Public service internet: How media could fix cyberspace

26 Nov 2019 10:20h - 11:20h

Event report

[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

What is media freedom today and where should it be? How do we maintain a common sphere for the public? How do we heal a broken Internet? These were some of the main questions of the session devoted to how media could fix cyberspace.

Mr Bill Thompson (Senior Manager, BBC Research & Development) stated that ‘once we admit the Internet is broken, it’s important to acknowledge that it can be fixed’, and a large part of the discussion revolved around regulatory frameworks and technical solutions for improving the significance, access, distribution, and variety of Internet services and media in society. The topic of media expanded to cover websites, apps, and data services. Speakers presented examples of broadening technical solutions for a healthier Internet. The key issues for creating an Internet that can sustain public services are the availability of services and legibility, not black boxes disguised in legal terms and conditions, insulated from their users. Proposed solutions included developing and adapting existing alternative software to mainstream corporate ones, which invade privacy. Existing alternatives mentioned by Mr Geert Jan Bogaerts (Head, Innovation and Digital Media, VPRO; Chairman, PublicSpaces Foundation) included PeerTube for YouTube, Mastodon for social media, and Isso for commenting. Technology can provide solutions, especially when we talk about granular and interoperable metadata and identifiers. Mr Antonio Arcidiacono (Director, Technology & Innovation, European Broadcasting Union (EBU)) spoke of the Personalization for EACH (PEACH) project, a recommendation and personalisation engine developed in an attempt to solve the filter bubble problem of online content, which operates within the recommendations of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The second focus of the discussion was how to maintain an Internet that can sustain public services which are shared and available to everyone, not just for mainstream users, but for diverse groups as well.

In terms of principles, Mr Jan Kleijssen (Director, Information Society and Action against Crime Directorate, Council of Europe) mentioned that the aim of the Council of Europe in regard to the media public sphere, is to encourage governments in supporting quality and community media. Thompson spoke of proposals regarding publicly controlled data, equal access, and a healthy public sphere. Regarding the Public Services Internet (PSI) project at the BBC, he emphasised the importance of creating a social collaborative network of initiatives along a technical broadcasting one. A focus was also put on publicly controlled data which ensures that people are in control of, and understand how it is used.

The topic of artificial intelligence (AI) was featured in the discussion in between issues regarding technology and social content, due to the fact that a lot of Internet content is moderated not by humans, but by algorithms.

We learned about the meeting of Kahei, the first instance in the world that has a mandate to negotiate legal framework for the design, development, and application of AI that was held a week before IGF 2019. It holds nearly 200 ethical charges and guidelines from the Montréal Declaration and developed by the industry. The effects of AI today and its impact is such that at least 47 governments gave a mandate to a body for negotiating within a period of two years. This legal framework for the use of AI will build on many of self-regulatory elements such as fairness, transparency, robustness, and AI literacy.

Overall, the session directed the future of media towards implementing and facilitating environments that are accessible to various communities, are open source, and that provide options for healing the Internet media sphere across institutions, public broadcasters, and the civil society.

By Darija Medić