Friend or troll? Solving the internet's information dilemma
3:30 PM - 4:45 PM
Sat Oct 6, 2018
Harvard Kennedy School - L-140
society PANEL policy


The internet was meant to usher in an age of democratized communication, but recent years have seen the rise of so-called “fake news” and weaponized information. Social media has become a breeding ground for rumors and lies that unintentionally or intentionally polarize political debates, stoke simmering conflicts, and, in some cases, cause physical harm.

What went wrong -- and whose responsibility is it to fix? Activists and politicians are calling for the tech companies to do more to protect the digital spaces we all have come to rely on. Some critics argue that the advertising-based business model of today’s tech platforms is flawed and prime for abuse by anyone willing to pay to spread their message. However, content moderation efforts of companies like Facebook have backfired, however, drawing quick criticism of unelected algorithms and underpaid moderators censoring content. Some argue it is the role of the state to regulate such crises, but this prompts concerns about government censorship and stifling innovation. Does the ultimate responsibility to see through the misinformation madness, then, lie with us, the consumers of media?

This panel explores the current landscape of misinformation and responses by various actors. In Germany, the recent “Netzwerksdurchsetzungsgesetz” (NetzDG) represents the first state-led attempt to regulate the digital information space. The law aims to tackle hate speech online by placing hefty fees on platforms who fail to remove reported abuse. Has the NetzDG worked? And is it an example that the US and others should or even could emulate? Beyond national laws, is there a need for global governance to combat weaponized information, along the lines of a “Digital Geneva Convention”? Finally, what responsibility do the US and Germany have in shaping emergency response plans in other countries, where information warfare has already sparked deadly inter-group conflict?

Stephan Harbarth Member | CDU, German Parliament
Bernhard Fischer-Appelt Co-Founder and CEO, fischerAppelt AG
Eric Rosenbach Co-Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
Daniel Scarnecchia Standards and Ethics, Signal Program on Human Security and Technology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Mea Dols de Jong Film Director

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