IGF 2017 - Day 2 - Room XI - WS197 Fighting Fake News, Protecting Free Speech: Global Perspectives on Combating Online Misinformation


The following are the outputs of the real-time captioning taken during the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Geneva, Switzerland, from 17 to 21 December 2017. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid to understanding the proceedings at the event, but should not be treated as an authoritative record. 



>> JAMES TAGER: Hello, everyone.  Thank you so much.  Thank you for coming to another segment of the IGF tackles fake news.

My name is James Tager.  I'm a senior manager for free expression programs at PEN America.  We're a NGO dedicated to literature and free expression.  And the chapter of PEN International.

I have the privilege of moderating this panel.  I'll say a few words to ground the conversation.  The topic for our conversation is "Fighting Fake News, Protecting Free Speech."

And you'll all have no doubt noticed this is just one event on fake news at the IGF. It's on everyone's minds across the gold globe.

Number one is over what role fake news played in our most recent presidential election, as well as political figures, most notably our president's dismaying tactic of labeling news with which he disagrees as fake news.

In October of this area, PEN America took out a report called “Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth.”  This is my short but shameless plug.

In this report, we argue that the bedrock of open discourse, trust the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood.  The right to test competing claims through forthright debate, without this bedrock, freedom of expression loses its value.

At the same time, as a free expression organization, we recognize that around the world authorities will label the speech they do not like as false or as rumor.

We know that to give governments tools to police speech is to place tremendous power in institutions that often have an established history of themselves targeting free speech.

Around the world we have skeptical citizens.  We have deficits of trust in our journalistic and governmental institutions.  We have verbal conflict that can spill over into physical conflict, and we have siloed communities.

Around the world we also have people who are happy to label speech they disagree with as fake.  And we have authorities who can see speech as something to be controlled or private institutions accountable only to their shareholders.  How do we walk this line?  I have asked panelists to share their insights not only through their expertise, but organization context.

We'll a have short discussion with the panel before I turn it over to audience questions.

With very little further ado, we will begin.  I have the privilege of introducing first, Dunja Mijatovic, the former OSE representative on Freedom of the Media.  She was a founder of the Communications Regulatory Agency.

Chair of the council of Europe's group of specialists on Freedom of Expression and Information in Times of Crisis.  She's been extensively engaged on this issue, especially in working against the knee-jerk reaction to regulate the media as a response.  I'll turn it over to you.

>> DUNJA MIJATOVIC: Thank you, James.  Good afternoon.  It's wonderful to be in this environment and with so many friends and colleagues, but also new faces.  That all of us are privileged to meet each time we have these gathering and discuss topics of such importance for our wellbeing, I would say.

So let's first admit something that I think is very present and visible that we are all suffering from the influence and the viruses called fake news.

Let's also admit that many scholars, Human Rights advocates, journalists hate the way we describe misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, by labeling it with fake news.

And I'm sure you will hear different solutions to this influence.  Different ways forward.  And attempts to fix this in our society.

If we look at just the media reports, it would seem that we are discussing a completely new concept.

I would argue that we are discussing a very old concept that has been given a new lease of life through the changes in the way we consume and produce news.

And after all lies and deception are probably as old as human communication.

Recently, fake news also became a political and popular obsession around the world.  For good and bad reasons.  And I will explain a bit later.

As a label, the term has also been invoked by political leaders in attempts to discredit legitimate journalism and to brush off calls for accountability.  And this is something we should not forget.

How all this started.  And why are we using this term?  Perhaps, even more worrying there have been attempts to restrict false new through the adoption of legal measures by organizing or establishing certain governmental agencies or quasi-governmental agencies trying to tackle fake news.

Panels in different states.  But what I would like to mention here is that we are somehow moving away from the reality with these kinds of attempts.  There are more and more calls and statements by political leaders around the world saying that they will fix fake news.  So the society will be protected.

They will tell us what is right and what is wrong, and my question to you is also why should we or, let's talk about myself, why should I trust any government agency or any search engine or any intermediary to tell me what is right and what is wrong?

And at the same time, it seems to me that we are forgetting that the moment we agreed to live in democracy, the price we are paying is also to hear the news that we do not like.  That we hate.  That we disagree with.  That we find totally unacceptable.  Vulgar.  Provocative.

And that is still freedom of speech.  So how to find this fine line and realize which kind of news is affecting our society.  And here is a good friend and colleague coming from Ukraine who can tell us what is real propaganda for war and hatred means.  This is not the same as stupid news from time to time that we see and then we hear again and again, calls from politicians and governments saying that they will fix it.

I do not want my right as a citizen, as a human being, I do not want my right to be shocked, to be discussed with certain things I hear or see, to be taken away from me.  I do not want anybody to filter my mind by telling me what is right and what is wrong.

With the full understanding about the danger we are facing as a society when it comes to the issue of fake news.  How is it affecting elections.  How it is affecting just normal life.  Spreading the news, and using this kind of information in order to bring unrest in a society.

Fake news is not new, as I said, and it is old as humanity.  The potential impact of fake news certainly increased after the invention of the printing press in 1439.  And increased again in the introduction of film, radio, and television in the Twentieth Century.  I'm mentioning this over and over again because it seems to me that we keep forgetting how did we come to this situation.

And why did we fail?  While journalism failed us in many regions of the world.  Why we are still talking about lack of media pluralism.  Why we are still talking about lack of education when it comes to media literacy and Internet literacy.

And in my view, the governments, instead of organizing these agencies and pouring enormous amount of money in fixing fake news, they should over and over again, give more into education and plurality of voices that we need to protect if we want to live in democracy.

Because the direction we are moving as a society, is something I do not like.  I do not think it's going to fix the problem.

And it can come back and hit us as a boomerang.  I'm talking about protection of freedom of speech and freedom of the media.  In the Internet era, goes without saying with boundless possibilities of dissemination of information.  Dealing with the phenomenon becomes more challenging, but this is not new.  Outrageous and shocking stories are being shared through social media, reaching a carefully targeted audience.  Unchecked, unfiltered, and the more sensational and divisive they are, the more profit they make.  But we know this is happening.

