April 11｜Communication experts advise for diversified approach to platformized internet and trust
By Sue Lin 林詩賢
A panel discussion was held in the afternoon of 11 April to exchange the ideas about trust and governance on digital platforms. Four experts in the field of communication discussed the current issue of platform regulation triggered by fake news, and most of them agreed that strict regulation to control media would be the last move.
As the first panelist, Professor Terry Flew, current International Communication Association (ICA) President pointed out three principles to manage the balance of trust; they are “accountability”, “transparency” and “governance”. These three elements of trust toward the digital platforms are echoed by the other panelists who shared their opinions later.
Professor Katherine Yi-Ning Chen, a panelist today and a former National Communication Commission (NCC) commissioner, observed that the U.S.-based company, like Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix typically play a dominant role online. She said that the big question is whether it is a fair competition because the smaller and local news industry and broadcasting media are competing for interest under the trend of digital transformation. However, there is a debate about whether to view them as platforms or media companies.
“Platform is a fundamental concept aiming to connect people and to facilitate interaction among users, so interaction becomes hardly impossible without trust,” added Professor Chen. When it comes to the 2016 fake news issue in the U.S., Facebook is willing to deal with fake news issues and to collaborate with mainstream news media, like NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, and Washington Post. At that time, Professor Chen reflected that “if Facebook wants to cooperate with local media in Taiwan, who are they going to collaborate with?”
In response to the question of governance, Professor Chen emphasizes the "ability" of the platform. The platform has to provide technical skills and solutions for any kind of services. The second feature is the "integrity", which means that the platform needs to honestly follow the principle that they’ve claimed. For example, Facebook committed to creating safe environment for people to connect. Lastly, "benevolence" is important because the platform has to have good intention and care about users. "The goal is to ask them to help people here and news industry," said Professor Chen. Based on her past experience as an NCC commissioner, she held the attitude that those digital platforms are willing to help Taiwan in terms of fact-checking.
Professor Chen urged people to evaluate the trustworthiness of the platforms and the government by those criteria. Especially for the election coming very soon in Taiwan, she pointed out that there are five potential candidates who are all political stars, and some of them are very good at using social media platforms to reach their supporters. It is a good timing to see what would happen on the platform, what kind of politician will raise the issue of fake news, and if the government has the ability and intention to hold their policy (i.e. draft digital communications act) to counter fake news.
Professor Lih-Yun Lin from the Graduate Institute of Journalism, National Taiwan University, addressed the challenge of Taiwanese traditional media in the face of social media. She said that most of the users use Facebook for news in Taiwan. Traditional media largely follow social media, so they’re vulnerable to manipulation. Even though people don’t trust commercial media, the use of commercial media is the highest, such as TVBS, Sanlih (三立), CTV (中視). Ironically, the trust score of Taiwan’s public media is even higher than the British people’s trust in BBC. This is another serious problem and she called for new governance, co-regulation, which allows the public to participate.
In response to transparency and accountability, she indicated that commercial media should pay for the social costs with social responsibility in order to encourage public journalism, heighten people’s media literacy, and complete the checking mechanisms in commercial media. For example, recently students in some universities have launched the movement to question the choices of a certain channel on campus, and they held a vote for their selection of TV channel in public areas. According to Professor Lin, this serves as a good example of public participation.
The moderator of the panel, Professor Trisha Tsui Chuan Lin, raised up the first question directly to the panelists about the convergence of media which works not as ideal as what is expected in the past two decades. Since it’s not applicable in the field of communication to keep applying old regulations to the so-called platform, like Google or Facebook, people require new ways of thinking referring to different countries’ current regulatory reform.
To answer the question, Professor Chen explained the platform’s decision of investment. “That's a dilemma, we welcome digital platforms to come to Taiwan to invest digital infrastructure, so we have to give them certain benefits,” said Professor Chen. Platforms might not put more resources in Taiwan if they don’t like the rules here. Recently, Digital Communication Act (數位通訊傳播法) just passed the first reading and goes to the second and the third reading, which can be watched closely because it is related to Taiwan's attitude toward the platforms. Professor Chen said that we can interpret the intentions of the politicians from the legislative process.
Professor Flew looked upon traditional news brand as a solution to the increasing distrust of media. For example, people can get The New York Times and The Washington Post on digital subscriptions, around $16 USD per month. Apple news app is working with publications that have a strong brand reputation, and digital media, in terms of this environment, is healthy.
Kuo-Wei Wu, chairman of Chunghwa Telecom and a member of the ICANN Board, explained that people are still figuring out solutions to regulating the big five internet companies because when the internet started, the idea is to be globally used without boundary. With an IP address, it is accessible worldwide, except in China. Thus, when there is no office in one’s country, there is a fundamental question for regulation.
Wu showed concerns for EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which may impact future regulation for media. Small media enterprise gets hurt, not Facebook and Google, because they don't have the resources to implement GDPR. When they want to generate revenue, they have to pay tax to Facebook and Google to make it.
“Monopoly is not evil, and monopoly is evil when it's not manageable,” said Wu. He was positive about competition among dominant media. For example, no one is compatible with Google map, even Apple failed to do the map. It’s not a malicious monopoly but business competition. The excessive regulation would suffer those small media instead of the big five.
“If we believe that the free speech is right, we should have the confidence to our people in Taiwan,” said Wu, back to the topic of the source of fake news. "The real problem of fake news in Taiwan, to be honest, is (that) those fake news (comes) from China," Wu added. He emphasized that fake news is common in every politician campaign but we need a strategy to counter those fake news from the Chinese government. He suggested that it's feasible for the government to contact those big five internet companies (i.e., Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook) who have the resources to track fake news and identify if the content comes from outside of Taiwan.