I think I want to leave you with one message today in my opening remarks, and that is that I really believe that the issue you're diving into of the particularities of the vulnerabilities that were shown and demonstrated through the case of Cambridge Analytica's use of Facebook and collection of data about American and Canadian citizens is not a case of individual bad actors that need to be countered, but rather is a function of structural problems in our very digital infrastructure, which I think are creating weaknesses in our free and open society. These weaknesses, I think, are being exploited by corrupting the quality of information in our public sphere, which is increasingly digital, by magnifying divisions in our society and by undermining our democratic institutions themselves. I want to talk about those problems and the structural elements of these problems by making four points over the next few minutes.
The first is that I think it's really important as a baseline to recognize that there has been a real evolution of our digital infrastructure, particularly of the Internet, over the past 30 years. In very broad sweeps—obviously, this is a much more detailed evolution—the first iteration of the Internet, web 1.0, really did give voice to a whole host of actors and individuals and groups who were excluded from our mainstream public discourse.
Web 2.0, in the 1990s and 2000s, the social web, connected people in really powerful ways and often democratizing ways, as we saw through the Arab Spring and through a whole host of social movements that leveraged these technologies around the world in incredibly positive ways.
I now think that the Internet is something qualitatively different. The problems you're investigating are representative of this difference. I think we're in a third phase of its evolution, what I broadly call the platform era. I would argue that this current version of the Internet is largely controlled by a small number of global platform companies, and for many people in the world the Internet they experience is filtered via these platform companies. That's what I want to talk a little bit about today.
The second broad point I would make is that in this platform ecosystem, this platform Internet, there are two structural problems embedded in that very Internet infrastructure. The first is the way that platforms or the Internet or we have been monetized—what's often called the attention economy or surveillance capitalism.
I would argue that in this tightly controlled market for our attention, audiences can be microtargeted and behaviour can be nudged by anyone from anywhere for any reason. Our attention and our behavioural change is the product being sold in this digital economy.
At the same time as our microtargeting behaviour is being affected or changed, since engagement is the primary metric of value in this attention economy—how much we engage, whether positively or negatively—platform algorithms prioritize entertainment, shock, and radicalization over reliable information. This is embedded in the business model. This is why research shows, for example, that misinformation spreads further and faster than genuine news. It's because it's embedded in the model.
The second structural problem, I think, which we're on the front end of and is going to become a much bigger issue over the coming years, is that the character and what we experience in this digital platform ecosystem is increasingly determined by unaccountable artificial intelligence systems.
These AI systems are used to filter the most engaging content to us, to know what will rile us up and engage us, to determine what we see as an individual user and whether we are seen and heard inside these platforms. Increasingly, AI is used to create versions of reality itself. They're often called deep fakes or synthetic media. A whole new reality is shaped by AI and targeted specifically to us as individuals.
Those are what I see as the structural problems here.
The third point I want to make is that I think these structural problems are responsible for the negative externalities we're now seeing in our democracy, one of which is represented by the Cambridge Analytica case and the 2016 U.S. election, but I think these negative externalities extend far more broadly. Let me describe a few.
One is that the quality of the information we receive, or the information in our digital public sphere, is becoming increasingly unreliable. The platform web is increasingly a toxic place. Highly gendered and racialized speech is incentivized, political discourse has become more extreme and divisive, which you experience intimately, and speech has been weaponized, with a resulting censoring effect. Voices are simply drowned out by abuse. At the same time that this is happening, the digital public sphere is becoming more toxic. We're seeing the increasingly rapid collapse of the industry of journalism, providing weaker and weaker backstops against this flood of false and toxic content.
In my view, democracy requires a grounding of common and generally trustworthy information, and I fear that because of this structural problem this is slipping away from us.
The second negative externality I want to mention is fragmentation. On platforms, we're each given a customized diet of information designed to reinforce and harden our views. The result is that polarization and tribalism can very quickly emerge in this ecosystem. This is a problem for a wide range of reasons, but perhaps most worryingly because it's increasingly leading to actual physical manifestations of individual and collective violence.
