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Symposium 2015

Solution for Brave New Media World? How the Internet Spreads Information Across the Globe

The Challenge

Hardly any recent innovation has contributed as much as the Internet to making the world become globalized. With this new medium, information about nearly any topic can be distributed at high speed an ...

Hardly any recent innovation has contributed as much as the Internet to making the world become globalized. With this new medium, information about nearly any topic can be distributed at high speed and low cost, worldwide. This development most obviously has fostered international economic integration by lowering transaction costs. Moreover, it facilitates the transnational organization of political interests by providing efficient channels for mass communication. Eventually, new media might thus contribute to improving the provision of global public goods by equally spreading information on costs and benefits of related policy measures around the world, and helping to formulate demand accordingly.

However, the mere availability of new media does not necessarily guarantee an equal spread of information and better informed consumers, as a consequence. In fact, new media shift the costs of filtering information onto the user, and differences in the ability to do so may even increase the knowledge gap between the informed and the uninformed, within and between countries. If users find it too expensive to search and validate information from different sources, they might rely on biased information that match their preconceptions instead, potentially fostering ideological lock-ins. If individual costs of processing information are prohibitively high, consumers might even consume less information.

So, paradoxically, the new media may spread information globally, without improving the average consumers' deeper understanding of worldwide economic and political developments. While access to new media is the prerequisite for spreading information more equally, it is the new media consumers' patterns of usage that eventually determine whether progress in the information and communication technologies will result in more or less informed consumers.

Responsible Openness

The possibilities of sharing information and creating communication via the internet are a challenge on many levels. Sharing information in a distribution system which was made with the basic idea to route around obstacles and barriers is challenging every existing social human structure. Every culture, every power, every hierarchy can be scrutinized and hacked with a tool which is the technical incarnation of the idea of free and modern world—in all its ambivalence.

Therefore the internet can be a tool and a place for emancipation, participation, education and enlightenment. The potential of unfolding and enhancing existing social capital is given. The internet can also be the place for destructive power touching cultural structures, grown communities and pre-dominant religious or secular hierarchies and narratives. Everything can and will be hacked.

The internet is the ultimate tool to modernize the human world. That’s why more and more established powers are influencing the development of the web and try to establish restrictions to domesticate it in their understand of good governance and of a good society. Starting from the UN process known as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to national and commercial players which reduce the openness of the internet legal or illegal restrictions and commercialization of the shrinking variety of user platforms, platform capitalism is re-structuring the way platform cooperation, a basic function of the internet, can be done.

Every society has the internet it deserves.

The conflicts arising along the use the internet are a reflection of the conscious and the tacit conflicts we have in our societies, communities and as a species. Blaming the internet for anything is blaming the tool and not its users. All legal and cultural debates around the many implementations or permutation of web use are forcing a society to reflect on its values, sets of laws, individual and common capabilities for empathy, respect and understanding. The internet is the front end of the biggest and most interconnected knowledge and data base mankind has ever had. But who is the owner and who decides about what is done with the data and its algorithms?

The solution

There is no easy solution. The solution is to define commonly and openly the responsibilities of the process. Apart from good lawmaking and global multi-stakeholder governance, the solution is to think about and develop ways to enable digital literacy as much as possible. Digital literacy is the key for societal and economic development in a digital modern open way. The paradigm of openness without the effective and enduring mission to enable digital literacy can destroy the emancipatory element of the internet use. Without digital literacy the internet can become the terrifying opposite of modernism. It’s not only about the chance to openly receive information, but to actively acquire it. It’s not only about receiving a certain kind of tools to work with information, but to learn how to create and to modify tools on your own. The multiplicity of solutions are ranging from opening up markets to develop open structures and resources for education, over having open access to scientific research results to use in entrepreneurial and crowdsourced ways, to creating methods for trust building and participation in governance and decision-making. The solution is a spirit of openness which is able to create frameworks where cultural values are defined in a respectful and open environment and which is also able to procure and ensure responsible human-human and human-machine interaction. Therefore the internet is not a purpose of its own but the needed and valuable global network tool to understand, survive, and shape the complex adaptive system we call human society.

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