For all of us, free speech advocates, Human Rights advocates, advocates the responsibility of democratic societies is to respect freedom of the media while coping with fake news and with its close cousins, disinformation and propaganda.  The key state actors and other influential players, notably social media companies, need to respond to the spread of fake news in a way which does not undermine their Human Rights obligations and responsibilities on Freedom of Expression.

What I see nowadays responsibility being shifted from the state to the Internet companies to search engines, intermediaries, to do the work that states should be doing.  Judiciaries should be doing.

So we are shifting also.  We are allowing the responsibility of judiciary to be shifted to some agencies or companies that will tell us what is right and wrong, what is fake and not fake.

I presume many will disagree with me, but in this kind of discussion, I would like to also hear what exactly we are doing here and who are the ones really telling us what is right and what is wrong.

I'm all for NGOs, journalist associations, media companies, to do their checking.  And there are numerous attempts.  Now there's even by big players, like BBC and some others, really to do more on checking what is right and what is wrong.

Of course, it is understandable that nowadays, they need to do it more than ever before.  But at the same time, I do not think that any regulatory power or any kind of governmentally controlled institution should be filtering our minds.

With this, I would stop and then of course, engage in other discussions.

>> JAMES TAGER: Thank you.  I'm going to turn now to Dr. Rasha Abdulla.  She's the author of several publications including the Internet and Egypt in the Arab World.  And the Internet in the Arab World, Egypt and Beyond.  She'll be sharing her perspective with us.

>> DR. RASHA ABDULLA: Thank you very much.  It's actually the American University in Cairo, not Cairo University.  They're two different.


It's OK.  Thank you for having me on this great panel.  It's obviously a very important topic.  I share a lot of the concerns that were just shared and it sounded for a moment like she was reading off my notes.


I have the exact same statements at some point.  But that's maybe because we share concerns that arise from areas of the world that have different circumstances than maybe the U.S. and Western Europe parts of the world.  Part of it is obviously nothing new.  We just need to think about it for a moment.  For example, the first statement I have here is fake news in itself is not new.  It's not really news.

It is good old propaganda, it is misinformation, it is disinformation.  It's just a new label that we choose to attach to it.

What's definite is that the spread of the Internet has helped to also spread what is now termed as fake news.  So it is part of the problem as much as the Internet offers us great opportunities, but it has helped disseminate all kinds of information.

So you know, valid, credible information and what is now termed as fake news.  This has basically happened with the spread of every single new medium.

When the printing press was new, that sort of happened.  When television and radio was new, that sort of happened, because you have a new medium that helps you disseminate more information.  With that comes the chance of disseminating all types of information.  What's different this time is obviously that the Internet affords everybody the chance to be a broadcaster.

So all you need is a phone line and access to the Internet, and you can disseminate information yourself.  You don't need to have access to a television station or a broadcasting entity of some sort to be able to do that.

So that sort of proliferates the sources of information.  And that in itself is a good thing.  So I think it's very important that we keep reminding ourselves of that so that whenever we hear of the dangers of fake news, we are always reminded that to restrict the sources of information is a bad thing.

Even if some of the sources of information turn out to be invalid.  At the end of the day, the more choices you have and the more information you have, obviously the better.

I was lucky enough to attend a three-day workshop with David Kay this year at Wilton Park, and there's a podcast online of that if you're interested to hear it. 

During that workshop I basically proposed that people who want to study fake news or who are interested in the phenomena from a public policy perspective, look at the definition that basically includes two main criteria.  No. 1 is intent.  So news out there with the intent of deceiving somebody.  A journalist made a mistake.  Because that happens every now and then.  We can't really label that fake news.  At least it's not useful for us to do that. 

And the other component I would propose is sequence.  The piece of information that has been thrown out there has to be of some significant value to have potential significance.

So if I post on Facebook that I had a great date last night when I was actually sitting at home, that really doesn't matter.

It's not going to affect anybody's life.  So that is out of the concern of the greater public when we talk about fake news.  That's something different.

In Africa and in Egypt where I come from, fake news shares some of these universal attributes, but they also take on new dimensions and new meanings basically, based on the political systems that we live in and the cultural circumstances that are around us.

So basically, whenever you have a more totalitarian regime and lesser quality of information, you're going to have fake news and less ability on the part of the public to No. 1, identify the news as fake, and to identify the source of the fake news.  To identify who's causing the confusion.

Why are there very contradictory pieces of information, and how can I figure out which piece of information is correct and who's trying to confuse me.

That becomes much harder to detect sometimes.  It also means that fake news will a lot of the time be disseminated by the same people or the same entities who claim to try to fight fake news.  Whenever there's something out there that a particular government or particular regime doesn't like, all it needs to do is to project a different narrative, and then to label the credible narrative as fake news.

And if you own the media, you can do that.  If you have a lot of access to much of the media outlets in a particular country, then basically you have the means to disseminating your version of the story and calling everything else fake news.

And you have the part, whoever puts out that other piece of information, because it's fake news and dangerous to the society and dangerous to national security.  We hear a lot of rhetoric that to us in the Arab world is actually everyday rhetoric.  We literally here this every day.  So it takes on a whole new perspective and dimension because it's very difficult to fight.

Because a lot of the time it's disseminated by the state, really.  That's the problem.  And of course, the main solution then, from the point of view of the powerful is to censor the information.  So censorship becomes the main idea that is thrown out there and that is promoted and marketed to the public as a means of protection.

So we're going to protect the people from fake news, because there's some international conspiracy or there are people who hate us, or there is -- I mean all sorts of stories that again, you hear every day.  Because it is propagated.  And the people propagating the stories have the means to do that through various media channels.

The Internet becoming extremely important because that is really the only source of whatever credible information that you can have, particularly in face of such seemingly valid excuses, such as fighting terrorism, for example.

I mean who would say no to that?  Who doesn't want to fight terrorism.  But it depends on really how you do that.

Again the problem is that a lot of the time, whatever alternative narrative you provide out there to the official storyline will be discredited as fake news.  That sometimes means that you could be shamed in the media as a propagator of fake news.  And it sometimes means that you can go to jail.

