IGF 2017 WS #197 Fighting Fake News, Protecting Free Speech: Global Perspectives on Combatting Online Misinformation

Short Title: 
Fighting Fake News While Protecting Free Speech

Proposer's Name: Mr. James Tager
Proposer's Organization: PEN America
Co-Proposer's Name: Ms. Katy Glenn Bass
Co-Proposer's Organization: PEN America
Co-Organizers:
Free Expression Programs Manager, James TAGER, Civil society, PEN America
Director of Free Expression Research and Policy, Katy GLENN BASS, Civil society, PEN America
(PEN America will also communicate with other PEN Chapters globally about co-organizing, pending proposal approval)

Additional Speakers: 

LIST OF SPEAKERS HAS CHANGED; PLEASE SEE AGENDA (BELOW) FOR NEW LIST OF SPEAKERS

1. Dunja Mijatovic

Dunja Mijatovic, an expert on media law and regulation, is the former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, having served from 2010-2016.

2. Andreas Vlachos

Andreas Vlachos is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Sheffield and Chief Research Scientist for Factmata, a British company using artificial intelligence to create and strengthen fact-checking tools.

3. Rasha Abdulla (tbc)

Rasha Abdulla is an Associate Professor at the University of Cairo and an expert in social media and new media, particularly in the Arab world.

 

 

Agenda: 

Workshop Overview

The rise of “fake news”—which is primarily spread on the internet through the sharing of online articles and chain e-letters, and posts on social media platforms—has given rise to widespread concern about its negative societal impact, including influencing elections, undermining public faith in institutions, and eroding support for democratic principles. In response, governments and technology companies around the world are working quickly to curb its spread. However, some of the approaches being advanced have the potential to restrict free speech online, limit legitimate civic debate, and damage press freedom. As this ongoing debate continues, how do we ensure that efforts to combat fake news do not unduly burden free expression online?

Questions Posed:

• What role, if any, should the government play in combatting fake news? What are the different regulatory approaches to fake news being considered, and which ones are most or least consistent with free expression principles?

• What are the specific pros and cons of specific regulatory approaches being proposed?  E.g. proposals to fine social media providers who do not remove fake news in a timely manner; government-funded fact-checkers; government-initiated take-down notices against fake news purveyors; ‘media freezes’ or Internet shutdowns before major civic occasions

• What responsibilities do technology and social media companies bear for addressing fake news?
• What risks to free speech are entailed by efforts to curb the flow of misinformation? What are the tension points between free expression and the fight against ‘fake news’?
• What role can/should civil society play in combatting fake news online, and/or ensuring that government responses to ‘fake news’ do not infringe on our rights?

Workshop Agenda

1. Introduction and Moderating Remarks, James Tager, PEN America (5-10 Minutes)

2. Opening Panelist Remarks (8 minutes each, for a total of 40 minutes)

Each panelist will be instructed to prepare their comments with the intent of addressing one or more of the questions posed (above) in addition to sharing their own professional engagement or relevant national context on the issue of fake news.

- Muhammad Ashif Entaz Rabi (remotely)

Ashif Rabi is a Bangladeshi blogger, social activist, and former TV show host on the front lines for the fight for free expression. He is currently a National Endowment for Democracy Fellow exploring ways to form responsible civic digital spaces.

- Yehven Fedchenko                             

Yehven Fedchenko is the Director of the Mohyla School of Journalism in Kyiv, Ukraine, and the co-founder of StopFake.org, a fact-checking project aimed at refuting fake news and misinformation in and about Ukraine.

- Dunja Mijatovic

Dunja Mijatovic, an expert on media law and regulation, is the former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, having served from 2010-2016.

- Andreas Vlachos

Andreas Vlachos is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Sheffield and Chief Research Scientist for Factmata, a British company using artificial intelligence to create and strengthen fact-checking tools.

- Rasha Abdulla

Rasha Abdulla is an Associate Professor at the University of Cairo and an expert in social media and new media, particularly in the Arab world.

- Paolo Cesarini

Paolo Cesarini is head of unit at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition, and will be speaking on the EC's newest work to address the issue of fake news..

 

3. Moderated Inter-Panelist Conversation (15-20 minutes)

Panelists will respond briefly to each other’s opening comments, prompted by questions from the Moderator where necessary.

4. Audience Questions (approx. 30 minutes, until end of Workshop)

The audience—both online and in-person—will be invited to join in discussion with the panelists, raising their own questions and (briefly) sharing their own experiences and perspectives where relevant.


Session Format: Round Table - 90 Min

Proposer:
Country: United States
Stakeholder Group: Civil Society

Co-Proposer:
Country: United States
Stakeholder Group: Civil Society

Speaker: Yehven Fedchenko
Speaker: Ashif Rabi
Speaker: Ojo Edetaen
Speaker: May Hmone Lwin N/A
Speaker: Suzanne Nossel

Content of the Session:
The rise of “fake news”—which is primarily spread on the internet through the sharing of online articles and chain e-letters, and posts on social media platforms—has given rise to widespread concern about its negative societal impact, including influencing elections, undermining public faith in institutions, and eroding support for democratic principles. In response, governments and technology companies around the world are working quickly to curb its spread. However, some of the approaches being advanced have the potential to restrict free speech online, limit legitimate civic debate, and damage press freedom.

Proposed responses to fake news ranges wildly: from fining Internet platforms that don’t remove fake news, to government-initiated ‘take down notices’ against fake news purveyors, even to criminal punishment of “rumourmongers” and Internet shutdowns during elections. As this ongoing debate continues, it is vital to amplify voices from civil society, to help ensure that efforts to combat fake news do not unduly burden free expression online.