A recent study found that in any German town where per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, a tax on refugees increased by about 50%. I think that Canada without a doubt lags on some of these trends and the social implications of them that we've seen in other western democracies, but fragmentation based on unreliable and microtargeted information is sure to divide us on the issues that are most poignant in Canada now. Imagine climate change, indigenous rights, pipelines and immigration all being fuelled by this structural vulnerability.
The third negative externality, which I think is of acute interest right now in Canada, is the vulnerability of our elections themselves. I would argue that by using the very tools provided by the attention economy, foreign and domestic actors alike can powerfully shape the behaviour of voters. AI and data-driven microtargeting is incredibly powerful during elections, as we saw with the Cambridge Analytica case. Acute cyber-attacks and hacking are a vulnerability, as we saw during the Clinton email leaks or the Macron leaks, but I think you can also be more subtle. I wouldn't want to focus too much on just these very acute public cases.
I can give you an example of a more subtle case. A recent study found that long before the 2016 U.S. election, Russian government-connected accounts created a host of fan pages on Facebook for prominent African-American figures. They did one for Beyoncé and one for Malcolm X. The goal was to build an organic community. They published fan content about Beyoncé to try to build the followers of that page. In the days before the election, they then weaponized that community and pushed content to them designed to suppress the African-American vote.
How do we deal with something like that? How do we even know that this is a foreign-sponsored fan page and that it will be weaponized in the days before the election? This gets at the real structural problems we're facing here.
In the final and fourth point I want to make, I want to offer a few reflections on the public policy solutions to this problem or the governance challenges that this presents.
The first point I would make about public policy here is that it's very clear that self-regulation has proven and will continue to prove insufficient for the nature of this problem. I would argue that the apt analogy is the lead-up to the financial crisis, where the financial incentives are powerfully aligned against meaningful reform of the ecosystem. These are publicly traded and largely unregulated companies whose shareholders demand year-on-year growth.
This growth simply may or may not be aligned with the public interest, and that's how democracies function. When there are negative externalities of largely unregulated monopolies, governments engage to protect the collective good. I think that's where we are now.
I have a second point about public policy here. To me this is primarily a demand-side problem that requires a comprehensive policy approach. Many have argued that it's actually the users' fault, that it's a supply-side problem, that we're consuming and producing toxic content and therefore we should change consumer behaviour. I actually think that misses the structural aspect, and indeed, almost every major global commission or report that has looked at this issue has argued that a comprehensive policy approach is needed. There's not just one silver bullet to this. It's about reforming how we regulate and engage with our digital economy writ large. This is going to involve—
I'd like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. Further, I'm on parental leave now, and I would like to thank my family for giving me the time to speak here today.
I hope my comments will be relevant to the committee and provide evidence to support its preliminary recommendations, which I largely support as well. I appreciate its willingness and dedication to keep pulling a lone thread that unravels this tangled web of data, surveillance, campaigning and advertising. These issues have been a great preoccupation for me, bringing together previously separate research into Internet policy, digital political communication, and algorithmic governance.
I would like to focus my comments on three areas of investigation before the committee today. In many ways, they complement some of the findings and conclusions of Taylor Owen, such as the focus on online advertising, third party data brokers and analytics, and finally political parties. My comments highlight my concerns and potential policy remedies to these issues based on my own research. I hope the committee will also look to new ways to support more research in these areas, giving researchers better access to data under clear ethical guidelines.
First, online advertising is more than a political problem. The Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal has exposed more than anything the public's unawareness, resignation or willed ignorance about the sophistication of online advertising. It might not tip the next election, but reforms to the sector will go a long way toward restoring public trust in the Internet writ large—speaking to the structural issues of the presenter before me.
Online advertising means a few things today. It concerns programmatic banner advertisements of the kind we see around every website. These ads account for a $12-billion industry in Canada, according to the Media Concentration Research Project, and Google and Facebook account for three-quarters of the revenue. However, there are new types of advertising. Native advertising, or sponsored content, confuses the line between advertising and advertorial. With influence marketing, informal brand ambassadors fill our social media feeds with their often unacknowledged endorsements. There's also spam and bot activity.