Because again, those who came to fight fake news have the power to do that.  Have the power to just jail you.  In Egypt for example, recently, there was a new law that passed.  The antiterrorism law.

So supposedly that's a good thing, right?  We all want to fight terrorism.

Unfortunately, there is an article in that law.  Originally the article stipulated a two-year prison sentence for any journalist who writes a narrative on an official story that has anything to do with terrorism, as defined by the state of course, that contradicts or differs from the official accounts given by the state.

So if there is a terrorist attack somewhere and the government says five people were killed and you say 20 people were killed, they can actually jail you for that.  They can put you in jail.

Luckily, there was a huge rage when that draft law was disseminated at the time.  And that article changed from a prison sentence to half a million Egyptian pounds in fine.

That's a huge amount of money in Egypt, enough to shut down any independent media source.  Literally.  Just enough to shut them down.  However, let me also tell you they can still go to jail by emergency laws and other laws.  And that actually does happen.

So it doesn't matter much.

So basically the problem again is that fake news becomes the perfect excuse to just silence or shut down any alternative or any dissident voice.  Much more so in oppressive regimes than in the rest of the world.  In Egypt right now for example there are over 40 websites that are shut down.  They are mostly websites for independent news organizations and for Human Rights entities.  Human Rights organizations.

So I think every single independent journalism entity in Egypt is now currently blocked.  You can't access any of it.

And actually in kind of an alarming development, last week the Twitter account of one of Egypt's more famous bloggers was suspended.

Wael Abbas has over 350,000 followers, he's been documenting Human Rights abuses in Egypt.  He was one of the earliest bloggers, since 2004, early on, he had a Twitter account.  So maybe for ten years now or something, he's been tweeting.  And that account is now gone.  When he wrote Twitter, first they said the account was deleted.

And then they said, with the account was suspended for an indefinite amount of time.  We don't know how long, and they didn't give any reasons either.  That's alarming, because that's not the government.  That's Twitter.

So we're waiting for an explanation.  We're calling up pawn the business companies, the Internet conglomerates to not give in to that kind of pressure if there is that kind of pressure from governments.  That's not just a personal account.  Although that would be bad enough.

But that's an account that has documented Human Rights abuses in a country for over ten years.  So that's an archive of Human Rights abuses in the country.  It's not just any account.

When you take outsources of independent news, valid news, you're only left with fake news.  And that obviously increases the problem.

So that's the way out.  Education, yes of course.  I'm an educator myself.  I have to believe in education, but I'll also leave you with the thought that in my part of the world, that's much harder than in other parts of the world.  Because in my part of the world, if you want to provide good education, you're actually doing it in spite of those in power.  Not with the help of those in power.

So it's difficult.  I'll stop here and I'll be happy to take questions.

>> JAMES TAGER: Thank you, doctor.  Those are some examples that really illustrate the dangers of defining this incorrectly, in the scope of what we're talking about.  I want to turn it over to Yehven Fedchenko.  One of the founders of StopFake.org.  StopFake has been a vital news site takings on issues of propaganda and dealing with fake news in the Ukrainian context.  They listed as a fact-checking site but has developed into so much more.  Into a space for truth.

And I'll turn it over to him to explain a bit more.

>> YEHVEN FEDCHENKO: Good afternoon.  Thank you very much for putting me in this panel.  It's a great privilege for me to talk about Ukrainian experience of tackling fake news.  Because actually my project which was started at school of journalism, started well before fake news became a buzz word and everybody started to think and talk about this.

So we started almost four years ago.  And it was very difficult to explain people why it's important to have this conversation as early as possible.  Because our main preoccupation was not only that fake news started the actual kinetic war of Russia in Ukraine, but from that moment, we saw how fake news can ruin the canvas of journalism in general.  Not only again, limited to any other specific national media system, but how it can be a danger for media in general.  And unfortunately, we appeared to be right.

And those things which were happening in the upcoming four years, proved to bring a lot of uncertainty to journalism.  Especially in terms of not only how to deal with fake news, but how to separate the actual journalism from fake news.  Because one of the biggest problems here is that fake news, and my project is dealing with those fake news which are manufacture and disseminated by Kremlin, which basically a whole rationed media system and make it to produce those fake news.  So how to make those fake media platforms to be differentiated from real media, which is not only a big concern to us as media.  Because sometimes even we cannot say definitely what is media and what is not.

But for our audiences, it's even bigger frustration and uncertainty, because they definitely would not know exactly at very different moments what exactly they are consuming.  Where this information is coming from.  And is this a real legitimate media source or just a source of fake news trying to masquerade itself as a real media organization.

So this is a challenge, No. 1, how we differentiate one type of organizations from another type of organizations.

Another challenge is actually how to explain to why the audience, danger is already out there, what they can do as the users of media to be more effective within the existing issues.

Here we come to the next stage of what journalists can do.  It was already mentioned how we can educate our audience.  How we can make audiences to become fact-checkers as well.

My point is that we would not be limiting fact-checking to fact-checkers or journalists anymore.  Basically anyone should become and should be encouraged to become fact-checking itself.  Because this is the only way to be critical consumer of information.

My colleagues and I started to debunk fake news.  First of all, because of the war which erupted in Ukraine.  And as I said, fake news where indicators which basically set up the grounds.  The ground for the kinetic warfare.

Weaponization of narrative is an act of the war.  Now we see that more and more people would agree with that point in very different part of the world, because we've seen too many examples, how narratives were weaponized to bring (?) to national media systems, elect oral systems and political systems.  For one reason.  Because fakes are not dealing with some smallish details which might be very easily ignored.  They're dealing mostly with the bigger narratives which influence how people perceive what is real and what is not.

So when we talk about, again, you've probably heard it hundreds of times and I'm just repeating what you already know.  But what now differentiates this information and fake news as a part of this information, from what it used to be.  That now fake news are not promoting some specific point of view someone to someone.

Basically their point, the whole reasons of their existence is to make people believe in the existence of institutions, existing values and existing relatives.  To make people disbelieving in everything they used to held before.  And that is done through dominating, fake narratives which are repeated all the time from very different platforms, very different outlets, and repeated very often.

