Trust seen as key in transformation for institutional resilience

The panel, moderated by digital coordinator for the US Department of State Mr Matthew Jacobs, brought together representatives of academia, journalism and the private sector to look at what can be done to build institutional resilience in the digital age. Digital has caused disruptions and reshaped various areas and the main topics of debate were the new media landscape, trust and efforts at cross-sector cooperation to establish some kind of rulebook.

Mr Corneliu Bjola, an associate professor of diplomatic studies at Oxford University, focused at the outset on disinformation phenomena, saying that while it was encouraging to see that some societies are more resilient to it, the problem is that the factor boosting this resilience take a long time to build: they are education, a pluralist media system, and trust in the state.

Trust was a major topic in the debate, with Ms Crystal Patterson, government and politics outreach manager for Facebook, saying that Facebook, initially focused on innovation, on new tools, is now “hyper focused on trust”, is wondering about the impacts of its tools on culture, politics. She said the platform was working on being more transparent, informing users via other methods than small print and working more collaborate, with government as well as academia and journalists for instance.

Mr Matthias Sachs of Microsoft also stressed that ethical issues need to be considered before employing things like AI widely. “Since we see that computers are becoming more human we need to bring more of the human aspects into computing,” he said. Sachs said that tech, no longer only talking products and services, was in fact trying to initiate debate on this. He pointed out that everything was becoming digital, which is why something like a digital Geneva convention is necessary, based on the inclusion of all stakeholders, including the civil society. “We have to be accountable,” he said.

While pointing to a potentially problematic aspect of bringing government and tech too close together, Mr Bjola noted that mistrust was also generated by the suspicion that digital is becoming oppressive in our daily lives. On the other hand, he believes that the digitally-native generation will prove much more resilient to the problematic aspects of digital than can be imagined now. Mr Bjola also noted that some of these problem phenomena get more traction because of unresolved societal issues. Moreover, the fast pace of the transformation is hindering networks of collaboration and research, while it also significantly affects power constellations.

Ms Nataša Briški, a journalist and political scientist who cofounded the independent media network Meta’s list, meanwhile highlighted the fast transformation of the media and news system. After initial reluctance, the media are starting to adapt and they are also trying to build trust after the preoccupation with finding a new business model.

Briški urged the inclusion of experts on individual topics into reporting, saying that they were vital for providing context and real understanding and that the public appreciates this. She is worried by the focus on only providing short soundbites, but Facebook’s Patterson noted that employing creative approaches can keep people engaged longer, which is good provided the report has a point in the end.

The participants agreed that cross-sectoral cooperation was vital to addressing the issues at hand and finding some basic rules. The list of immediate tangible measures that could be introduced includes better education on the workings of the media as well as of computer code. As to the questions on who should initiate a change for the better, it was pointed out that the first push has already come from the public.

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