In general, I question the public benefit of all these forms of targeted advertising. In my mind, we have too little accountability and too much in the belief of data and targeting. New kinds of advertisers will present problems for political campaigns. Political campaigns may turn to these grey markets, using influencers or “for rent” social media accounts to fake grassroots support. We must recognize the extent of this promotional content in our culture, make steps to be able to qualify it, and also work to ensure proper disclosure and fair play for these third party advertisers. One tangible step might be to work with Elections Canada to clarify the placement cost criteria to ensure that the new types of advertising count in electoral spending.
In regard to programmatic advertising, we need to consider what are appropriate limits to data collection and targeting. There's evidence in the political literature that the multitude of microtargeting does not necessarily help campaigns better engage with voters. In my opinion, the current situation overstates the value of targeting data, omitting the potential harms in over-collection. We can name a few risks of over-collection. Conceivably, we can think about advertising profiles being used as a proxy for protected categories like race and political belief. Targeted advertising is increasingly used to justify growing online and offline surveillance. Finally, all this data can be leaked or improperly handled, as we've seen time and time again.
Data protection is an important remedy. By limiting what can be collected and used for targeting, we can diminish the race to monetize more personal information for advertising. Without change, I fear a time when large social media companies compete against Internet service providers on how much data they can collect and turn into targeted advertising portfolios, collecting as much data as they can.
AggregateIQ is part of a global technology industry. Canada, like many other western democracies, has witnessed political parties go digital to better run their campaigns. Many companies now sell services to help parties manage, analyze and use their data to, among other things, buy ads and gauge support.
For its proponents, technology-intensive campaigning gets out the vote. It also helps parties find the right supporters, be more responsible with their limited funds, and ultimately win. I do not dispute these claims, but it has become clear to me that the global scope of the industry today creates new regulatory challenges, particularly in ensuring that offshoring data analytics or digital services does not evade national spending or national privacy law.
These industries warrant greater scrutiny, particularly in how they move data across borders. Offshoring data analytics should not evade privacy laws. International companies should be mindful of how they transport models, particularly models using machine learning algorithms that might have been collected and developed using loose privacy laws, and make sure they do not find their way abroad.
I believe these issues can be addressed by adding enforcement powers to the office of the Privacy Commissioner and continuing to support its multi-jurisdictional enforcement.
Third and finally, with regard to political parties, I was not surprised that AggregateIQ has little uptake in Canada. This is not because there is an aversion to technology in politics but because parties already have their own solutions in place. The Conservative Party uses NationBuilder, together with its proprietary database. The Liberal Party uses the U.S. Democratic Party-affiliated NGP VAN. The NDP works with other Democratic-affiliated firms, Blue State Digital, and its own tool, Populus. I have to admit I'm surprised that no representatives from these political parties or from these companies have appeared before these committees investigating these matters of political data.
In general, political parties have much to do to be more accountable about their data habits. Again, in my research I've been impressed by the professionalism of campaigners on all sides, and I believe these professionals will ultimately embrace these new rules. I understand reluctance, too, to impose more regulation on already taxed organizations, but greater accountability for digital campaigning should benefit all parties.
I support the committee's recommendation for privacy laws to apply to political parties. I'd like to add one other reason.
In my own research I've found that lax rules have created real challenges for political campaigns. Data is a strategic resource for parties. Lax rules, however, translate into real inequities. Incumbent parties have better access to data than new entrants. To compete, all parties have to be constantly maintaining their lists and collecting more data, since they cannot rely on the data collected by Elections Canada. This leads to an overall concentration in the central party, which often becomes the database, and an overall logic of permanent campaigning.
Parties might be reluctant to adopt privacy law, given the importance of digital fundraising. If we believe that parties should collect less data, then we may want to consider reinstating the per-vote subsidy that diminished the need for funding and its associated data collection.
Also in terms of data, most parties use some form of predictive analytics to examine the political data they have collected and make predictions about voter behaviour. Either the party or, more often, the consultant analyzes the data to calculate the probability that each voter will support the party and the probability that a voter will be persuaded to vote for the party. The parties use these to make important decisions, like who to target and who to encourage to vote. Predictive analytics exacerbates low voter turnout in Canada, allowing parties to continue to distance many voters from the electoral process. Parties should agree to audit their scoring of voters, and other analytics, for potential race or gender biases. As well, they should also make sure that these decisions about which voters to contact and which voters to ignore are auditable and explainable.