So it really striking the mind of those people who consume those fake news at regular instances.

So it was already mentioned by my colleague that the problem of fake news is not new.  And it happened years, hundreds, probably thousands years before.  Because every actual war was always supported through disinformation contains.

But there is a huge difference in what is happening right now.  If you would go to fake.org, you would find more than 1,000 fake stories we debunked in three and a half years.  More than 1,000 stories.

This is really industrial scale of production of fake news.  And implanting them into different platforms.  For Ukraine, the platform No. 1 for dissemination of fakes was telewebion, it was and still is one of the main instruments for news and current affairs consumption by audiences.

And as soon as all Russian TV channels were fully available in Ukraine, they were all weaponized to be used to disseminate those fake narratives in Ukraine.  Not only before the actual war back in 2014, but many years before.  Basically since Ukraine regained its independence in 1991.  And the problem here, that it was happening at very slow pace.

Those people who were not monitoring that very closely, they were not able to say is it disinformation; is it poorly verified news; is it just poorly produced news; or what kind of media contents they consume.

And another problem here was that all types of content was weaponized.  So when we're talking about fake news, in most cases, we are talking about news and current affairs program.

So with current disinformation, it's not true, because basically you can weaponize all types of programs.  So it was happening across all genres you can find from movies to even children programming.

One TV children programs, one of protagonists is saying tomorrow I'm not going to be seen over here, because I subscribe to go to the war in Crimea, for example.

Or to the war in Donbas and this is very dangerous, because that's a type of program and kids are consuming actually.  And this is definitely what should not be happening, because actually, children television was never actually presumed to disseminate that type of information.

So this is another dangerous element you can weaponize basically any programming.  And again, without discretion, people wouldn't know what they're dealing with, because sometimes when we're immersed in this type of conversation, for us it really seems like everyone understands about what we're talking about and it's self-explanatory and goes without saying.  No.  Sometimes those fake narratives are again, masqueraded into something which the audience cannot decode too easily.  And they still consume it at a face value.  And this is another huge challenge for us.

So what we do as a NGO, as an appropriate within school of journalism and why we've been doing this.  First of all to defend our audiences, and second, which is a bigger mission, to defend journalism from those influences.  Because we've seen how journalism was from outside.  And people from outside, governments, trying to use journalism to influence people, pretending that they are journalists.

So what we do?  We monitor and debunk in fake news.  We archive all these fake news and most of fake is one of the biggest archives of the fake news.

So it can be used for any purposes and put in research scenes and full legal scenes if someone would try to make any kind of legal connections.

We also define main narratives, because if we can define them, then we can follow them and be attentive to those disruptive narratives.  We can explain the impact to those people who are witnessing, or not witnessing yet, the impact of fake news on themselves.  And also raise awareness of fake news among those who might also be a stakeholder in solving the problem of fake news.  I would agree that it's not up to the governments to decide what is good journalism and what is bad journalism.  But without having governments as a stakeholder in this, our capacity as NGO to influence the situation would be mitigated.  We can do monitoring, research, but then someone needs to act upon the knowledge we received.

Another important pillar of this cooperation might be tech companies.  Because they are now used as a very strong amplifiers for the fake news.  Without their active participation, it would be very difficult to solve that problem.

What else we can do, and there are much controversy about all that.  Probably one of the solution is what I was talking at the very beginning, to separate the real news organizations from fake news organizations or governmental arms from different countries, which pretends to be the real news organizations.  Because they are not.

And those who are working for them are not real journalists.  They own the pay rolls of their governments to disseminate talk news and information.  Which brought in Ukraine case, brought more war, more violence and more than 10,000 people killed as a result of this war.  And also what might work is naming and shaming of those so called journalists involved in all of this.

I recently talked to some of my Russian colleagues who are kind of on a good side or light side of this battle.  And they fully agree because they cannot operate as journalists because they've been suppressed by their government.  And those people who are working for the government are called real journalists inside Russia.  This is an approach where we hold the fake news and truths called fake news.  This is absolutely unacceptable situation.

Last but not least, what already was mentioned here is of course education.  But we all should remember that education and media literacy is a long lasting answer to the problem.

The impact of it would not be immediate.  So we really need to tackle fake news right now, because it's a real danger for journalism and for political decision-making.

But the education is what we need to have to get rid of this problem, probably in ten years' perspective from now.  Thank you.

>> JAMES TAGER: Thank you so much.  I'm going to turn us over now to our online panelist, Ashif Rabi.  And we'll set it up as I introduce him.  You may wish to put on your earphones now, as it were.  He's really a jack of all trades when it comes to free expression in Bangladesh.  He's a journalist, TV personality, radio jockey and blogger who has been working to strengthen civic engagement and Freedom of Expression.  In the rising state repression in Bangladesh.  He's a former editor of a satirical Bengalian magazine.  Multiple topics including religious confidence and -- creating online spaces where citizens can discuss issues without fear of persecution.  Take it away if you hear me.

Hold on for one second.  Please hold for technical difficulties.

Are you sure you're not on mute?

While we solve your audio --

So we will solve that.  (Audio is echoing).

>> It's great to have the opportunity to mitigate some of the things.

(There is an echo on the audio line)

So being in this community, I don't think I need to explain what fact-checking is.  It's great to see all this interest here.

But maybe I should say why automated fact-checking is my own research.

And there are a few reasons.  Not enough -- mentioned already the Internet has enhanced rapid spread of information and misinformation.  And I want to be clear that at least for me, there's not (?) in terms of this in any way.

(Echoing on the audio line).

I don't think we get anywhere near that.  What I would like to do is (?) because they make sometimes honest mistakes.  Dishonest mistakes.  I just want to talk with (?).

And in order to do so, we started in 2015.  Our project.  And first thing, decide what we want from innovation.  And the first thing is have explanations.  What an algorithm tells us.

Why should you trust me.

(Captioner standing by)

If someone is speaking their own language.  My algorithm, definitely shouldn't.  In academia, we've been

(Captioner waiting for speakers to be turned off).

(Captioner cannot caption, there is echo on the audio).

I wanted to take my work to society.  I wanted to see the impact of what I am doing.

