Showing posts with label #DemocracyAtRisk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #DemocracyAtRisk. Show all posts

Monday, May 15, 2023

The Battle for Democracy: Turkish Elections, Deepfakes, and the Threat to Press Freedom.

"The Demagogue"
In an article today by Ben Hubbard and Gulsin Harman from The New York Times, the recent Turkish presidential elections are reported to be heading into a runoff. After failing to secure a majority, the incumbent president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will face opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in a two-week battle that could redefine Turkey's political landscape. Erdoğan, having served as Turkey's dominant political figure for 20 years, has seen a decline in his standing due to economic issues and his consolidation of power. Meanwhile, Kılıçdaroğlu represents a coalition of six opposition parties, campaigning as the antithesis of Erdoğan.

Meanwhile, David Klepper and Ali Swenson of The Associated Press this morning discuss the potential political risks posed by advanced artificial intelligence (AI) tools leading up to the 2024 elections. The availability of inexpensive and increasingly sophisticated AI technology has heightened concerns about the creation of convincing deepfakes, including fake images, videos, and audio. These deepfakes, in conjunction with social media algorithms, have the potential to spread misinformation quickly and target specific audiences, possibly leading to new levels of election manipulation. Experts like A.J. Nash from the cybersecurity firm ZeroFox warn that society is unprepared for the impact of these AI-driven media manipulations, which could be used to confuse voters, slander candidates, or even incite violence. As we approach the 2024 elections, there are increasing calls for legislative measures to combat the potential misuse of AI in political campaigns. 

That may very well be a move too far. Daren Butler of Reuters, in an October 13, 2022 article, noted Erdoğan's use of misinformation and its impact on Turkey's democracy. The article refers to a controversial law enacted by the Turkish parliament, proposed by Erdoğan, which can jail journalists and social media users for up to three years if found guilty of spreading "disinformation". Lawmakers from Erdoğan's ruling AK Party and its nationalist allies MHP, who collectively had a majority in the parliament, approved the bill despite strong opposition from both national and international critics. These critics argue that the law's vague definition of "false or misleading information" could be exploited to suppress dissent.

Engin Altay, a member of the main opposition Republican People's Party, expressed concerns that the law will further limit press freedom in a country already lagging behind in this area. The AK Party, without shame, claims that the legislation is necessary to combat misinformation and false accusations on social media, asserting it will not be used to suppress opposition voices. The fairly clear intent of the legislation is to control narratives and limit critical voices, thereby influencing public opinion. Reuters' investigation highlighted the state of media freedom in Turkey, describing mainstream media as adhering to government-approved headlines while independent and opposition media face penalties. The Venice Commission, an advisory body to the Council of Europe, expressed concerns that this law could induce a "chilling effect and increased self-censorship" ahead of the elections.

The proliferation of misinformation, further magnified by artificial intelligence, presents a considerable challenge to democratic values, underlining the indispensable role of press freedom. Drawing parallels with Kléōn's emotional manipulation in the Mytilenean Debate, contemporary misinformation leverages public sentiment, especially anger, to influence portions of the electorate. However, Aristotélēs maintained that the robustness of democracy resides in the collective wisdom of its populace. This collective wisdom, cultivated from a variety of perspectives and experiences, tends to yield clear choices, exemplifying the tenacity of democratic systems. There's an expectation that the probabilities underpinning the Condorcet Jury Theorem have remained (mostly) unaffected by misinformation. However, it's almost certain that augmenting governmental control over information could lead to a detrimental shift. Other than ongoing voter education, few options exist to ensure that clear choices will still surface in the aggregate. The freedom of the press remains a key factor in assuring that the electorate is well-informed and capable of exercising its collective wisdom, thereby reinforcing the effective functioning of democratic systems, despite the emergence of AI-powered misinformation or even more worryingly, justifications for state control of the press based on such grounds.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Fox News' $787.5M Settlement with Dominion: A Wake-Up Call for Media Accountability and the Future of Democracy.

"Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News."
© 2008 Xrmap.

Jim Rutenberg and Katie Robertson of the New York report today that Fox News has reached a $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, avoiding a lengthy trial that would have seen its top executives and personalities face intense questioning over their role in spreading false claims about the 2020 election. The settlement, one of the largest defamation settlements in history, includes a rare admission by Fox News acknowledging that certain false claims about Dominion were aired on their network. However, the agreement did not require Fox to apologize for any wrongdoing in its programming, a point Dominion had been pushing for.

The settlement follows several pretrial findings by the presiding judge, Eric M. Davis, which cast Fox's programming in a negative light, significantly limiting its ability to argue that it was acting as a news network pursuing newsmaker claims. Dominion had collected substantial internal documentation from Fox, showing that many within the company knew the conspiracy theory about Dominion's election involvement was baseless. The settlement raises the question of whether Fox News will change its approach to handling defamatory conspiracy content in the future.

When I began writing online (blogging?) in 2012, the first significant post I made concerned the sale of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, The North Bay Business Journal, and the Petaluma Argus-Courier. While the sales price at the time was not disclosed, the value of the Press Democrat had dropped and related enterprises had, on the evidence, declined by over 90% since the purchase of the papers by the New York Times in 1985. That was consistent with the decline of the newspaper industry overall in recent times. I speculated then about the consequences of the collapse of the economics supporting newspapers and the possible impacts of the same. 

The experience since 2012 in America, and the decline of its papers, has been bigger news than I might have imagined. The end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 allowed conservative voices like Rush Limbaugh to dominate talk radio, as broadcasters no longer needed to present balanced viewpoints. The culture that developed in that context has since spread into newspapers and cable TV news. This change contributed to the polarization of political discourse in the United States and helped shape the nation's political landscape. 

Rather than merely be conservative, the Dominion case suggests that, over time, the lack of balance has led to Richard Hofstadter's "Paranoid Style" of American politics rising to the fore. A political culture founded on falsehoods, deceit, or misinformation can undermine trust in democratic institutions, erode the credibility of political leaders, and ultimately sap the stability and effectiveness of the political system as a whole. This has severe consequences for the functioning of a democratic society, leading to increased polarization, ineffective decision-making, and weakened accountability.

The decline in the economics supporting newspapers, the end of the Fairness Doctrine, and the subsequent rise of polarizing voices have significantly impacted the American political landscape. The Fox News settlement with Dominion Voting Systems highlights how unbalanced reporting and conspiracy theories have permeated mainstream media, eroding trust in democratic institutions and increasing political polarization. As we move forward, it is essential to address the challenges posed by this shifting media environment and work towards fostering a political culture that values accuracy, integrity, and balanced perspectives, to ensure the continued stability and effectiveness of our democratic system.