Finally, my suggestions about reform to digital campaigning are my own experiences alone.
Political parties ultimately need to work together on the rules of the game. Codes of conduct have long been recommended to improve Canadian politics. I believe that now is the time to move toward the drafting of a code. In many ways, when we're trying to deal with these consequences of foreign interference, we can only begin to look to ourselves as a first step in rectifying those potential threats. However, parties need to be able to take the first step.
I commend the committee for continuing this project and I hope my comments help support the recommendations for online advertising, data protections for political technology firms, and reforms to privacy and the activities of political parties.
Thank you very much.
What brings me to sit before you today is a tale of regret. I look south at the political and democratic disaster playing out in my own country with great distress and great humility. I was among those young, idealistic, tech-savvy staffers who went to join the Obama administration in the early days after he was elected.
It was a time when we had big ideas about open data, social media, and global digital markets for speech and commerce as liberatory, as a new tool of democratic soft power, and they were—we've benefited tremendously from those forces over the last decade—but it was a double-edged sword. We were not prepared for the way that technology proved instrumental in ushering in one of the darkest chapters in American political history. We didn't do enough.
We're not alone in this. We are now seeing related phenomena across the democratic world—in Britain, Germany, Italy, France, and many other places.
The politics of resentment that we're seeing in contemporary populism mixed with the distorting power of the digital information market are a toxic brew. You have rightly pointed this out in the examination you've conducted so far, and in what we've seen in parallel examinations of this phenomenon in other legislatures.
My message to you today is a simple one: Don't wait to see how it plays out in Canada. Act right now. It will happen here too. The only question is how, and whether the consequences will be effectively mitigated in the Canadian context.
What is to be done? The first thing I want to say is, don't count on the private sector to deal with this problem. Publicly traded monopolies do not self-regulate. If we didn't know that before, we've certainly learned it over the course of the last year and a half. It brings to mind a quote that I like from my favourite chronicler of monopoly capitalism from a century ago, Upton Sinclair. He said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
The answer here is not going to be the market; the answer is going to be government using its tools to steer the market back in the direction of the public interest. We need a kind of digital charter for democracy, one that lays out a set of principles and comes in behind it with clear policies that begin to make the changes we need to protect the integrity of our democratic public sphere.
We need to start right away, but we need to expect that this will take time. There are no single solutions to this problem. It's going to be a combination of things, none of which are sufficient by themselves, and all of which are necessary. It's going to be a messy process, because no one thing will appear to be moving the needle and making the difference that we would all like to see. However, together these things can first contain the problem, then treat the symptoms, and ultimately begin to get at the root causes of the structural problems in the market, both on the supply side and the demand side.
We begin first with security. This is the simplest and most important piece of the puzzle. The combination of cyber-attack and disinformation campaigns that we have seen unleashed on elections in several different countries is a dire threat, and we have to treat it that way. We need to increase the cybersecurity applied to our democratic institutions, including not just election administration but also political parties and campaigns. They should be treated as critical infrastructure, in my view. We also need to be much better about coordinating the research, monitoring, and exposure of disinformation campaigns that are happening with security services, with outside research entities, and with companies.
We're beginning to see a model developing in the U.S. that is worthy of examination and expansion, but let me be clear: Even if we solve the security problem, we're only eliminating a minor part of the problem. Most of the threats come from within, not from without. The most important thing in my mind about the foreign interventions we have seen across the world is that they took advantage of standard market-based tools. They were opportunistic amplifications of existing domestic political movements, and they were using tools that are perfectly well known and understood by commercial marketers across the digital world.
The second piece we can begin to deal with is illegal content. Again, it's not a huge part of the problem, but it's an important part. Citizens have a right to be protected from illegal content. There are now categories of content that are illegal in the off-line world; they should be illegal in the online world. These include hate speech, defamation, harassment, and incitement to violence.
All of these things can be removed on an accelerated timetable with a process that is rigorously overseen by regular judicial oversight and that has an appeals process so that we are not endangering freedom of expression when we begin to move into the space of removing illegal content. You can't cede that power to the platform companies, but we need their involvement in order to speed up the process.