One thing is the business model with companies, social media have.  Is part of the problem.  It was mentioned in the different earlier

(Captioner standing by).

Makes profit.  Poor country, you don't care if you're tweeting something that's false.  And you earn a living.  This business model is part of the problem.

So I can protect self from misinformation.  That we might spread without meaning to.

So I think by making it more accessible, and that has to do with automation partly, would increase the factual accountability in society.  I want to be clear.  I'm not interested in building truth teller, not about having a machine that tells me something is true or false.  That's not the point.

It's about providing evidence to statements that might be contradicting it or supporting it.  That's important because that's how we're going to get to the target of education with something that has been mentioned by all the speakers already.  Education is very important.  If we educate each other, then new generations, the other generations have to fact-check, we're going to live in a better world.

I think that's very important to bear in mind.

While fact-checking and fake news has been mostly focused on politics, for a good reason.  They matter.  I think there's more battlegrounds if you would like to expand to.  For me motivation is health care.

Because if I was feeling ill, the first thing I would do is go to a doctor and find out more about what's going on.  But what's happening instead today is the first thing I do at least, and I'm not sure I'm not alone.  I go to the web and search and I find information and misinformation.

That information and misinformation guides my choices in terms of medication or whether I'll go to the doctor at all.  I think that's very important to deal with this.

That's all.  Thank you very much.

>> JAMES TAGER: Thank you so much.  Then we will turn back to our online participant.  Ashif, can we hear you?  Try again.

>> ASHIF RABI: Do you hear me?

>> JAMES TAGER: Yes.  Hi, how are you Ashif?

>> ASHIF RABI: I'm fine.  Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak here.  I would like to thank (?) for this important event.

And generally I'm from a region who express freedom is very limited.

Internet as an alternate way of expressing myself.  I started blogging in 2008 and the experience was awesome.

Internet was like a hyperjump to me.  I jumped from (?) freedom to (?) freedom.  I was happy, comfort level and very proud to be (?).

Nearly impossible to do by mainstream media.  Then something happened in my life.  More than one year ago, one of my (?) news about me.

That news was true.  The source, they put in the news was also very true.  But the text of that news (?) (indiscernible audio).

I became the most hated person in the country.  Even my mother, to whom I was the most practical person.  She called me and asked me, I said, it's not true.

Most surprisingly, as a proud mother of a journalist, she believed the news, not her son.  She became sick and was taken to hospital.  And I took a long (?) from years in Bangladesh to have the most (?)

That news can become sometimes true, partly untrue, or it's actually false.  Nowadays we call it fake news.  And I realize that for journalists, for (?).  And even for (?)

As a panelist I'm asked to address a question.  What role should the government play in combating --

While in many countries, there is (?) fact-checking.  There is censorship.  Many laws that freedom of speech.  So more harm than good.  We have to be very careful about this issue.

And second question was responsibilities (?)

Addressing effective.  My answer is --

Does Uber allow any unlicensed driver?  Why should your platform.

(indiscernible audio).

The question that comes, and this is very important, what (?) free speech --

If you want to protect people from misinformation, there is a potential risk that they will remain uninformed.

Exact challenge is to find line between information and misinformation.  Still struggling to find the right answer.

The first question, what role should (?) play in combating fake news.

They can contribute these type of discussions, and in the discussions, all parties.  Not only journalists, of the authorities.  They should include the believer of this news, the believer of this news.

Why people feel more comfortable with fake than real.  But continue the discussions.

Your opinion and experience, and thank you so much and please forgive my (?) English language.

>> JAMES TAGER: It was admittedly at times a bit hard to hear, but it's a perspective taken from what's a powerful personal experience.  On our final speaker is Paolo Cesarini.  The high level group on the subject will soon hold its inaugural meeting and Mr. Cesanini, I'm sure you can tell us more about that important work.

>> PAOLO CESARINI: Thank you very much.  Good evening to everybody.  It's clearly an honor and a good opportunity for the European Commission.  Actually, the only government fully present in this panel.  That have some responsibility to express what state responsibility should be about this challenge.

And it's a great honor to be here and to discuss with you these complex issues today.

Let me start with the preliminary remark.  As already been said by everybody, fake news is not new.  But indeed it is, today, in my view, it is just a symptom of a wider disorder.  Wider disorder which sometime has been called information pollution.

Which it is rooted in different factors, springs from different factors.  There are first of all technological factors, which make this phenomenon of information disorder more impactful today than ever.

The emergence of online platforms as a main distributors of news today, it is perhaps the most striking fact.

That means in particular that citizens are not necessarily aware of the mechanisms that shape the distribution and the circulation of news.  Of the news that they see, of the news that they read.

The combined use of personal data and algorithms to make these systems work result in a particular form of selection of the news that are exposed to people.  Very often unconsciously, that give preference to certain kind of content.

The predominance is given to debate content.  To content that produce advertising revenues, produce economic gains.

The decision made in order to capture citizens and people and users' attention.  To keep them to stay on the platform as long as possible.  Because that means money.


That is one aspect.  The other aspect is that in order to do so, in order to be so attractive, so enticeful for users, social media platforms and other online platforms create filter bobbins, which leads to a conformation bias, at the same time to a group related bias.

So the people are convinced the reality is what they're actually looking at.  And the mistake, one facet of the reality, with the whole reality.

And I think we see too much of the same at the end of the day.  And all this is because nobody really understand exactly how the system works.

The second sector factors are economic in nature.  The first is about changing consumer's habits.  And we know that more than half of the population, at least in Europe, is below 35 years old.

Considers that social media have become and now are, the main source of information.  The main channel to access information.

The second thing is that the platforms have assumed slowly, but not so slowly, if you think about it.  We're talking about a span of five years.  A gate-keeper role.

If you look at the statistic, you see that online news are accessed directly by links to the news websites.  Only up to 32%.  The other 68% is referral traffic.

So people actually go through the platforms in order to get to the news, to the website of the news outlets.  But by doing that, they leave all the old data in the intermediary platform.  And that is valuable resources that is left, that is not at the disposal of those who create the news.  Or those who invest in quality journalism.