We propose a round-table discussion of free expression advocates from CSOs across the globe to discuss the flaws and strengths of their countries’ attitudes towards Internet governance and ‘fake news’. Topics will include:
• What role, if any, should the government play in combatting fake news? What responsibilities do technology and social media companies bear?
• What risks to free speech are entailed by efforts to curb the flow of misinformation?
• What role can/should civil society play in combatting fake news online?
• What approaches do CSOs find the most useful for combatting online fake news?


Relevance of the Session:
Proposals to control online fake news are fundamentally intertwined with questions of Internet governance: both in terms of what legal or policy-based restrictions governments should impose on the Internet—from regulating speech on the internet, to imposing obligations on Internet providers, to setting restrictions on Internet forums—and in terms of how Internet providers, social media companies, and others should self-regulate in order to fight fake news. How these questions are resolved will have massive implications for free expression and the free flow of information on the Internet.

This topic also goes to the heart of envisioning what kind of “Digital Future” we want: Some internet users are supportive of the idea that major online and social media platforms should deliberately are deliberately cultivated to avoid fake news and misinformation, while others are arguing that any attempts to shape such a digital future through legislation or policy will inevitably infringe on civil liberties and make the government a referee as to what types of speech are more valid than others, a dangerous prospect. The debate over fake news is a debate over our digital future.


Tag 1: Freedom of Expression Online
Tag 2: Human Rights Online
Tag 3: Human Rights

Interventions:
Muhammad Ashif Entaz Rabi is a blogger, journalist, and activist in Bangladesh. Rabi has had personal experience dealing with online extremism in Bangladesh, and has struggled with the work of creating a safe and free space for online civic conversation in his home country. Rabi will be able to not only speak about the issue of “fake news” in Bangladesh, but share his personal experiences and also his prescription for how civil society should respond.

Yehven Fedchenko is on the forefront of efforts to address ‘fake news’ and to use digital media as a tool for debunking misinformation. In Ukraine, this issue is one of vital importance, as “fake news” is being used to foment conflict, including by State actors. Fedchenko will be able to speak at length about StopFake’s work to combat fake news on the Internet.

Edetaen Ojo is a long-standing and well-known advocate for free expression, access to information, and press freedoms in Nigeria and in West Africa more generally. This work includes advocacy and lobbying campaigns to various African governments on issues related to internet governance and the regulation of the free flow of information. Ojo will speak on governmental and civil society approaches to fake news in Africa, and how these approaches may clash.

Myay Hmone Lwin’s experience as a writer in Myanmar—including while under military dictatorship—allows him to speak authoritatively not only as to Myanmar’s experience with fake news today, but also the historical context of governmental restrictions on free expression and also the background of ethnic conflict. His work with PEN Myanmar allows him to provide an expert view of Burmese civil society’s response to new trends in fake news within a constricted free expression environment.

Suzanne Nossel has decades of experience in both government and civil society, and will be able to bring both sets of experiences to bear on the issue. As Executive Director of PEN America, Nossel leads an organization of over 4,000 writers pledged to combat “mendacious publication” will safeguarding free expression and press freedoms. PEN America’s work includes a major initiative examining fake news with the goal of proposing ways to combat misinformation while upholding First Amendment protections. Nossel will speak on PEN America’s extensive work to tackle online fake news from a free expression-friendly perspective, and given the U.S.’s own expansive cultural attitudes towards free expression.

Overall this group of speakers will be able to speak extensively and compellingly not only on their countries' experiences with fake news, but on the wide array of proposals to combat fake news and how they may affect free expression online, positively or negatively.


Diversity:
Given the goal of highlighting different approaches to “fake news” and Internet governance across the globe, diversity of geography is an essential aspect of our panel composition. We intend to have at least approximately half of our speakers be from the Global South: our list of provisionally confirmed speakers includes 3 out of 5 speakers from the Global South. Given that different nations have very different approaches for tackling fake news on the Internet, policy perspectives will also be diverse. Proposed participants vary extensively in personal characteristics (age, national background, etc), as well as with the size, mandate, and strategic goals of the organizations they represent.

Onsite Moderator: James Tager
Online Moderator: Sam Zelitch
Rapporteur: Katy Glenn Bass

Online Participation:
PEN America’s dedicated Social Media manager, Sam Zelitch, will function as online moderator. Zelitch has years of experience in online media, giving him expertise relevant towards encouraging and facilitating online participation. We will provide a dedicated ratio of online questions to in-person questions.

In the month before the IGF event, PEN America will engage in outreach to its sister centers across the globe to ensure that members of PEN Chapters are aware of the event and their opportunity to participate online.

PEN America will also explore the idea of having one or more of the ‘seats’ at the round-table event be filled by representatives of global PEN chapters, so that members and officers from these chapters can remain engaged while online.


Discussion facilitation:
The proposed format—a 90-minute roundtable—will first allow each panelist to speak briefly about his/her country’s experience with fake news (40 minutes)

Then, the panelists will be invited to debate each other about proposed approaches to fake news, about where to invite versus where to reject government regulation, and about how and whether fake speech is still free speech. Additionally, the panelists will discuss which civil society approaches seem to bear fruit, and offer the possibility of replication in other countries. After 15 minutes of discussion amongst the panelists, the audience—both online and in-person—will be invited to join in discussion with the panelists, raising their own questions and (briefly) sharing their own experiences and perspectives where relevant. (50 minutes)


Conducted a Workshop in IGF before?: No
Link to Report:

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 678