To Fight Online Disinformation, Reinvigorate Media Policy

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While social media companies and digital networks are relatively new, the problems of information laundering and manipulation are not. Of course, verbatim application of 20th-century media policy won’t work for today’s digital environment; some of it didn’t work very well last century either. But its core concerns should be taken seriously and its principles—especially transparency, responsibility and structural design to promote news investment—can be adapted for the 21st century.

First, the platforms should provide more information on the supply chain of content labeling fake audio and video, as well as bots and fake accounts. Second, platforms should develop more specific, transparent policies for taking down or dampening the distribution of widely spread and demonstrably false content—as well as incitements to violence, online harassment, and terrorist content—assuring rights of appeal. Third, platforms should provide at least the same degree of transparency for online political ads as do broadcasters. Fourth, we should imagine what the new PBS and CPB of the Internet would look like. And fifth, to implement and enforce evidenced-based policies with both the transparency needed to assure public accountability and the flexibility to change with technology, a new agency is necessary. 

As we open the book on addressing digital information platforms’ effect on our polity, it would behoove us to pick up the discussions on media in the last century and attempt to ensure citizens have the information they need to participate in their democracy.

[Ambassador Karen Kornbluh is senior fellow and director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States’ Digital Innovation Democracy Initiative. Ellen Goodman is director of the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy & Law.]

To Fight Online Disinformation, Reinvigorate Media Policy