I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to speak here today.
We are in the midst of a wicked problem and are running out of time. A wicked problem is, by its very definition, something that is difficult or almost impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and ever-changing requirements. It cannot be solved through one solution alone. Our wicked problem is an information disorder and that disorder is a symptom of a much wider societal problem - a collapse of trust in institutions, including media.
I have worked as a traditional journalist with Ireland's main newspapers, with Storyful, the world's first social media news agency, and with Facebook, the world's largest social media platform. I launched a new start-up called Kinzen, the purpose of which is to reconnect people with quality news and information. Throughout 16 years in the industry, I have remained very resolute about the importance of journalism to better help people to understand the world around them but also ever concerned about the phenomenon of more and faster content everywhere. I have seen a new information ecosystem emerge in which everyone became a publisher, the means of consumption changed and the modes of distributing news became fragmented.
There were positives, of course. We have largely become more connected, engaged and educated because of the Internet. However, amid that period of massive disruption and digital transformation wherein online experiences were built for speed, clicks and scale, the connection between people and journalism was lost.
We are at another crossroads now and there is an opportunity for correction. While the task list is long and complicated, there are three core areas in which to make a start: to ensure that we connect people with quality news and information; to build collaborative projects across multiple sectors so there are shared learnings; and to find thoughtful and pragmatic ways to hold technology companies accountable.
What does that mean in reality? I believe that today’s recommendation systems are a root cause of information disorder. We need radical transparency on the programming of algorithms. A new generation is seeking alternatives to the toxic noise, hidden surveillance and the endless distraction of their social feeds. They demand an experience of information that rewards their best intentions, fits their daily routine and protects their privacy. That means, we as an industry, need to build radically different news experiences. In Kinzen, for example, we are building a citizen algorithm, in which data science and machine learning is guided by human curation and explicit user feedback of every single individual person.
We also require collaboration at an unprecedented scale across multiple industries. In journalism, we need to find more opportunities for newsrooms to collaborate and not compete. That means funding projects like the CrossCheck initiatives undertaken by the news organisation, First Draft, in places like Brazil and France where journalists from competitive organisations worked to find, debunk and report on different rumours during election cycles. In digital literacy, we need long-term joined-up education initiatives, rather than one-off campaigns, when it comes to giving people - young and old - the skills and tools for consuming information online. That means taking successful models like the Finnish Newspapers Association's work in schools for the past 50 years or the news literacy project curriculum in the United States, and using schools and libraries as the key gateways to build global media and information literacy, MIL, playbooks.
In research, we need to find more opportunities for academia to study anonymised data from technology companies so they can better understand what is working and not working. That means scaling efforts like Social Science One - the non-profit commission launched in 2018 - to establish concrete partnerships between academics and data-rich institutions. It now has 32 million individual links extracted from Facebook upon which to conduct research.
To be truly collaborative, we need to bring together civil society, technology companies, publishers, academics and governments so we can answer the question: what can we do together to tackle this wicked problem, while protecting freedom of speech?
Regulating the Internet is complex. The risks are immense and committees such as this one must ensure there is careful deliberation of well-researched evidence so that practical enforceable standards and laws can emerge.
A new report emanating from France outlining a detailed strategy for increasing oversight of social platforms while allowing for an independent regulator to ensure compliance with standards, deserves consideration. Ideas are emerging from the Transatlantic High-Level Working Group on Content Moderation and Freedom of Expression, which propose to enable platforms to set standards while enabling governments to hold those platforms accountable to those standards via Internet courts.
Wicked problems are difficult but not impossible to diminish. It will now take collaboration, transparency and innovation on an unprecedented global scale for us to realise if the moment for correction is upon us.