IGF Berlin 2019, An International Gathering For Discussing Safety and Resilience, Data Governance and Digital Inclusion
This week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Berlin for the first time. This year was the 14th IGF edition with new themes, hundreds of sessions and workshops, and a renewed commitment to include young, diverse voices in the governance of the internet.
The IGF was launched in 2006 after the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, 2005, the second since the Geneva debut in 2003. It is a policy forum for different stakeholders to highlight challenges and opportunities in achieving policy goals such as “one Net, one world, one vision.” The Tunis WSIS reinforced the need for a multi-stakeholder approach to “governing” the internet and I especially relished in this opportunity to be able to discuss Meedan’s mission work that is improving the state of the information ecosystem around the world and enhance the digital skills of journalists and fact-checkers whom we work with.
In one of the IGF’s workshops, the Collaborative Leadership Experience workshop, I had the opportunity to bring young people from more than 35 countries to discuss important standards for fact-checking. We stressed especially fact-checking in the context of covering elections. In the past two months I had the opportunity to work with journalists in Tunisia covering the elections. This was my first opportunity to share some of that work with an international young audience.
Fighting misinformation during elections require an all hands on deck approach specifically given the scale and impact of misinformation and how they can tip off the scale towards or against some political actors.
For this topic, we discussed how we can join the power of algorithms and human contextual expertise to scale up the work of journalists in tracking and verifying false information. Meedan’s award-winning tool, Check, brings journalists around a collaborative platform that helps streamline their verification workflow, create a two-direction line of communication with their readers, publish their verification and use the generated textual and contextual data and feed it into algorithms.
During the three rounds of discussions with participants, we focused on contextual fact-check standards that are crucial to respond effectively to the rise of false and deceptive information in different media contexts.
The participants contributed with ideas from their cultural background and media contexts:
- (Local) language competency. Tools and algorithms journalists use must match the many languages that are used to convey false information and target specific niche audiences.
- Understanding what “moves” an audience. Whether false information surrounding pop icons endorsing a candidate or another politician endorsing another fellow candidate. Journalists must understand which news is more likely to carry more impact on the electorate
- Journalists and fact-checking organisations must ensure that their journalists are safe while fact-verifying/reporting on false information. Tools they use must protect their safety as well.
- Mental health care: Fact-checking organisations must have wellness programs to ensure their journalists’ mental health is not tempered by the nature of the work which may require looking at violent content or research through sensitive information.
- Tools that journalists will use to verify information must ensure that the verification process is completely transparent to their readers and prioritise that readers are the ones who can ultimately judge on the veracity of the information presented to them and that fact-checkers are not engaged in influencing people’s beliefs
- Neutral language: Fact-checkers should avoid the use of subjective language (such as “lie” or “lying”). The tools they use must also reflect that.
- Right to rebuttal: As fact-checkers, the ultimate goal is to restore people’s trust in information and democracy and governments, who might also traffic in misinformation, should have the right to rebuttal and add their input when fact-checkers want to judge the truthfulness of claims.
The rotating participants agreed, however, on the complexity of allowing governments’ voices to distort messages given their unique power over both people and media, but the journalistic history of the right of response ought to be kept, even as we update our practices for the internet age.
- Turnaround time: Fact-checkers and the tools they use must provide indicators to show how fast journalists are fact-checking information
- Diversity of sources as a requirement for good quality journalism
- Focus on the context behind the story: Tools should allow room to flesh out more information on false information and false stories and why they reached a virality threshold.
What I have learnt is, while stakeholders such as media organisations or journalists from minority backgrounds or the Global South are often absent from conversations on platforms content policies or regulations, which often permit the type of computational propaganda that fester on the very platforms they have to monitor, it is still as important to lead the conversation and work towards a healthier information ecosystem.
This year, the Internet Society Youth Ambassadors came from several professional backgrounds: lawyers, technologists and expert academic researchers on several topics that range from encryption, assisting policymakers and senators, grassroots organising, etc.
Their contributions on a myriad of topics as well as their dedication to help the group learn more about their expertise helped all of us become more fluent in the topics that matter to us and take into consideration more than one approach, in my case to identifying what problems misinformation may pose on society beyond the mere assumption that misinformation effectively sway votes and perverts the people’s choices.
Note: Ahmed Medien (Tunisia Elections Lead @Meedan) participated in the IGF 2019 as a Youth Ambassador fellow sponsored by the Internet Society.
Learn more about the Youth Ambassador program. Applications usually close in June. The program is a combined online module on the internet, weekly discussion forums, as well as an academic paper on an internet-related topic.