Once we've dealt with the security issues and the illegal content issues, we get into the real meat of the problem: How do we mitigate the influence of disinformation campaigns that are homegrown, that begin to separate people from facts that help inform their judgments and that begin to polarize our society over time?
One thing we can do is really cultivate the research community to spend more time, energy, and money studying the problem. We simply don't know enough about how disinformation works and how the digital market works to shape political views and electoral outcomes. We need to develop ways to signal users to be wary and to be critical consumers of digital media.
Consider for a moment the average consumer who is accustomed to the traditional media environment. When you step into a news agent at an airport and look at the periodicals arrayed before you, you see the daily newspapers, and you see the political magazines and the sports, automotive, entertainment, and home and garden magazines. Depending on where you're standing, when you pick a periodical off the rack, you have a pre-set schema in your mind about what to expect.
In the digital environment, all of that is compressed into a single stream, and it looks the same. It's a Facebook newsfeed. It's a Twitter feed. It's a YouTube NextUp list of videos. In that environment, all of the signals about source credibility and quality that we once had begin to attenuate. People will tell you that they read an outrageous thing the other day and that it has really shaped their views on an important matter, whether it's climate, immigration or economic policy. You ask them where they read that, and they say they read it on Facebook—but they didn't read it on Facebook. They read it through Facebook on some other source. What was the other source? They don't remember.
We've lost the normative structure that in the old media environment allowed us as citizens to make implicit judgments about source credibility and, when we're reading digital media, to engage in critical thinking. We need to begin to find ways to understand this problem better through the research community and to begin to address it through public education and digital literacy.
As well, there are many things we can do in the market with a regulatory intervention. We can ask the companies and compel them to be much more transparent in the way they operate. This starts with political ads.
There's no reason in the world why every citizen who sees a political ad shouldn't know exactly who bought it, how much they spent, and how many people they paid to reach. Most importantly, why did I as an individual voter get that message? Is it because of my gender, my age, my income? Is it because of where I live? Is it because my characteristics are similar to those of other people they're targeting? I should be able to know that, because when I know that, it allows me to engage in a much more critical view about why that ad came to me.
To me, transparency is the simplest and easiest way to regulate the companies to move in the right direction. It's something they're voluntarily doing, but only in some countries and only when they're getting public pressure to do it. In no case has there been law laid down to mandate it. I think that's an easy first step.
There are a variety of other things that I think we ought to engage in as well. These are longer-term structural issues. They include algorithmic accountability. We need to look at how algorithms work and how they impact social welfare. We need to look at data privacy; we need to reduce the amount of data that companies collect, and we need to restrict how they use it.
Also, we need to be looking at competition policy. We need to be looking at modernizing antitrust policy to put shackles on anti-competitive practice, to restrict mergers and acquisitions, and to ease access to market entry for new kinds of services that offer alternatives to the existing models whose externalities have led to such negative outcomes.
Finally, we need to focus on the long-term task of addressing public education. We need to help people help themselves by helping them to become stronger and more insightful media consumers.
That includes not only digital literacy but also investments in better and more independent media. We can't expect people to steer their way away from nonsense on the Internet if there isn't a large body of quality information and journalism available to them.
I can't predict the future of where this combination of policies will go, but I do think it's the right starting point. I don't think we have a lot of time to lose. I'm encouraged and inspired by the work of this committee that government is moving in the right direction.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to the discussion.
I spoke about principally three things that I thought the committee hadn't heard before. The scope of this matter is something that's been quite daunting for anybody in communication studies. It's as though everything is all in one basket all at once, and what are the million different things you've studied over the past 10 years that you might pull out?
We've been trying to move fairly quickly on making recommendations. I think there has been a lot of movement on ads and ad transparency. I certainly think that more inquiry into the ad market is not necessarily hard to do. It's very evident that there's a problem there.
I think the question of other steps is one that has come up in a roundabout way. There's the question of content moderation. One of the fallacies that we have is that social media platforms are unregulated, but really we have a whole host of varying levels of rules that are more or less transparent that are filtering all content. A lot of that is for illegal content, but there have also been concerns about, for example, women's breastfeeding groups on Facebook being censored.
