Censorship in social networks and fake news in social networks
An Oxford debate titled ‘Censorship in social networks and fake news in social networks’ is organised as part of Central European Professors’ Network 2021 coordinated by the Ferenc Mádl Institute of Comparative Law.
The Professors’ Network, with the active participation of experts from seven different countries (ie. Czech Republic, Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Serbia , Slovakia, Slovenia), organises events with the primary aim to draw attention of the European citizens to the topics which are important and significant in connection with the future of Europe, in particular of Central Europe.
The issue of digitalisation and addressing its possible disadvantages from a legal viewpoint are crucial for Europe in the 21st century. The main aim of the event is to enable young researchers to present different visions regarding: (a) analysis of the influence of fake news on the internet with regard to the freedom of expression and pluralism of opinions; (b) analysis of the influence of censorship on the internet with regard to the freedom of expression and pluralism of opinions.
The Oxford debate is organised as a dissemination event of Marcin Wielec (the head of the research group titled The Impact of Digital Platforms and Social Media on Freedom of Expression and Pluralism). The Oxford debate is characterised by paying attention to the benefits and threats of the progressive digitalisation of the modern world.
Event reportThe debate was a perfect opportunity for the 2 teams of four-four debaters from Hungary and Poland to present their research, analysis, and opinions about the censorship in social networks and fake news in social media in a form of an Oxford Debate. The results and the conclusions of the debate were the following. Social media companies are put in the ungrateful position of having to police other peoples’ content, which has generated much tension lately. Social media is stuck between a rock and a hard place, on the one hand trying to protect rights and freedoms and on the other hand restricting the access of dangerous content. The self-regulatory measures are met with a lot of criticism, which is why social media platforms are looking to States for help in regulating their functioning. Although some of the measures adopted so far as self-regulation resemble censorship, these are most often a part of the fight against extremism and dangerous content, such as hate speech and violent rhetoric. The main challenge is how to curb the dissemination of such content without encroaching on rights and freedoms. Another big issue with censorship is the removing content by social media based on unknown rules. By removing a post by a social media platform that affects a big number of users, not only the freedom of expression but also the right of getting the information would be violated, without knowing the internal conditions of the platform, while there is no legal remedy. Open democratic societies depend on public debates that allow well-informed citizens to express their will through free and fair political processes. It can be stated that false statements are an innate part of political debates, thus they form a necessary part of the freedom of expression. The case-law of the Constitutional Court of Hungary seems to support the view that it is much more beneficial for democracy if some untrue or even unjustifiably offensive statements are included in public discourse, resulting in fruitful public debates, than if those involved in public affairs fear the consequences of possible sanctions, and resort to self-censorship. Therefore, under the constitutional regulations of freedom of expression, false information or lies cannot be prohibited in a general sense. Fake news as a political term should not be used in any type of regulation, legal instrument, or in any official setting, as it has become a catch-all phrase, which is very hard to define. Its importance is as big as that of those who abuse it. It is used to point to fringe media and to mainstream media as well. According to Hungarian professional legal literature on the matter, the fight against mass manipulation can be more effective if it focuses not on misleading content but on the tools and methods of manipulation, thus avoiding the biggest problem of content-based restrictions: who decides what the factual truth is. Perhaps a good solution could be establishing a legal framework to require only the actions of the platforms, but the concrete action would still be technically in the hands of social sites.
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