And that has resulted, third element, in a shift of revenues.  Particular, advertising revenues.  From publishers to platforms.

And a weakening of the overall news media ecosystem.  The third factor is simply social and political.  We live in a world which is unfortunately, dominated by polarization.  You know the famous expression, "VUCA."  Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  This is where we find the world today.  In such a type of situation, it is clear that intentional disinformation finds fertile grounds, open years.  Appeals to fears.  And more likely to have an audience than appeal to the reason.  Strong emotions prevail over calm and peaceful reasoning.

And that is the big framework in which we need to discuss this issue today.

This brings me to the second point.  The second point is as a policy maker, as someone who is here to represent commission, is that there is no way that we can tackle this challenge without ensuring the full respect and the protection of the best principle of Freedom of Expression.

Indeed, engagement, that states should really commit to today.  It is to create an environment which is conducive to Freedom of Expression.  Which is an enabling environment for Freedom of Expression.  Let me make a distinction.  Of course it has been mentioned, and rightly so I think, that there are forms of intentional disinformation, that are aimed at destabilizing states.

Actually affecting and attacking the national security of states.  There are other forms of disinformation that are nothing else but a form of incitement to hatred.

And legal context.  And there are international law standards.  Freedom of Expression has to be balanced against the rule, the rule of law.  In the rule of law, you can look, for instance at Article 19 and Article 20 of the international commerce on civic and political rights.  Of course there are certain types of illegal conducts that need to be protected as well.

By the way, we talk about intentional disinformation, which is planted on Internet and disseminated with the specific purpose to achieve certain economic or political gains.

We are not talking about illegal content.  We are talking about helpful content which we need to consider as a different type of phenomenon.  And there I think it is useful to look at what the citizens actually are entitled to, under the principal of Freedom of Expression.

But this principal protects citizens' rights to freely form their own opinions.  But in order to freely form one's own opinion, one needs to have access to verifiable facts.  There is a right to know that it is important to protect as well.  In addition to the right of reply, the right of correction, which are well established under international law standards.

But the right to know and to base our own opinions on verifiable facts.  I think it is a principle that should be reaffirmed and defended in this particular context.  And is a form of protection -- I will say protection of Freedom of Expression.

And this will lead me to the third and last point.  Is how to get there.  This is the crux of the problem.  How to ensure the protection of these rights.

Well, there are three basic ideas that have emerged across the various debates that have been taking place these days.

The first one is that empowering users and education is the key, long-term goal that we should pursue.  But the long term has to be seen as a road map, I think.

What does it mean, empowering users, in this context?  One key word.  I think promotion of transparency.  Transparency means many things.  Transparency means, as I said before, transparency about the mechanism, the shape, the circulation of informational rights or transparency of algorithm, about the use of data or personal data.

But also means transparency about the sources of information.  And you mentioned it before.

The right to know is also about the right to know who is behind the sources that disseminate certain narratives.  And links to that, it is behind those sources, what are the economic forces that drive that particular form of influencing.

I'm talking here about transparency of ownership of media, and I say all media.  But also mean transparency about the mechanisms that are behind phenomenon such as click baits, fake news websites.  Like the Macedonian kids example has been quoted very many times and everybody knows this.

But that indicates that it's important for people, in order to form critically, their own opinion.  To assess critically what they read.  To know what are the economic mechanism that regulates certain forms of dissemination of information.

And the same could be said also for influencers.  Those that indeed, beyond fashion, beyond entertainment, can also be engaged and paid for political advertising.

So transparency means many things, and in a road map, one could tackle first, more certain, imminent problems that would enable to start to have an idea to read what they read and why they see what they see.

Second, an ecosystem.  It's long-term.  But I think the tools and the technological developments could enable a better diversity in the way that the distributional line of news sources is actually made by the main platforms.  They are the gatekeeper of information today.

And the third and last, and I conclude on that.  It is about the necessity to support technological innovation.  When I hear experience like yours, where efforts have been made in order to make fact-checking more faster, less costly, less labor intensive.  I think those are examples of where the innovation efforts should be deployed.

And the role of the states is also to support technological innovation in the interest of everybody and for a better news ecosystem.  I will stop there for the moment.

>> JAMES TAGER: Thank you Paolo and thank you to all our panelists.  Lots of concordance.  Almost everyone affirmed the importance of education, the importance of reflecting on the fact that this is not new.  This is a new manifestation of an older concept.

Putting the news in the hands of the consumer.  There were discussions of who are the proper regulatory agencies where the power should lie in solving this issue.

Much room for further discussion.  Time certainly does fly when you're having fun.  And I promised all of you that we would have some time for questions.  So my thought is actually to move on to questions unless the panelists, if you have any comments that you feel you would want to note now.  Otherwise we would move on to questions from the attendees.  Going once.  Thank you kindly.

Let's move on to questions from attendees.  If you have a question or comment, please be sure to introduce yourself and the organization by which you speak.

Let me start with middle and then I'll move out.  You.  Yeah.

>> PARTICIPANT: My question was I agree with everything that -- I have to present myself.  I'm here for the political party of Geneva.  I agree with everything that has been said.  But I also see that more and more people are in this conspirationalist bubble of news, bubble of news, of fake news.

If you tell me that they should verify with many sources, you have some, as you said it, you have so many different sources that are all fake.  That these people are only seeing on Facebook, for example.  The same information from their bubble.


And some people, even educated people, that's what's worrying me, fall in this pitfall.

So as Paolo said, emotions are stronger than rational thinking.

How do you solve this problem with solutions like stop fake news.  How would you serve that.  That's my question?

>> JAMES TAGER: Let's take two to three questions at a time so we can make sure we have people, please.

>> Hello, I'm Esmerelda from IFLA, the federation of library association.

I don't have a question, but I have a suggestion.  And as a librarian and library representative, I would like to stress the importance of a network that has about 2 million libraries worldwide and counting.  Where we do informal literacy of every kind.  We produce data detox kit to take care of your privacy online and clean your traces.

We had information courses about fake news, and we had a lot of things in different languages as well.  And so when you think about education, that is all fine and good, but think about libraries as well.  Because they are so important and central in the life of every person from childhood to adulthood.  That could be really instrumental in your quest of addressing many of these issues.

