Tackling fake news in the online sphere #Forum2000online

November 25, 2021

Dr. Eduardo Magrani, the President of the National Institute for Data Protection in Brazil and an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, joined us for this week’s #Forum2000online Chat to talk about Brazil's pioneering legislative attempts to regulate the virtual sphere, the challenges it poses for the lawmakers worldwide, as well as the broader context of what still has to be done to ensure that democracy and human rights are safe in the reality where the border between online and offline becomes more and more blurred.

We need adequate law regulations for the digital world.

Despite some successful examples of pioneering legislation in Brazil and the EU, there are still many aspects of the digital world — like spreading misinformation and AI — that need to be regulated. It is a very demanding task for lawmakers. In the interview, Dr. Magrani underlines, “law is always delayed when we compare to the pace of the technological advancement, but now things are out of hand, and the law should catch up more rapidly”. Appropriate legislation is indispensable for ensuring that democracy and its freedoms prevail in the digital era. “The digital sphere still threatens Brazilian democracy,” he summarized.

Targeting content is a challenge for both personal data protection and democracy. 

Tech companies gather enormous amounts of data about Internet users’ online behaviour. Thanks to technologies based on algorithms, such acquired information allow for online targeted advertisement. It poses a challenge for the protection of personal data and also seems to increasingly threaten democracy as it provides tools for the moulding of public opinion. In the interview, Dr. Magrani warned that “people are not aware how their personal data can be used to manipulate them, even politically”. 

People are locked up in their own "tailored realities".

Micro-targeting of content causes people to rely on undiversified sources of information, creating bubbles based on a false conviction that the online reality an internet user access is the same as for all the others. Dr. Magrani underlined, "The reality I perceive online is not the same reality that other people are perceiving." It can further lead to the radicalization of public discourse and polarization in societies. "When it connects to some old negative effects like lack of education like we have in Brazil, it’s a recipe for democratic catastrophe, because people are stuck in filtered bubbles online, they are not looking for different sources […] and they can be manipulated by bots, fake news and micro-targeting," he also warned.

It’s unethical to spread misinformation just as unethical is spreading a virus. 

The Internet users themselves should be — alongside the governments and businesses — responsible for ensuring that digital space is not misused to the detriment of democratic values and human rights. Solving the problems requires a multi-stakeholder approach, where academics, politicians and entrepreneurs should coordinate their efforts to find adequate solutions. Internet users also should not forget about their responsibility to act fair. “When I share fake news it has to do with my ethics, so I need to double-check this information because the same way I cannot spread the COVID virus, it’s also unethical to spread misinformation,” Dr. Magrani emphasized. 

In this interview, you will learn that: 

  • Democracies still miss adequate law regulations for the digital sphere.
  • While these regulations are still missing, anti-democratic forces and companies can grossly misuse digital technologies.
  • Micro-targeting of content causes people to lock up in their own “tailored realities”, where they are vulnerable to manipulation.  
  • Spreading misinformation online is as unethical as spreading a virus.  
  • Ensuring that democracy and human rights prevail in the digital era requires a joint effort from governments, businesses and internet users themselves.
  • Brazil and the EU are leading in creating legislation for data governance and other issues concerning the digital world that should serve as an inspiration.

Dr. Eduardo Magrani is the President of the National Institute for Data Protection in Brazil and an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He has worked as Project Lead Researcher on Internet Regulation, Digital Rights, Data Protection, Artificial Intelligence, and Intellectual Property fields for more than ten years and participated in developing of Brazil’s first comprehensive Internet legislation: Brazil’s Internet Bill of Rights. Magrani holds a Ph.D. in Law and a Post Doctorate at the Munich Center for Technology and Society of the Technical University of Munich.

The interview was recorded on November 4, 2021, and moderated by Arzu Geybulla, Azerbaijanian journalist and member of the Forum 2000 Program Council.