Strengthening the Digital Public Sphere
Strengthening the Digital Public Sphere
Digital platforms, social networks and other digital offers open up new communication spaces for many people, but at the same time they bring new challenges. These include, for example, disinformation campaigns and amplification of inflammatory, populist views, especially on digital platforms and in social networks. Traditional journalistic gatekeepers are faced with the new (market) power of these digital platforms, and this at a time when functioning business models for journalism in the digital space are largely lacking.
Tech companies, the media, political leaders and citizens are aware of this upheaval, but in Germany, the approach to deal with this technological change remains piecemeal. There is a lack of systematic activities to strengthen the resilience of internet users, legislators and media professionals against disinformation and online agitation and to ensure accountability of digital platforms. A holistic policy agenda is still missing, as individual measures, voluntary self-regulation and a silo mentality in politics are not sufficient for dealing with digital platforms and digital information spaces.
What measures and approaches are suitable to not just treat the symptoms, but to address structural challenges in dealing with digital platforms and the underlying business models? Within the focus area “Strengthening the digital public sphere”, SNV addresses this question.
Digital information and news literacy
Regulatory approaches alone will not be able to solve the challenges and problems of digital publics. Instead, a holistic approach is needed, focusing not only on platforms and the spreaders of disinformation, hate speech and election manipulation, but also on the recipients: the citizens in digital publics. In digital debate spaces, the possibility that everyone can broadcast and publish themselves today leads to a wealth of simultaneous, sometimes contradictory private and public, journalistic, scientific and political information. In addition to news and information, opinions, advertising, entertainment, agitation, persuasion and disinformation can all be presented as equally important forms of communication. As citizens, we therefore need completely new skills to be able to judge the reliability of sources for ourselves or to recognize, classify and verify information at all. This is the democratic basis for making informed electoral decisions, participating in public debates, assessing the work of politicians, and tracking down reliable health information in a pandemic. In particular, the questions at the heart of this project are:
- What do we need to be able to do today to navigate the internet competently? What specific skills do we need?
- How can we measure these skills and determine how news-competent Germans are?
The study SNV has developed on these questions helps us to understand which user and age groups perform well in which areas of competence, so that we can use them to derive ideas and proposals for action for all players in the digital public sphere – from citizens to educational institutions, public media to platforms.
For the first time since their founding, major social networks, video apps and search engines are facing the fact that they are not the only ones setting the rules for how the digital communication spaces of millions of people are shaped. Lawmakers in Germany, Europe and other countries are currently trying to develop rules for tech companies. Driving this legislative push are possible dangers arising from dominant market positions, data protection violations, opaque business processes, or inadequate handling of disinformation and hate speech.
However, it is still unclear what such rules might look like and how exactly different risks and approaches can be weighed against each other in the process. Against this backdrop, SNV is analyzing and developing ideas for platform regulation at the German, European and transatlantic levels. We are in exchange with international experts, write policy papers with analyses and recommendations and participate in consultations and civil society formats.
Archive for the study on disinformation during the 2017 German election
SNV has been working on the topic of strengthening the digital public sphere since 2016. Led by Alexander Sängerlaub (now director at the think tank futur eins), SNV developed the first empirical measurement in Germany of what role “fake news” played in the 2017 Bundestag election campaign. In addition to the study (“Fakten statt Fakes”), papers were also produced on fact-checking as a possible response to disinformation and on the difficult situation for civil society and academia to obtain data to research disinformation.