>> JAMES TAGER: Great point.  Thank you.  Let's take one more from the back.  This is so difficult, because I'm sure you all have excellent questions.  In the yellow, if that's all right.

>> Mine is a follow-up question to what you asked.  Which is we're talking colloquially about a bubble of fake news.  I think there are two different issues.  One is fake news and that's most of what we discussed.  The other is of the bubble, and I think that speaks more to tools of personalization and of microtargeting, which is sort of a separate debate.  I wanted to ask.  Because it seems like the fake news is about true versus false, whereas the debate on microtargeting is on echo chambers and more effective propaganda that is effective re right time to the right person.  Where do you think fake news meets targeting and personalization of fake news?

>> PANELIST: They meet.  They meet.  Because recent studies show the highest is the level is polarization in a debate.  The highest is the possibility to find false narratives that support the two poles.  Actually, there is up to 93% of likelihood to find fake news in a highly polarized debate.

Of course, the whole thing is about to develop index.  Polarization index, in order to be able to spot what are the themes, the topics that may actually lead to this type of situation.  Which is then prone for fake news.

And then comes actually, and your question, this link, the follow-up of the previous question.  Because I don't think we could imagine to convert to the truth.  Because nobody has the truth in the pocket.

It is not about establishing what is false, what is right.  Here, the game is about getting everybody the possibility to get access to diverse information.  That is what it's about.

And the question is once we have done that, once we have ensured plurality, news plurality, media plurality online.  Once we have done that, how far have you gone into developing more critical approach by the readers.  Well, probably you would say for those who are already at the extremes in the polls, not much can be done.  But if you look at how this information disseminate, how fast it does, by capturing friend of circle after friend of circle.  And these circles are actually partially overlapping.

And the spread, because of the overlaps between circles.  If you understand that there are in the middle a vast amount of citizens that are undecided.  That simply, they ask nothing else but to form freely their own opinion.  It is there where I think the percolation of diversity in terms of news can achieve positive results.

And going to the library question.  Indeed, in Sweden, for instance, there is an experience for (?) that starts from the libraries.

>> PANELIST: I would like to add that actually there is some research that polarization tries to quantify it.  Mainly on Twitter, because Twitter is the biggest that gives us access to some of its data.  And that makes it a great thing for us computer scientists.

You can actually then, if you have access to this kind of information, you can actually still produce the polarization, which is the beginning to actually battle echo chamber.

This is work by me and others in the field.  It gives hope, right?  You can actually measure the polarization with some criteria.

And then you can target appropriately.  That's some of the big platforms could actually use.  Another thing about that is everybody has a confirmation bias.  They would like to feed that.

So it's important to study how ourselves can actually deal with this, right?  Not every day, I'm capturing something that agrees with my ideas.  Doesn't happen.  It would be great.  But I'm sure it does happen to everyone.  I think it's important to help ourselves and maybe help media platforms help ourselves.

>> Yes, the bubbles are one of the reasons why propaganda is so successful.  So we really need to try to get people out of those bubbles to provide them more understanding that those bubbles a dangerous for them, and it provides them some other possibilities to different topics.

And for example, my website is really trying to engage our audience in fact-checking as I said.  And this is very important.  So we are not telling them what is wrong and what is right, but we're saying, look what we did, and you can use the same, because it's very easy.  For example, we have a section called tools where basically teaching people how they can do fact-checking by themself.

It's sometimes very simple things.  It would take you one minute to use those instruments and know one more different special design, software instruments, which can also be used by audiences.  So we're explaining.  We also have a button on the top of the website, saying report as fake.  So basically we're alerting people there might be fakes and materials they're consuming and if they can end us a link, our professional news editors would have a look at that.  And would give them more kind of understanding what that information is.

And one more thing is that we really should try to.  I already mentioned it once.  We should try to teach people how to differentiate poor quality media from non-media, which is also essential.

And this blue badge of organizations and media, that can be trust.  But the question is who would be providing those badges and why people should be trusting the choice.  So it's kind of the next stage of the conversation already.

But for example, why (?) was so much afraid of being named for an agent in the United States.  Because basically it's not a blue, but some other color of signature names.  They're not trust media organizations.  Why there been so much alerted.  I think other countries would follow the suit, it would be also much more easier to explain to the audiences, which media organizations are real, and which media organizations are just pretending they are.

Also education.  Not from the point of view of teaching peal how they should be doing that.  For example, we did a very good campaign with U.S. organization called IRIX.  Did a TV advertising campaign explaining to people that they should be approaching (?) products as much as they in consumer groups.  When you pick up your meal in the grocery store, you pay attention to producer, expiry date and other details on the pack.  Why you should not be doing that with media product.  Just give two minutes of your attention to that and it would save you from consuming nonhealthy media dietary.

>> PARTICIPANT:  My name is Adora.  I'm a journalist from Nigeria, and I'm also an Internet Society Ambassador.  And my question is to the last speaker.  You said something about Freedom of Expression.  How Freedom of Expression could help to tackle the challenge of fake news.  I actually agree with that, because in Nigeria, we also have a very serious problem when it comes to incidents of fake news.

And while the reasons why we experience that, because the government is very secretive and restrictive about the information that it disseminates.  So we don't really have a lot of access to information like we should.

But I'm wondering what about societies where there's less restriction on information.  For instance, you have a place like United States of America.  What happens in those societies?  You can actually say that there's a high degree of Freedom of Expression.  You still see a lot of fake news going around.

So what's responsible for that and how can you tackle it?

>> JAMES TAGER: I'll try to make a brief response as the American on the panel.


And I was thinking about opening up with this joke that America and the issue of fake news is like someone who shows up to a party and says "have you seen this new TV show" but it's a show that came out five years ago.

We have, in the United States, we as a society are like, have you heard of this whole fake news concept?  And everyone and all of these panels has been like yes, we've been dealing with it for quite a while.

There's always a discussion about whether because the United States is one of the least restrictions on what we define as free and protected expressions of the world.  Of course the U.S. constitution includes it constitutional right to lie.

