seeks to foster collaborations within and outside Oxford University in the pursuit of an improved understanding of the Internet and its multifaceted effects.
Information and control on the internet
This year, the theme of the conference was information control, which is reflected in the various sessions of research presentation: technology and social surveillance; forms of digital rights policing; politics and digital interference; legal tools; and digital borders. In addition, the event had two lectures: Prof. Philip Howard (Oxford Internet Institute), about junk news; and Prof. Alice Marwick (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), about why people report fake news. That is, internet, regulation of political processes and online information are themes that definitely set the tone of the discussions in our field of study this year.
Philip Howard and junk news
Among the most interesting points of the opening lecture of the event, Prof. Philip Howard, is the use of the term junk news instead of fake news. This reflects the institute’s desire not to equate itself with the indiscriminate use of this terminology as journalistically “false”, but rather as sensational news, of low quality, sold as news (even with the appearance of seriousness), a final product. The professor described the process used in the investigation of the disseminators of this type of news, which can be found through the “paper trail”, characterized by financing and subcontracting of people in different jurisdictions to maintain false profiles, which change the interest of according to the wishes of those who finance them.
Philip Howard warns that the prognosis is not exactly encouraging: social bot maintainers and fake profiles are adapting according to the very studies that institutes such as OII and IRIS publish. In addition, the emergence of more false news online has led governments to over-regulate digital platforms, as is the case in Brazil, with the aim of reprimanding these actions, which may be irreversible in terms of defending online freedom of expression. Finally, what he reports as something even more troubling is the growing disbelief in facts and science. There is a progressive and relatively recent collective effort to disseminate ideas of complete negation of science, of historical facts and of debates that have already been overcome in academia. With this, there is an underlying difficulty in democratic processes, since arguments based on rationality, facts and logic lose space for sensationalism and media populism.
Why do people share fake news?
According to Prof. Marwick, several myths permeate the discussion about fake news, one of them being the fact that this is a problem that came up with the internet. Traditional media and journalism have always had to deal with fake news, since its inception, this is just one problem that has become more apparent online. In addition, it shows that several studies indicate a greater dissemination of information between the political “right”, or because their voters are more likely to share this type of sharing, consumption and uncritical presence in social networks.
It also points to problems that afflict both the left and the right: there is no well-defined line about what is true and what is false, so that even left-wing users sometimes share unproven content. This is because, in the context of social networks, the sharing of such news demonstrates identity, belonging and rejection to outsiders (polarization), supporting their already ingrained views of what is true or false.
So what can we do? Alice Marwick proposes that we understand fake news as part of a larger social media context, which also includes traditional media and politics. This should be taken into account when examining the effectiveness of attempts at media literacy and fact-checking. Since many partisans of certain political positions will simply not change their minds by having their biases and inaccuracies explicit, it may be time to seek alternative solutions, such as reducing the ways in which algorithms, platforms and funding networks (eg. click bates, for example) the fake news industry.
Logical gates and tools of justice
A theme underlying the work presented at this session concerns the current inability of the Judiciary and Legislative branches of government to deal adequately with the problems and issues arising from the internet and new technologies. This can be observed both in the misunderstanding of technical issues, as observed in relation to the responsibility of the providers in the identification of users subject to the Network Address Translation (NAT) technique presented in our research report, and in the removal of contents (posts, images and comments) by automated mechanisms on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google.
Both presentations highlighted the importance of institutionalized governmental powers to better understand the dynamics proposed by the new technology and internet scenarios, through more fundamental regulations, able to adapt to market innovations, without losing their relevance and applicability. In addition to that, the existence of data protection authorities, such as the one implemented at the European Union with the case of personal data protection, allows for the existence of a more specialized technical staff than the Judiciary itself, with a traditionally generalist background, which is not well suited to these issues.
If you want to access the full text of our study, click here!