I think one of the steps that I and my colleagues Chris Tenove and Heidi Tworek are talking about is having a social media council, similar to a broadcasting standards council, so that you can start coordinating this kind of grey area of content moderation, which is increasingly what platforms do, and I think is largely an intractable problem. To echo Ben Scott's point, I don't think we're going to solve this thing. I think it's about developing those institutions that can maintain that.
Third, I think this code of conduct is something that really should have been done. There's reluctance by the party to do it. I'm frustrated that there haven't been any takeaways when this is something that we've been talking about for months. At some point it's not my deadline. I would hope there would be some more movement on that.
Finally, there have been discussions about Bill and privacy, and the government has stated that it's not moving forward on putting political parties under privacy law. I think that's a real shortcoming. I think it's a very easy fix, and we see it being effective in B.C.
That's an interesting point to pick up on. One of my biggest concerns in this, and I propose a digital bill of rights, is that we seem to be seeking, or at least some do, to put the genie back in the bottle.
I can tell you that as a New Democrat I've had many reporters come to me and tell me from their paper that they won't cover me because their editorial will not cover an NDP member. I've been doing this for 15 years federally, and for five years on municipal council prior to that. We have streams, layers, screens in the mainstream media. It is exciting for the Internet to be used as a different vehicle to actually reach people through different messaging, and it has had an impact.
I had a bill on motor vehicle owners' right to repair in the automotive aftermarket. It got limited coverage because the advertisers had a very lucrative relationship with the automotive companies. This is a provision that was done in the United States for aftermarket repairs. Over in Canada, you were directly competing in messaging against those who have a financial interest in the distribution of commercials and advertising, which is quite lucrative.
I am intrigued, though, by the disclosure of transparency that's being proposed, and maybe I could get some further comment on that. I will leave this open to all of the members. We could see it as similar to drug coverage. When advertisers ask you to prescribe yourself a drug on TV or whatever, there's a disclaimer. We know that SNL and others have done famous comedy sketches where they run the side effects for nausea. Is that a model or is it a potential element?
I'll conclude with this. The use of telecommunications in the airwaves and the airspace is a public infrastructure that we lease out. It is ours and we own it like the land we have. We pay for the devices, the fees, and the services to actually get this information to us and our families. They're often infected or contaminated by others, who attack it through malware and other types of phishing and other things, so I believe there's a high responsibility on those who are perpetrating this type of information. How we would enhance the transparency from the perspective I have is that we should at least have some rights on this issue because we've created the system for this distribution of information.
If I could, maybe I'll jump in on that point.
I think transparency is the clearest set of recommendations that we have, and a number of ideas have been floated.
I published a paper yesterday that I could draw your attention to. It's called “Digital Deceit II”. It is the second in the series. The first was on ad tech; this one is on policy recommendations.
There's a very specific recommendation for ad transparency in that paper. Essentially what it says is that when you get an ad on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube, when you put your finger over that ad if it's on your phone, or you hover your cursor over that ad if it's on your desktop, it ought to pop up a little box that tells you a lot more information about that ad: who bought the ad; how much they paid for it; how many people have seen it besides you; and, most importantly, why you got that ad—what the demographic features were that were chosen by the advertiser to make that ad come to you. If you got that ad because the advertiser somehow has your email address or your phone number, they should have to say that too. When I have all that information, I realize, “Wow—I'm going to view this piece of information a lot more critically.”
Our study shows us that a lot of people don't even realize the difference between an ad and organic content, non-paid content.
I think those ads should have a big red box around them so you know they're ads. “I'm going to put my finger over that. I want to see more about why I got that.”
This is directly analogous to how we treat broadcast advertising or pharmaceutical advertising. We have a public interest responsibility for transparency, and we provide for that in the law. There's no reason we can't do that in digital. The companies could do this tomorrow if they wanted to.
The other piece is that all the politicalized ads that come up on Facebook or Twitter or Google ought to be in a database that is publicly accessible. With a lot of political ads, there are a thousand different versions of that ad, and they're microtargeted at small groups of people. Sometimes there are contradictory messages and they're just hoping that no one will notice they're advertising two different things to two different groups. You could never do that on television—you'd get busted in a second—but you can do it in Facebook with no problem.