On some level, it is fake in the democratic experiment that the people will manage to figure out how to prize the right type of civic discourse.

I always respond on some level by saying I still believe that the appropriate place to put a lot of the effort on dealing with fake news is within society and societal efforts and Civil Society efforts to address it as opposed to government regulation.  This is a theme we've been discussing during this entire panel.

And it particularly comes to in the American context, well, have we defined free speech too broadly.  And I continue to put that impetus, that onus on society at large rather than the government.

That's somewhere where I would structure the question.  You're right, that unfortunately these are the questions I think people around the world are asking themselves in the back of their minds.  Gee, we see this liberal standard for free expression.  We see its negatives.

Of course, one of the ways I would respond to it is noting that currently our authorities are further muddying the waters as to what determines fake news or not, right?  That, I would argue is not an issue of overly permissive free speech from those below.  It's an issue from authorities.  In case it's unclear, I'm referring to our president.  Who are really kind of excited to make it particularly unclear what's fake and what's real.

So there's still fault to be laid at the hands of the powers that be rather than moving towards the idea that we've drawn the line too broadly.

Certainly as an American lawyer I always push back against that.  But it does come to the essential point that you need free speech and responsible speech.  But I want to encourage responsible speech through societal mechanisms and not through government regulatory mechanisms.

>> PAOLO CESARINI: If I may add one thing.  It's important to keep in mind that Freedom of Expression is covering many, many areas.  We're talking politics.  We're also talking about science.

Science in areas which are very important for people like health.  So the fact that there is a lot of debate around certain issue, like for instance, vaccination.  Is it provoking autism or not.

Well, there is a lot of debate.  The point is even in very open societies.  I'm talking about the European experience, where indeed there are many views about it.  The question remains as to whether or not those who would like to have an independent view of the facts are easily accessing these facts as being verifiable.

So the challenge here is to enable people through simple tools.  And I'm convinced there are simple technological improvements that can actually free up the space.  The cyberspace for access to diverse information.

How can people make up their mind on their own.  Is it good, is it bad?  Perhaps the science have not reached a final conclusion.  But at least let's create a news information, an information environment where access is at the hands of everybody.  And everybody is able and skilled enough in order to use these tools.

>> Thank you.  I'm Andrew Bridges a lawyer from Silicon Valley.  My concern is that if we consider this to be a digital issue or an Internet issue, is it not doomed to failure?

Because the platforms that everybody's concerned about are relatively neutral.  But if we look at the traditional media and traditional bubbles, they are actually, I would argue, far more powerful than the social media on the Internet.

And what are some of the bubbles?  Gated neighborhoods.  Schools and universities.  Houses of worship.  And social clubs.  Where people gather together to be like-minded, guaranteed by freedom of association.  But they gather together with like-minded or with the people like them or with the people who they feel safe with, who reinforce these cultural norms.  And when they decide on something as their doctrine, then they adhere to it strictly.

Second, I don't think in the recent U.S. election, for example, the Internet was nearly so powerful as one major television broadcast network.  Which attacked all the other networks as illegitimate.

And I think we've failed to recognize the power for the last 20 years of talk radio.  And of people responding and reacting on radio.  It seems to me if we're going to try to address these issues, we can't just sprinkle a little antiseptic on the wound.  We have to dig into the wound to find the rock that's underneath.  Until we take on these very directed forms of platforms, I'm not sure how we cure at all.  Frankly, maybe we're being too defensive about the Internet and the digital world, suggesting that oh, we can attack it here.  Until it's been attacked at the more fundamental level.

>> For me, I'm not sure that I was saying it's only on the Internet.

>> And there are a lot of people saying this is not news.  I'm not trying to say everybody disagrees, I'm just trying to say do we need to dig deeper?

>> Of course, and the levels on which we need to dig, differ by what area of the world you come from and what are the exact challenges that you're facing.  I think it's -- the platforms are not that neutral though.  We need to keep that in mind.

Because on Facebook, for example, you get to see more of the comments of people that you tend to agree with, that you tend to like their posts and share comments on their walls.  So unless, like one very peculiar friend of mine.  Every day, we ask how do you do this?  He engages literally in fights online, very strong discussions with people who are on the extreme, opposite side of where he stands.

And it drives us crazy, we have to follow it, because it appears on our timelines.  Unless you're like that guy who is very proud of what he says and says it's a good exercise.  I love what he does.  I cannot do it.  Unless you're like him, you're going to be further bubbled in.

Through the social media platforms.  Unless you very actively choose to fight that and choose to engage in conversation with people you disagree with, or choose to follow people on Twitter who, the rhetoric of who you don't really like or agree with.

Otherwise it's easier to get pub bubbled in.

>> The right get farther right and the left get farther left.  But at least Facebook has not picked left or right to provoke.

>> Facebook has picked the side that you choose to go on.

>> Each person.

>> PANELIST: Right.  So it sort of deepens the bubble that you choose to go into.  But again, I mean the Internet is obviously one layer, but like I said at the very beginning, it's just the thing that is different about the Internet is that we're all producers of information online.

And so potentially we're all producers of legitimate news or fake news.

And just to make -- this is another important point.  It's not usually the legitimate news organizations that are the producers of the illegitimate news.  If you were following the Egyptian media at the time of the revolution you would get a very different picture from what is happening in every square of Egypt.  The square is sort of exemplification of what was happening.  Literally what was happening was told by social media.

Was told by the accounts of people like Bes whose Twitter account was suspended.  These are people who told the masses what was happening.

While hundred meters away, Syrian television, a thousand people were getting killed.  It's very -- I think we should really be very careful about maybe the idea of having some kind of a system where you get a check mark next to the major news organizations.  Because these are not always the ones who disseminate credible news in every country.

>> JAMES TAGER: So sorry.  We have to stop there.  If it were up to me, I would lock the doors ask keep us here four hours.  Then the IGF would never invite us back.


Thank you so much to the panelist who's gave up their time and expertise.  And thank you so much to all of you who came with your interest and engagement and questions.  I wish we didn't have to stop here.  But feel free to trap the panelists and ask them further questions after.  Thank you.


(Session closed at 6:16 p.m.)