Armin Stein

Disinformation from the regulator’s perspective: The role of algorithms

Tuesday, 11. May 2021 - 12:15 to 13:00, Online (Zoom)

Speakers: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Judit Bayer, Budapest Business School, Media Law and International Law & Prof. Dr. Bern Holznagel, University of Münster, Institute of Information, Telecommunication and Media Law (ITM) Department of Public Law

Title: Disinformation from the regulator’s perspective: the role of algorithms

Abstract: Disinformation is changing its face. The foreign and artificial element gets more concealed, and with the involvement of domestic authors, contributors and amplifiers, the manipulative content gradually takes root within the national public discourse of the receiving state. Often, the content is not even factually false, but primarily polarising and manipulative in nature. Often the manipulative or false content is spread by persons of political authority whose right to freedom of expression enjoys even wider scope.

This means, that tackling this social challenge needs an even more complex approach. Besides limiting the spreading of disinformation and manipulation, the improvement of the informational landscape as a whole should be the task. In terms of algorithmic regulation, this leads to setting other expectations from algorithmic performance than maximising viewer engagement. Several goals have been identified by recent literature. First, algorithms could promote a greater diversity of content, helping users to burst their bubbles. Second, algorithms should be set to prioritise content that is tagged as trustworthy – but the tagging mechanism is yet to be elaborated. Moreover, online platforms should ensure that their algorithms do not systematically favour hidden agendas, such as any political, ideological or religious opinion, or give preference to content that is their own or by an affiliated company; and avoid discriminating among users or users’ content based on protected characteristics such as race, gender or political opinion. It is often argued that algorithms cannot be made transparent, because they develop themselves and are adjusted day by day. It might be an ethical question whether algorithms, which influence public opinion, decisions of masses of people, should be as trendy and flexible as possible, or should they be driven more by the goals of stability and security?

Short Bios

Judit Bayer is associate professor of media law and international law at the Budapest Business School, Hungary, and a Schumann Fellow at the University of Münster. Her research interest is in human rights, freedom of expression, media freedom and pluralism, and privacy. She has a PhD in constitutional law (internet regulation) and habilitation in constitutional law (data protection). Judit Bayer has authored several books and articles in the field of freedom of expression and the media, in particular on the liability of internet service providers, of social media platforms, public service broadcasting, and human rights. She has participated in impactful research projects, among others on disinformation and propaganda and its impact on human rights and democracies.

Bernd Holznagel is Professor for Public and Administrative Law and Director of the Institute for Information, Telecommunication and Media law (ITM) at the University of Münster. The main focus of his research work lies in Telecommunication and Media Law as well as in network regulation, notably energy law. He studied law and sociology at Freie Universität Berlin (Free University of Berlin) as well as at McGill University Montréal. Since 1997 he has been Professor of constitutional and administrative law at the University of Münster and head of the public section of the ITM. Professor Holznagel is a member of an academic consortium for questions of regulation of the Bundesnetzagentur (Federal Network Agency) and a member of Münchener Kreis (Munich Circle). Moreover he is co-editor of the law magazine Multimedia und Recht.