Platforms are finally taking action in African countries, but in Uganda and Nigeria's case, it’s led to an even worse outcome: citizens losing access.

US News & World Report – ROSE NAMAYANJA

Western social media giants are finally taking steps to tackle dangerous online content – but the African continent is being left behind.

The Platform – Komlan Avoulete

Once a shining example of the power of socioeconomic inclusion and the effectiveness of strengthening civic participation, the political upheaval in Brazil over the past two years has destabilized democratic gains once thought to be well established. As a researcher who was first drawn to Brazil because of its trailblazing digital rights movement that achieved momentous gains, like the first-of-its-kind Internet Bill of Rights, the unraveling of truly representative democratic representation at all levels has been distressing. But recent moves by the government of Michel Temer that would potentially disfigure the institutions that fostered Brazil’s digital rights leadership are even harder to watch.

Seeing as the Internet is now, in many countries, the primary conduit for the circulation of independent journalism, how it is governed will impact both media development and press freedom. Will global Internet policies foster the free circulation of information? Will they be structured in ways that enable censorship and surveillance? These are important questions that impact people around the globe. However, to date, individuals and organizations from countries in the Global North have dominated the Internet governance decision-making processes. Indeed, the relative paucity of participation by groups from developing countries creates a situation in which policies may be created that do not take into account the unique circumstances of developing countries.

The multistakeholder nature of the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee means that in addition to corporate interests, like telecommunications companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs), representatives from digital rights and digital inclusion organizations are also involved in setting the agenda. The voices of these NGO representatives as well as members from academia help counterbalance the profit-driven motives of corporate interests that dominate government policy discussions in most liberal democracies. For corporations and their allies within the administration of President Temer, this arrangement has been an impediment to their objectives of boosting the profits of large telecommunications companies. For example, the Brazilian Internet Rights Law of 2014 guarantees net neutrality and tasks the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee with defining how this would work in practice, who would provide oversight, how they could analyze and determine the credibility of complaints, and what government agencies could do to respond to violations. Telecommunications companies would prefer a lax interpretation of net neutrality, which would give media companies they own a competitive advantage over rival content producers. That is unlikely given the current composition of the committee.

As an Internet policy researcher I have closely followed the outcomes of the annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF), but this year was the first time I had the opportunity to participate in person when it was convened two weeks ago in Guadalajara, Mexico. I was there to coordinate CIMA’s new initiative to facilitate the engagement of journalists and media activists from traditionally underrepresented countries in debates on Internet governance. This project emerged because in the past critics, myself included, have noted how participants from developed countries often dominate the IGF. If we want to make multistakeholder governance truly function as intended, we need to have much broader input from people in developing countries. Fortunately, this is an issue on which there is broad consensus and there are a number of efforts, like CIMA’s, that seek to address this issue of global representation.

Last year the editor of Abia Facts Newspaper, a small, local news platform in Nigeria was arrested at his home on charges of blackmail and criminal defamation. According to the state security officers who detained him, his crime was the reporting he had done on a local politician. More startling, however, was the fact that he was being charged under the then new Cybercrime (Prohibition & Prevention) Act of 2015. Rather than being used to target clearly criminal activity, the vague language of the act has been employed to crackdown on freedom of expression online. It is a clear example of how governments are creating new Internet policies and regulations that have the effect of limiting democratic engagement, often to the benefit of those already in power.

Right now, we are looking for your input to identify the key open Internet principles relevant to media stakeholders and to provide real-world examples of what this looks like in practice for journalists and media development practitioners.

Feedback from the broader media sector is essential to make this framework relevant to both advocacy groups and policymakers. At present, media voices are highly underrepresented in global internet governance debates. Those who are working on policy need to know how to think about open Internet norms from a news media perspective. This means we need real-world examples of how Internet freedom is being circumscribed. We also need information about emerging trends in digital media that will shape how we think about Internet freedom going forward.

Money laundering is a familiar story: “dirty money” generated through illicit means must be “cleaned” through a series of phony transactions that make its sourcing appear legitimate before that money enters into a financial system undetected. The complexity, interconnectedness, and opacity of the global economy facilitate laundering and confound attempts to track dirty money. In Part I of this two-part blog post, I will argue that we see parallels to money laundering in the ways “dirty information” from sources such as intelligence services and fake news profiteers changes hands until it appears as legitimate “news” with its original provenance obscured. “Information laundering” is a useful concept to describe a systemic problem and to compare a spectrum of transactions ranging from coordinated disinformation campaigns to lazy “churnalism.”

We can compare and rank all the cases cited above according to 1) degree of opacity of sourcing, which is in probably highly correlated to the number of layering steps taken before information reaches the mainstream, 2) the degree of dirtiness, that is, the degree to which news consumers’ interpretations of information would change if sourcing was transparent to them, and 3) the degree to which organizations complicit at placement, layering, and integration stages are knowing conspirators or unwitting accomplices. Establishing these axes for comparison can help us consider which forms of information laundering are the most serious threats to public knowledge and democratic politics. Considering such a variety of cases with reference to the unifying concept of information laundering can also point us toward a set of broad recommendations for transnational governance efforts to improve the health of the media. I take up this last point in Part II, drawing on lessons learned from attempts to combat money laundering to offer some preliminary suggestions for at least how and at what governance levels the problem of information laundering should be addressed.

In the case of money laundering, the definition of dirtiness is based we have a clear-cut definition of dirtiness: was the money acquired through the commission of crime? By contrast, dirtiness in the case of information should be measured according to the degree to which audiences’ interpretations of the information would change if they knew its true sourcing. Dirtiness is not quite the same as opacity. For example, a journalist might make it difficult to track the origin of information by granting a source anonymity out of necessity, but that does not in and of itself make the information dirty. It would only be dirty if readers would find the information less credible were that source to be identified. The same information and sourcing could look dirtier to one reader than to another. Not everyone minds if their information comes from a government or a corporate-owned news outlet. Information from such sources is not necessarily unreliable. The important point is that readers should be able to make their own independent judgements about sourcing standards.

If there is not a single, agreed-upon criterion for the dirtiness of information or legitimacy of its producer, the best solution may be simply to give media audiences and monitors the tools to better assess the news they consume and investigate by understanding its true sourcing. Consumers should be able to recognize public diplomacy as public diplomacy, advertising as advertising, and political campaigning as political campaigning. Even if the average news consumer does not have time for a follow the chain of hyperlinks that trace the flow of information across the globe for every story they read, transparency can empower both professionals and amateurs who do want to dig deep into the information on whose basis policies are made and public opinion is shaped.

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