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Steve Parks @steveparks
, 25 tweets, 7 min read Read on Twitter
I’m at a panel on ‘is Silicon Valley a threat to democracy?’ with @carolecadwalla @DamianCollins @RVAwonk @JamieJBartlett and @CatrinNye
At @BylineFest

#Bylinefest #BylineFestival #FixingDemocracyInTheRain
Carole talks about the resistance of the big SV companies to any real transparency or accountability. One of her Guardian colleagues ran a story about Facebook data a long while ago, but Facebook wouldn’t respond, when Carole started with story got the same brick wall...
She says it was only when @chrisinsilico came out as a whistleblower with hard evidence for the public to see that Facebook finally addressed the problem. They have no interest in public scrutiny until there’s a threat of bad PR.
She says we should be fundamentally concerned that such large powerful organisations refuse any transparency, or scrutiny by journalists or government.
Next, @RVAwonk says her concern with SV is the use of their platforms to falsely lead public debate. She describes ‘astroturfing’ - lobbyists using social Media to create a false impression of a grassroots movement ...
She gives example in US where a big social Media campaign was set up by a group of Democrats unhappy with Hillary being candidate and leaving the party. The idea was to encourage others to do the same. And sure enough it seemed to generate a big response. That got media coverage
...but it turned out that the entire thing was false, and originated from the Trump campaign.
But the power of the platforms, and the ability to create false personas and spread messages widely, allowed that to happen.
Jamie, who has written a book on how Tech is ‘destroying’ democracy gives the analogy of when we used to take photos with a camera and have to take the film to Boots and get the prints a week later, vs photos on our smartphone. He says our democracy is still like the former...
... he says therefore that we need to upgrade it.
Though he says some technology advances could be problematic, eg Blockchain for advertising. No government could require them to remove an ad - it couldn’t be done. We might look back on now as the good old days...
He has some sympathy for the tech companies though, because they are global, and which law should they follow - if they have to follow censorship in US or Europe, should they follow it if Russia wants to ban any mention of homosexuality?
He says this is a battle between nations
But they do have to obey the laws in countries they operate in, so we should make sure to make clear laws and strong enforce them. It’s the enforcement that is key
Damian says his committee’s report calls for stronger regulation, and also calls particularly for regulation of political advertising, including disclosure of source and funding.
He says we also have to educate the users.
Q: what role do venture capitalists play in shaping whether tech companies are good or bad?

Jamie says it’s everything, because VCs take small enthusiastic company and put it on a rocket growt path. He quotes a VC that says he only funds biz that could become a monopoly
They demand massive growth rates and these are only possible by being subsided by welfare capitalism.

Therefore he says that it is essential we find new funding models to get a healthier tech sector.
Q: should we be concerned about the growth of far right across Europe too?

Carole says Facebook is American company and doesn’t see itself as accountabile to European governments or democracies
“Facebook fucked up our democracy and I’m very angry and will keep banging out on it”
Therefore if they won’t come and answer questions on front of a select committee then they shouldn’t be allowed to publish any political advertising or content.
Damian says that there is growing concern in European governments. In some countries they have been dealing with the far right for years and are actually glad that the UK has now seen it is a problem and is joining the fight.
There are a number of European elections this year that will be important to watch. But the key one to watch will be the US midterms.
The Americans were caught out by their presidential election being sabotaged by the Russians, but their law enforcement is very alert now...
... and they are determined it won’t happen again.
So if Russia does inerfere in the midterms and the US fails to defend against that, we will see what the response from America will be then.
There’s now discussion about whether social Media platforms should be classed as publishers, which brings certain different legal responsibilities and obligations.
There is disagreement about this on the panel, Carole is keen that they should be...
...Jamie says that he doesn’t support this as a whole, as it would effectively make them shut down the public being able to post because the legal risk for them would be too high. But they should be treated as a publisher for advertising content...
... Damian doesn’t want to comment directly on that, but does say that he thinks there needs to be wider thought about what organisations should come under the existing regulatory bodies.
...Damian gives the example of Netflix and other streaming services, and says they are effectively broadcasters - so should they now be regulated by Ofcom in the same way as the BBC?
... Jamie says that people power is also vital. We can stop using services at the extreme, or take steps to limit our benefit to them - changing permissions, not engaging with ads, confusing their algorithms and so on.
And that wraps up that session. Although having representatives from left and right, the panel was unanimous in the view that the current activities of the big Silicon Valley tech companies is damaging our democracy.
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