Amid rising unpopularity politicians and opinionaters increasingly seem determined to beat big media companies with a stick. But maybe there is a different way? A few words on the Internet Commission
I think it’s fair to say that the subject of my research is pretty well known – you, dear reader, have certainly heard of it: I look at Facebook. From a Foucaultian perspective, as it were, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about right now.
It is difficult to deny that large media companies wield increasing power and influence over the social lives of humans. We interact on their platforms, speak through their apps, plan our lives in their diaries. Whether good, bad, neither or both, smartphones and digital humanity seem here to stay.
In the last few years, the public and thus politicians have been baffled by the realities not just of what has happened (Cambridge Analytica, Brexit, seemingly absurd choices of leadership in various countries…), but of exactly what can be done with the resources wielded by a select few private firms. Elizabeth Warren (US) aims to split them up, Margrethe Vestager (EU) keeps fining them.
It is starting to seem as if they are the baddies and something should be done. But maybe, before we start a ‘stick-wacking’, we should just take a second to talk to them first? Because maybe, just maybe, they, like most other humans, would be quite interested in cooperating, rather than wasting time fighting?
I have joined the Internet Commission. The IC is, in brief, an initiative – a working group if you will – aimed at furthering digital responsibility. Some arguably clever people met up at the LSE a few years back to take a look at the challenges we face in a digitised world. The organisers – Ioanna Noula from Leeds Uni, and Jonny Shipp from LSE – then realised that change might need a helping hand, and the Internet Commission was founded.
At the Internet Commission we believe that progress can be made by approaching industry, not as combatant NGOs, not as worried political institutions, but on their own terms: As businesses that would want to be popular, to operate freely, and continue to attract investment.
We are developing an evaluation framework that will assess the content management process and procedures of media companies, and we offer to audit them accordingly. We offer a safe space for confidential disclosure but counsel openness; we give praise – also in public – when they exhibit good practice or vow to change for the better.
This road is, of course, wrought with ethical dilemmas. We in the delivery team have an ongoing and recurring debate over whether and, if so, how much funding we can accept from industry, not to mention particular NGO’s and political institutions. Staying avowedly neutral can be hard, if you need funds to operate! Still, we feel confident that we have managed so far – and if not, we have a fairly impressive advisory board to keep us in check.