The Trump campaign was a master at this. We need that database to be accessible to journalists and researchers through a very simple API so that everybody can get access to that data and look at it and understand how political propaganda is working. It's not that it's all illegitimate, only that we ought to know what's happening and how people are trying to influence our views.
I want to come back to the concept of news, information, and the data. It's a simple question we've always asked ourselves. Who's selling you your news? We've always bought news. If we take away the Internet and throw it away, we've got, say, Fox and CNN on TV. To your point, Mr. Scott, when you talk about your list of magazines, I turn on the TV and if I know I want to hear a certain story about a certain president, I'll watch CNN. If I want to hear the same story told a totally different way, I'll watch Fox. That has nothing to do with the Internet, but I'm making a choice as a consumer to buy my news. Now you're saying I can buy it on the Internet with my eyeballs.
A lot of people give it to me for free if I just watch their ads or spend time with them. Other times they'll say that if I want to get, say, The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, I've got to pay for a subscription.
Using that as a background, another concept we worry about is filtering. Before, we had filters. They were the editor, the publisher, and ultimately the owner of a newspaper. All kinds of people like me—politicians—would have to go and, quite frankly, suck up to these guys so they'd write something nice about us. That's the reality of it. They've actually been weakened.
Great, positive things have come through with the Internet. Twitter has allowed us to speak directly to our people, unfiltered. As you said, Mr. Scott, there are also nefarious things that can come out of this.
You've spoken about transparency. Is transparency the issue? We are always going to buy our news. We are always going to go to a source that can tell us what we want to hear. In that sense of looking at news, written news, looking at TV, and now looking at the Internet, what is the one thing we should be doing there?
Go ahead, Mr. Scott. I'll start with you.
I think transparency is only one piece of the puzzle.
I'm a big believer in the decentralization of the communications system. It's a good thing that we have more voices, more journalists, more reporting. The fact that it is no longer a viable business is a big problem, and we need to address that as a systematic issue in the market.
There is a second piece to this. Consumers are at the beginning of a long process of learning how to consume information on the Internet, in the same way that it took us decades to figure out how to consume information on broadcast channels. In the early days of radio, you could see a similar debate playing out. People said, “Wow, everybody is being misled by this new thing called broadcasting. It's completely different from newspapers. You hear it over the radio and it seems true, and people just take it.” That was considered incredibly alarming.
Now, as you have clearly pointed out, we all know how to differentiate what we want on broadcast. That will come eventually on digital media. The trick here is that it's push versus pull. Instead of going on TV and selecting CNN or Fox, Facebook is being pushed at me.
There are 10,000 different news items that are sitting in my Facebook account that Facebook could choose to show me, but I'm only going to see about 5% of them. Facebook decides which 5% I'm going to see. It decides that based on what it thinks I want, not what I choose.
That may be a business that I'm willing to sign up for, but I need to understand much more about why that happens, and why I'm getting what Facebook has decided I should get. Right now, we don't have that. That's why people are so vulnerable to misinformation.
We have a couple of different models to look at. I will profile the German model and tell you where I think it went right and where it went wrong.
The Germans set a bar, I think, of a million domestic subscribers to the service, which basically meant three companies—Google, Facebook, and Twitter—and they said, "You have 24 hours to remove illegal content from the moment you get notified that it's there".
The problem with that was that they put all the burden on the companies. They gave all the decision-making authority to the companies about what was and wasn't illegal, and they had no appeals process.
The benefit they got from that was the resources and the technical ability of the companies to rapidly find not only the content that drew a complaint, but all content like that and all copies of that content all across the network and to quickly bring it down, much as they do for copyright violations, much as they do for other forms of fraud and illegal content. Counterterrorism functions the same way.
In my view, the problem is that we need more regular order judicial review. The prosecutors who would normally have brought a case like that through the usual court procedure ought to be involved in the oversight so that when the algorithm comes back and says these are the thousand cases of this piece of hate speech we see on the network, there is either a common review of that content to ensure it's meeting a public interest standard of free expression, legal/illegal, or it goes into an appeals process and goes through regular order judicial review.