People criticize social media too much

Social media criticismThe greatest propaganda machine?

Mike Herbstreuth: Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter as "the greatest propaganda machine in history" - Ms. Brodnig, is Sacha Baron Cohen exaggerating or is he right in your opinion?

Ingrid Brodnig: I think there is something to it. What Sacha Baron Cohen is addressing is the enormous reach, the enormous power that these platforms have. I'll just say one number: Facebook can reach around 1.6 billion people every day. There has never been a newspaper or television station in human history that gathers 1.6 billion people every day. And with that range comes a power. And if you look at that, you notice that these platforms were not founded out of a democratic need, but more for entertainment, for networking people and more and more they became politically important.

Unsensitive approach by Facebook

But at the same time, they sometimes only fulfill this position sub-optimally. Sometimes they also express themselves strangely. I remember: Last year Mark Zuckerberg once said that he thinks it's terrible when the Holocaust is denied. But he doesn't really think that should be taken off the platform. And that offended many people - not least because in Germany and Austria, for example, it is forbidden to deny the Holocaust. And then it is noticeable again and again that Facebook acts insensitively and sometimes badly - that is, that things stop where you simply cannot understand what is happening.

Herbstreuth: So if they find it so difficult, what would be the solution in your opinion? So only government regulation can help? Does the threat of punishment only help, as Sacha Baron Cohen demands? Let's have a quick listen:

"Perhaps it is time to tell Mark Zuckerberg and the heads of these companies: You have already allowed a foreign power to interfere in our elections. You have already made a genocide possible in Myanmar. Do that again and you go." into jail."

How realistic is that? State regulation of Facebook or harsher sentences - even prison sentences?

Brodnig: So I don't think Mark Zuckerberg will be in jail anytime soon. And that's not the point at all for me personally. I think you shouldn't focus it on the person at all. But the state, especially democratic countries, can do a lot. For example fact checks - there are currently no rules at all. That’s what the platform itself is about. Same example: political advertising in the election campaign. The platforms can currently decide for themselves what to disclose, how much to reveal and what not to say.

New minimum standards necessary

I think these are fields where we could provide guidelines, for example minimum standards that every large platform must meet. For example: How much money did a party ad cost? Which target groups were addressed? We shouldn't leave that to the platform alone. I don't think that with regulation we can get rid of the entire problem of disinformation on the Internet. That will never go away. But we can do a bit better! I think we don't have to talk about strict penalties now, but rather about new minimum standards in the political debate on the Internet. Because we're all in a game where we don't know the rules. And I think that's just not good enough.

The Austrian author and journalist Ingrid Brodnig (picture alliance / APA / Georg Hochmuth)

Herbstreuth: Do you think that can work? That politics really get an insight into this and that such a cooperation with social networks can come about?

Brodnig: I believe that in the next few years we will definitely be flowing towards new rules, literally. You have to remember: next year, 2020, the next US election will take place. One can assume that emotionalizing, perhaps also wrong, content will become visible again. That will fuel the debate. "Oh my god, did you see what happened again on Facebook?" And at the same time you can say: In Europe, the EU Commission is already working on a large number of legislative proposals. One can assume that there will be a lot to come next year. So I assume that we will see actual violations of the law in the next few years. And then you just have to see: are they good enough? What should be improved? But yes, why should the Internet be the one industry where we don't create minimum standards? Let's do it in other industries too.

Herbstreuth: So do you then believe that 2020 could really get better in terms of disinformation or conspiracy theories on social networks? Can we get that better under control? Or is it just a little wishful thinking at first?

Brodnig: I think we'll talk more about it in 2020. Because with every US election, and this is the most important and most discussed election in the world, such emotional, problematic stories are also discussed on the Internet. I assume that problematic things will also happen on social media in the 2020 US election, perhaps also from a political candidate that one could think of now. And that drives the debate, and at the same time the new EU Commission is at the start in Europe, which has already announced that it will put things forward. And one can assume that they will deal with algorithms, i.e. with software and what transparency may be necessary, i.e. also with the liability of large platforms. And that means at least that we will have a debate.

We spoke longer with Ingrid Brodnig - here you can find the long version of the Corso conversation

The actual laws - that often takes a few years. The problem on the internet is that digital platforms are advancing incredibly quickly, but the rule of law is slow. And it's slow for good reason too - because laws can't and shouldn't just be pounded out of the ground. That said, next year we probably won't have any fixed regulation, but we will have a debate. And I assume that with every year that participation in social media grows, we will talk more and more about it and just have to talk about it.

Hardly anyone deletes their own profile

Herbstreuth: That would be the political side now - if we take a look at the users' side. What can they do? For example, there were campaigns like #deletefacebook and I also know some people who actually deleted their accounts at the time. Only: this total number of users and users had no influence at all, right? Facebook then presented record numbers. So doesn't that do anything?

Brodnig: If you look at the usage time, at least in the USA, there is a suspicion that some people spend less time on Facebook. But you are right: this big announcement, “delete facebook!”, That means “delete your profile!”, Was only made by a few. And I have to tell you: this is no wonder at all. Because: Facebook has around 1.6 billion users every day. And when a large part of your friends, your social network, is there, it is difficult to do without. This is called network effects: the more other users there are, the more attractive a network is to users. And that's why you can't just delete your Facebook profile because your friends are only on Facebook and maybe not on Twitter or on Diaspora. That is why it is so difficult to say goodbye to the big platform: Because there are no real alternatives.

And I think it is wrong to say that the user has to solve the problem through his own boycott. Boycott can make sense, but in that case the market power is so great that I think one should intervene more politically, i.e. socially as a whole. That means: make conditions if necessary. Or: In the USA there is even a debate as to whether Facebook should be broken up. So, I think it is too much to shift responsibility for the problem to the individual.

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