Luciano Floridi: “Twitter vs Trump. Arbitrary rules, it’s time to change”

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Within three days, Twitter twice “reported” the President of the United States, Donald Trump. The first time he did it by defining some tweets on possible frauds due to voting by post in the US as “potentially misleading”. The second obscured part of the content of Trump’s intervention on the Minneapolis events in inciting violence. Facebook, however, Trump’s post left him, Zuckerberg, in a long post, confirmed his commitment to free expression while declaring himself in “strong disagreement on how the president spoke of this affair”. However, the social network blocked the account of the correspondent for Radio Radicale, Mariano Giustino for 40 days. He had written an anti Erdogan post. A profound reflection on how these social platforms have an impact on our life and on freedom of expression is that of Professor Luciano Floridi, one of the most authoritative voices of contemporary philosophy, he is full professor of Philosophy and Information Ethics at the University of Oxford , where he directs the Digital Ethics Lab, and chairman of the Data Ethics Group of the Alan Turing Institute, the British institute for data science and artificial intelligence. We interviewed him because in his latest book “The green and the blue” (Raffaelo Cortina publisher) suggests a series of good ideas for managing a mature information society. Which is what we live in. Where life spends Onlife (neither online nor offline) and where everything is always connected, within a digital and analogical space that can be called Infosphere.

“In this context – explains Professor Luciano Floridi – these platforms have a profound impact. If our onlife is based on the circulation of information, those who control the information have the keys to everything. Those who control the questions shape the answers, those who shape the answers control reality, to paraphrase “1984” by Orwell. These great powers are determining how we perceive the world and can interact with it. ”

Professor Floridi what happened with Twitter and Facebook tells us that the problem of the rules is fundamental. He tells us about private companies that intervene on public life. In his latest book “Green and Blue” he writes that with the Internet we were wrong because we didn’t have to postpone its regulation “

“To better understand, let’s talk about games. There are two types: there are chess, card or table games, where the rules do the activities, and then there are the games where the rules are binding but do not do the activity, but it comes later, for organize, for example, a ball game on the school playground. The Clinton administration in the 1990s chose to regulate the internet only later. It has been said we start playing then we decide. Only 30 years later many and not only the philosopher realized that those who make the rules play the game. So Google, Facebook Twitter, Microsoft, Apple and the various digital companies (think of Amazon) manage what in the past was called cyberspace “.

In short, the Internet ended up being like a public park that instead of being managed in a community way was entrusted to a few US digital multinationals

“I don’t think they do a bad job but it certainly isn’t what we expected in the 1990s. Imagine a park, it is public, but managed by private companies that operate as if protecting privacy were an obstacle and freedom of speech a non-negotiable right. The truth is that in healthy democracies like ours we could do better. I don’t think big digital multinationals are bad, on the contrary. But the point is, we are giving our mature information company a highly business-based conformation. The market generates wealth very well, but it distributes it badly and damages the environment in creating it. Politics also serve to take what’s good from the market but at the same time to eliminate social injustice and environmental damage. If the company does not take back its political role and delegates the rules to the big digital multinationals, we end up keeping all three “.

Are there ways to ask Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Google to do a better job?

“We need more control. And this can be done with 4 levers: legislation, sector self-regulation, the social pressure of public opinion and market rules in this case especially with competition. We have to fill these four glasses which are practically empty today. The legislation is weak, to date we have the general data protection regulation (GDPR) but much more is needed, think of the challenges posed by taxation, by new technologies such as artificial intelligence, and competition itself in the sense of antitrust; self-regulation is practically non-existent (I myself have participated in several unsuccessful initiatives, such as that taken by Google for AI ethics), public opinion still does not seem to count much because almost all of us prefer convenience (I speak as a sinner), and the competition is zero because there are practically only local monopolies, just think that Microsoft has not been able to compete with Google in the search, and Google has failed in its competition against Facebook in the social network. To beat fake news, for example, we would have to fill the 4 glasses. But today I don’t see many who are serious about doing it. Too often we work on non-constructive, and therefore political, punitive legal operations (Europe with fines, but also afterwards), aimed at changing the rules of the game.

Someone wrote that Twitter reporting Trump was somehow an editor, and that this was a step forward. But what sense does Trump report that he can say the same thing from the White House?

“You cannot be a publisher without having the responsibilities of publishers. If a newspaper is wrong, there is a Director who answers. I would be happy to see Twitter doing its job, which highlights it when it advertises. Instead this intervention remains halfway. Fact checking on Trump’s tweets is a first step, but in what direction? You cannot take a step without taking the most uncomfortable step, which is to say: ‘Ok, I am a publisher and I take responsibility for all the other tweets that, for example, incite hatred’. What I regret is that we are always halfway there. Why does Twitter block Trump today but if he decides to block other information tomorrow? Or to unlock Trump? Targeting tweets makes sense only if it becomes a structural, transparent operation for which one is accountable. For example, if we regulate social networks as we have regulated newspapers. Because in fact to Twitter in the case of Trump, or to Facebook in the case of blocked accounts, complete arbitrariness remains. ”

So the question is right or wrong there is no answer.

“Exact. I can’t say if a point goes in a right or wrong direction. We should understand what the trajectory is. If it is a first step towards a complete solution that goes towards a regulation that gives the rights and duties of an editor it is a beautiful step. If it is an arbitrary step it is another account. Because if Trump makes the big voice and they withdraw the speech is completely different. ”

What is the decisive step?

“Rules are needed in a mature information society. At least in Europe, where we have the opportunity to make laws, politics has a duty to design them and then to impose them. It doesn’t seem like science fiction. Unfortunately, however, the political will is missing a strategic vision, there is no shortage of technical and legislative skills. Those in Brussels who push in the anti-monopoly direction are often alone. Even where there is intellectual capacity, the forma mentis and the cultural perspective on where to go are still lacking, we still think in terms of the 20th century and not the 21st century. As I say in the book, there is no human project for the future. It is unlikely that a political class formed in the 1980s could “revolutionize” its vision. Are the rules that make up the game? So let’s change the rules. In fact, it seems to me that there are still reasons in terms of utilities, as if the Internet were comparable to the telephone “.

Let’s go back to the public park whose keys are in the hands of private individuals.

A brutal example of the public park is the one on the Coronavirus tracking app. The keys to the park are also in the hands of Google and Apple. To understand: it is as if the App were the ship and the API of Google and Apple the port. Apple and Google will be able to “close” Bees whenever they want in any region of the world. What about the ship? Stay in the sea. To date it is better to be realistic and probably the best option. But this is not a good way to make democracy. Nothing will happen, I hope, but it is very risky “.

In his book he writes that the “human project for the digital century is green and blue”. What do you mean?

“We came out of the state of nature thanks to technology. But this has long been an enemy of nature. The big step is to make technology a good force at the service of the world. In a mature information society, like contemporary Italy, the human project must be ethical, combine green policies (green, circular and share economy) and blue policies (digital and information economy) and encourage a way of live together centered on the quality of relationships, processes, and experiences. We must move from a capitalism of consumption (consumerism) to a capitalism of care. I may be too optimistic, but it seems to me that this opportunity is within the reach of the country, which could jump directly from a digital deficit to an onlife company capable of benefiting best from the marriage between green and blue, to perhaps better share and before the others because free from previous constraints “.





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