Summit for Democracy Seoul: Freedom Online Coalition workshop on information integrity

by | Mar 23, 2024 | Free Speech, Open Seminar, Open Seminar main | 0 comments

On March 19, 2024, Open Net’s Executive Director K.S. Park spoke at a Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) workshop at the Seoul Summit for Democracy as follows:

The recently issued Joint Statement on Information Integrity Online and Elections of Freedom Online Coalition includes the following plea to the State actors: “Ensure that measures to regulate AI-generated disinformation are in accordance with civil liberties and international law, including international human rights law, and refrain from discrediting criticism and stifling freedom of expression in general, nor under the guise of countering AI-generated information”.

However, in South Korea, the very host of this Summit for Democracy, a law that bans all use of “deepfakes” for election campaign purposes was passed recently, and the law was invoked to prosecute a civilian person for producing and uploading a video composite of snippets of President Yoon’s speech put together to make it sound like he was apologizing and repenting for his policy mistakes, which he of course did not. Then Korean Communication Standard Commission, the country’s internet censorship body, began taking down that video for “causing social disorder”. It is the same body that blocked, the website of the eponymous international women’s right organization that distributes medication and information about abortion largely to low-income women or women in abortion-banned countries. Such broad censorship is made possible by the enabling statutory language of that agency whose mandate is described as “what is necessary for nurturing sound communication ethics”. Such vague standard can easily result in the wayward censorship in South Korea.

We should not lose sight of the fact that freedom of speech is a pluralistic ideal that we all have different world views and standards of value: We should not ask why certain speech must be protected but ask why that speech must be censored and if there is no such reason, protect that speech even if the majority or community or any other collectivistically mandated body cannot understand or appreciate the sound value of that speech. “Information integrity” can also be such vague standard.

Previous attempts to combat disinformation such as criminalization of speech, administrative content takedown, intermediary liability have not succeeded because disinformation is not an information problem but a technology problem. Remember the time of 2011 when Internet was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Fast forward to 2016. After Trump and ISIS began using it, Internet is being blamed for all the problems in the world and Russia and China are jumping on the bandwagon in their own ways by creating a splinternet and conducting disinformation campaigns. It is the technology that has sped up circulation of information to an inscalable level, including disinformation, and brought back the problem of disinformation into the spotlight. What we need is not information control but technological control.

Also, that technological control must be implemented with the the help of civil society. At this Seoul summit for democracy, there is a talk of South Korea playing role in world democracy movement. “Exporting Korean-style democracy” is possible only by exporting its essence: namely, strong civil society, strong enough to effectively impeach the current president with grassroots movement made of street demonstrations. Exactly what CSO-tech alliance means will be left to the other panel for to figure out.

[Added after the talk] In that sense, we should understand the FOC’s Joint Statement on Information Integrity Online such as calls to states to “refrain from restricting the internet. . through the electoral cycles” and calls to the tech industry to “provide more transparency and access to data in order to better understand how misinformation and disinformation is polluting the information ecosystem”.



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