Hypocrisy, thy name is ending disinformation

Nobel peace prize winners call for action on online disinformation.

Thus a major headline in Great Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, parroted (verbatim) by America’s Editor & Publisher organisation’s newsletter the other day.

For the record, with the Nobel Committee serving as source, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 102 times to 137 Nobel Prize laureates between 1901 and 2021. Their numbers included 109 individuals and 28 organisations. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize three times (in 1917, 1944 and 1963). The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize twice (in 1954 and 1981). All told, there are 25 individual organisations which have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

So, also for the record, how many Nobel Peace Prize winners had been actually involved in the cry to introduce online censorship?

The headline makes it seem that all living Nobel Peace Prize winners put their pens to the paper, including the last Soviet poohbah standing, Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed on his death bed.

The fact that only eight other peace prize recipients have joined the call is hidden, in all modesty, way below the headline.

That would be disinformation like there’s no tomorrow. As mentioned, the headline makes it sound as if the room was packed with Nobel Peace Prize laureates, and they all supported the manifesto with enviably unfettered enthusiasm.

Not many other words but censorship can describe the demand that governments adopt a technology action plan to tackle the “existential threat” to democracies posed by online disinformation, hate speech and abuse.

Who, pray elucidate, defines an existential threat? And who decides what information is truthful? Considering U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent speech that described all who disagree with him and his works as danger to pedestrians and traffic, the answer to this question is obvious. And dangerous.

Hitting the alarm bell

Journalists Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa, 2021 Nobel laureates, presented their 10-point manifesto in Oslo, during a freedom of expression conference. They warned that the potential for technology to advance societies has been undermined by the business models of the dominant online platforms.

Here, they do have a valid point.

A typical quote from the gauntlet powers-that-be are asked to pick up: “We urge rights-respecting democracies to wake up to the existential threat of information ecosystems being distorted by a Big Tech business model fixated on harvesting people’s data and attention, even as it undermines serious journalism and polarises debate in society and political life.”

Not much wrong with this call.

So, what is wrong?

The manifesto makes three general demands.

Here they are:

  • end the “surveillance-for-profit” business model that harvests users’ data to maximise engagement and underpins multibillion dollar spending by advertisers on social media companies;
  • make tech firms to treat all users equally around the world;
  • make newsrooms and governments support independent journalism.

Nice tears, but at a wrong funeral: they expect governments to do the heavy lifting. Here’s the issue: anything governments do for any slice of society, they demand something in return.

Besides, having governments decide what is true information and what isn’t leads to authoritarian regimes such as the one envisioned by President Biden.

It sounds great: “rights-respecting democratic governments” should demand that

  • tech companies carry out independent human rights impact assessments;
  • introduce robust data protection laws;
  • and fund and assist independent media under attack around the world.

The European Union should:

  • challenge the “extraordinary lobbying machinery” of tech companies;
  • rigorously enforce the landmark digital services and digital markets acts, to ensure they end the spread of disinformation via algorithms and change tech companies’ business models.

The United Nations Organisation aren’t left out, either: they should create a special envoy focused on the safety of journalists.

To show they mean business, The Guardian conclude their online version of the story by telling this particular reader that they noticed he’s reading them from Canada, and would he consider chipping in to cover their expenses?

They explain their request as follows (another verbatim quote): unlike many others, The Guardian has no shareholders and no billionaire owner. Just the determination and passion to deliver high-impact global reporting, always free from commercial or political influence.

Incoherent or incoherent?

Playing news that demands an end to such flagrant tracking as a top-of-the-day item on one hand and, on the other, doing (as flagrantly) exactly that would be funny.

Except, they are dead serious about it.

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