IGF 2019 WS #112 Assessing the role of algorithms in electoral processes

Organizer 1: Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Organizer 2: ,
Organizer 3: Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Organizer 4: Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Speaker 1: Sergio Amadeu da Silveira Silveira, Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 2: Chris Marsden, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Scott Cunningham, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Lorena Jaume-Palasi, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Policy Question(s): 

What are the main algorithm dimensions to consider in the challenge of regulating its use in political campaigns considering different countries electoral processes experience?

Relevance to Theme: Algorithms play a central role in controlling the flow of information in the digital era, becoming a crucial element in social life. The networked society witnessed the enormous dissemination of algorithms into a broad variety of social activities. Search engines help us to find a way through the web; recommendation algorithms map our preferences defining what is relevant to see and what is not; pairing on social networks are supported by algorithms; and so on. As data collection advances, the models behind algorithms become more robust, predictive, precise and better oriented, making it possible to anticipate and even influence individual choices and behaviors. However, this increasing power that arises from the use of algorithms is not equally distributed. Knowledge inequalities and data concentration have favored a specific group of actors who gained prominence in a global scale in economic, cultural and political fields.
During electoral processes this prominence becomes evident. Digital platforms, search engines and Big Data Marketing Firms mediate much of the political debate and employ advanced data analysis methods to accomplish their objectives. But the potential impact of algorithms in electoral processes has raised concerns about the reach of the influence that these actors may produce and the risks of undermining democratic processes.
The surprising victory of the Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum in 2016 is an example. The victory made the headlines of newspapers and magazines all around the world. It is worth to remember that the United Kingdom's presence in the European Block had several advantages. David Cameron, re-elected in 2015, a year before the referendum, was one of the important public figures to oppose Brexit. The fact that Cameron supported the Remain campaign made both communication apparatus of the conservative party - his party - and that of the Labor party - that was reportedly in favor of the Remain campaign - to be used against Brexit. Even so, the Leave campaign, which was led by a tiny far-right party, the UK Independence Party - UKIP, was victorious. The role of the use of algorithms in the referendum campaign is still an issue for debate.
The spread of fake news in the presidential campaigns of USA in 2016 and in Brazil in 2018 is another example. The increase of disinformation in electoral process have put more pressure on the debate about the creation of legal, political and governance instruments to deal with the challenge of regulating (not only) algorithms.
The workshop proposes to gather researchers, platform representatives, public agents and other civil society actors from different countries to bring experiences from different political contexts in order to discuss algorithm dimensions and propositions to the regulation of its use in political campaigns. From algorithm dimensions we understand the ways in which the introduction of algorithms into human practices may have political ramifications, as explored by Gillespie Tarleton, in his paper The Relevance of Algorithms, 2016. Some important algorithm dimensions are Patterns of inclusion, Evaluation of relevance, Algorithmic objectivity, Production of calculated publics, which will be explored during the workshop. Others may be proposed.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Considering algorithms as sets of rules that are applied to one or more initial inputs transforming them into a final output, even if we do not see their codes and do not know how they work, we do know their outputs and efficiency, and, more important, we can assess their capabilities and trust their results. This would not be an issue if algorithms were just a simple agglomeration of commands that blindly perform their tasks, but, as its uses impacts economy, culture and politics, we can surmise that algorithms may reproduce inequalities and serve purposes that may be of interest only to particular groups and not to the society at large.
The pervasiveness of algorithms combined with their invisibility influences social participation in complex social processes - such as the three political events mentioned above. Thus, we can assume that algorithms play a sort of power that exercises a kind of discipline over others. In this sense, discussing the development of legal, political and governance instruments to regulate this crucial element of the networked society - the algorithms - is central to the global Internet governance debate, insofar as unintended influences of its uses can put at risk the Internet's development potential and jeopardize democratic processes in different countries.

Format: 

Round Table - U-shape - 90 Min

Description: The workshop will be divided into three blocks. In the first block we will have three presentations of 7 to 8 minutes each. Moderator will open the workshop with a 3 minutes explanation of the session and will give the floor to the speakers. First presentation will be about the Brexit Referendum. The second one will be about the USA 2016 presidential election, and the third one about the 2018 Brazilian presidential election. Speakers will be oriented to prepare their presentations considering the following topics: 1) General context; 2) Main actors involved (this includes not only political actors but also digital platforms, big data marketing firms, etc.); 3) The role of algorithms in the main communication strategies used by political actors. The second block will be an open debate where participants and remote participants will be invited to present their ideas and make questions to the speakers, considering one questions: Are there similarities and possible analogies about the use of algorithm in political campaigns in different countries? Participants will be given 3 minutes to present their ideas. In the third block, participants will be invited to propose up to 3 dimensions to be considered regarding the challenge of regulating the use of algorithms in political campaigns.

Expected Outcomes: The workshop will produce a list of dimensions and propositions to be considered to produce legal, political and governance instruments to deal with the challenge of regulating the use of algorithms in political campaings.

Discussion Facilitation: 

The discussion will be facilitated by the onsite moderator who will guide the debate in each of the proposed segments for the workshop. Moreover, the online moderator will make sure the remote participants are represented in the debate.

Online Participation: 

Online participation and interaction will rely on the WebEx platform, also there will be a online moderator encouraging remote participation.

Proposed Additional Tools: Social media (twitter and facebook) will also be employed by the online moderator who will be in charge of browsing social media using some hashtags (to be defined).

SDGs: 

GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions