Social media and the empowerment of citizens is one of the most notable developments here. Indeed, renewal of the democratic process through information and engagement has been the promise of social media. However, we have learnt that misinformation and manipulation can also stem from this tool. Confirmation bias and spreading of misinformation on social networks (including fake news) and group polarisation are some of the problems concerning policy makers and regulators in Europe, as well as technology and media companies. These problems need to be tackled at technological/scientific level (e.g. through network theory that analyses the networks through which rumours and news spread) and at political/regulatory level. We will need novel policy options for the governance of social media.
It is also becoming apparent that today a small number of “internet giants” are strongly influencing consumers’ and businesses’ choices and habits. Some of the consequences are limits to the net neutrality principle and to the democratic process itself. Furthermore, the concentration of users’ data in the hands of a few large companies or public organisations is also raising concerns in terms of privacy and security. At the same time, examples of fruitful collaborations between large companies and open-source communities or start-ups are frequent, while new technologies are emerging which could support decentralisation of powers while also ensuring security and privacy.
This is for instance the case with blockchain, which enables the exchange of not only information, but anything of value on the internet in a secure and transparent way, without the need for trusted intermediaries. These new technologies could open up new spaces for public and private actors to cooperate and co-produce with citizens for the common good. However, several barriers need to be addressed, for instance in terms of energy-efficiency, interoperability, standardisation and security, both at technological and at legal and fiscal level. In this panel, expert scientists, business innovators and policy-makers will look at past, current and future model of governance for an efficient and yet open and inclusive internet.