Internet & democracy – the case of Covid Infodemics – BigStage 2020

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12 June 2020 | 13:00-14:30 | Studio The Hague | Video recording | Transcript | Forum
BigStage 2020 overview

Session teaser

The Internet has so far developed out of any democratic control, thus producing waves of media populism. The recent pandemic, and the subsequent health infodemic, revealed the need for web regulation, at least in the health sector.


Presenter/Key participants:

  • Mauro Barberis, chair of Legal Philosophy, University of Trieste
    Current research focus on alternatives to Constitutional state, such as neoliberal markets, populist democracies, and security state
  • Emanuele Trucco, PhD, FRSA, FIAPR, Chair of Computational Vision, University of Dundee
    Current research focus on precision medicine from the artificial intelligence perspective, including big data, deep learning, data governance and explainable AI

Video record


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>> SANDRA HOFERICHTER: We go to the next one, it is about Internet & Democracy: The case of COVID infodemics coming from Italian colleagues. Temperature speaking about Internet & Democracy: The case of COVID infodemics. A topical issue. Over to the next BigStage.

>> Good afternoon. Many thanks for the invitation by Roberto Gaeteno. I teach jurisprudence here at the University, Mauro Barberis and about this issue, I published six months ago a book in Italian. This book. I have come to some conclusions that I would like to propose to you before passing the mic to my friend.

My first conclusion is that the internet is no longer a mirror technology, neither good or bad nor neutral. Nor it is a medium that joins others by becoming even more pervasive. The internet now is part of the human development and human form of life. Learning from specialists is not enough, the internet is an object of study, not only for computer scientists, but for many others, my second conclusion, it is that the internet emerged from the same process from which market and modern state did. The modern state developed conflict between the market from competition between interference. In a similar way, today, digital giants such as Google and Facebook emerge from a natural selection process between Silicon Valley and others.

So we have seen how they have escaped the .com bubble by profiling the user and selling the data, the data collected this way. This original sin is still the original business.

We’ll see if they respected privacy, tech transfer fatally lose their monopoly and fail. This is also the reason why the internet monopolists cannot self‑regulate, the regulation work cannot even come from single national states, but only from international organization like the European Union.

The third conclusion, it is that the same dynamics that had a successful eCommercial it has been imitated and exploited by politics. Scandals such as the Cambridge analytic one has shown that the digital players sell our data to political entrepreneurs, to political leaders, movement, parties. Today were digitalized by considering the digital revolution and today’s populist wave, it is surprising that so few scholars have systematically linked the two fields.

For the usual effort of the disciplinary association, a lot of books on digital giants come out every day and even more will say populism but yet discourse, systematically connects the two areas, it is still few. Media populism has been used for this intermediary. I like the data digital popularism that appeals to the people against the 20 Century populism but by exploiting social media and Big Data with greater success. Without this essential feature, for instance, the intention desire, it implicates. About the recent pandemic, on the reaction with the internet and democracy issue, I give the floor to the true specialist. Here I have a conclusion, which I would like to express in a less political form, I don’t agree with the idea that the two Bureaus, the COVID and digital, why they fight each other. The pandemic accelerated and isolated processes of individualization, digitalization through working and employment and infodemics that seems to be a development for the proliferation of digital populism. The later data risk, something like the democracy, of the third millennium. Thank you very much.

>> Thank you.

I would like to thank you, the organizers for having us in this online event. A very brief word on who I am, I am the professor of computational in the School of Science and engineering in the University of Dundee rain my role here, it is to complement hopefully, maybe interesting way the views by the professor by the point of view of the study in this area.

What I would like to point to is digital healthcare, it is a busy field these days. I would like to focus on the thread and question of what is democracy for healthcare or within healthcare in relation to artificial intelligence and the internet which are two technologies, two worlds which are increasingly together into a unique, extremely powerful entity really. The aspects I would like to mention, I should stress these are partial aspects of the immensely complex universe, they are three, and they offer a couple of brief thoughts. First, if we want to speak of democracy I believe within digital healthcare we have to consider complete access to personal data preferably directly through portals, digital portals, online systems, so on. Interestingly, this is technically not currently possible. I stress the word complete access. It is possible to access the areas, accents on the various parts of the world. Some of the clinical data. It is not – it is – we’re far from stable in this situation. So complete access to personal data seems to be the first ingredient here.

The second, it is the control on the use of personal data.

Here I connect with what the professor was saying before. Once you put in your MRI images, your scans, your evolving levels, you know, do you have control of this? The third, it is can you participate in decisions about your own health? This is a particularly interesting and delicate point these days for a couple of reasons. The first one, it is that I believe that in order to have a properly informed participation in healthcare regarding you, you must understand – we must understand what we’re talking about. We must understand and clearly we’re not doctor, but we must understand sufficiently well what the data is about, how they’re used, how the diagnosis is, how the therapy is being reached and so on.

This points to a colossally important area, which is unfortunately emerges as serious research in the last ten years I would say, which is seriously – which is doctor/patient relationships, this is one aspect. The aspect – the second I’ll come to in a moment.

Let me say, healthcare, in the context of the discussion from my point of view, it is a special case. From the point of view of the management of the data. Healthcare data, it certainly in the UK, in other parts of the world, other parts of Europe, United States, ever since the computer has been introduced as a means of storage, let alone processing, healthcare data has always been subjected to special regulation protections, barrier, so on, ages before GDPR. This makes data – an example, if you want to access data if you’re like me, a scientist developing an AI programme, you want to access data for analyzing images, developing a face recognition programme, you find zillions of images on the network, on the internets actually. If you want, like me, you want to analyze medical image, if you want to develop software which does a system diagnosis, it is extremely difficult to procure serious amount of data which in turn points to another interesting factor, this again is connected to what the professor was mentioning before, it is that if you want to do serious research you need to be connected with some organizations sufficiently powerful to give you access to this data. This is a digression, however, okay.

Let’s go to another point, it is a little bit wider.

I believe the internet is morphing, rapidly, changing rapidly, this is something that’s under everybody’s eye.

The rapid growth from a technological point of view F a point of view of what can be done with AI on the internet, it has morphed the way we are. This is something that’s been stated in different words. The way in which we exist, and I’m thinking problem solving, interpersonal relations, patient doctor relationship, developing tools for healthcare, this has been morphed beyond belief. I wouldn’t suggest that people in our generations, looking at us here, we’re not equipped to appreciate completely the magnitude of this change for the simple reason that people who are now 25 were born with Google, not the interrupt. Google was started around 1995. These people grew with act stows a huge volume of information, direct, instant access.

I contained briefly – it is a big topic. I contain that the way in which these people reason about life, healthcare specifically, it is different from mine.

I’ll stop here for reasons of time.

My last thought, it is actually I’m delighted and grateful to have been invited to this afternoon, to be able to share my thoughts with you. In my field, which is technical research, far too often we fail to concentrate on what technology can do and improve it from a point of view of a specific topic, which is hearing people better. This is not unimportant. All the aspects which are talking here, which are to me, very, very important. They are too often being overlooked in the technical domain. I hope that events like this, they’ll contribute to create the bridge eventually between the technical community of which I am a representative and your community.

>> SANDRA HOFERICHTER: Thank you very much.