Why do digital media feed us certain messages and not others? Which technical service providers and algorithms play a role when messages reach us? Which of these functions are socially acceptable and which, on the other hand, constitute manipulation? The project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and located between media law and computer science, wants to make this visible with a new method (STEAM) and thus offer media regulation opportunities for new regulatory approaches.
Societal communication has changed profoundly in the wake of ongoing digitalisation. As new players are active and algorithmic systems as well as other technologies are used, new approaches to media regulation may also be required. While the ideal of maintaining media diversity has been the primary concern so far, it is now no longer scarce channels but complex systems of the most diverse actors that determine what chance a certain content has of being perceived.
Researchers from the University of Hamburg and the Leibniz Institute for Media Research are developing a new so-called "Socio-Technical Ecosystem Architecture Method" (STEAM) using the case studies "Facebook" or "Facebook News" and the American social networking platform "Parler".
Both cases demonstrate challenges to pre-existing mechanisms for safeguarding societal communication and its essential functions. Novel actors and technologies used by them, particularly related to artificial intelligence (AI), have gained relevance in the generation, selection, curation, and prioritization of content. At the time a content item is displayed in an individual’s sphere of attention, numerous decisions are made beforehand.
The method being developed will provide a holistic view of news dissemination in an ecosystem such as that of news dissemination on Facebook, and will help to map these ecosystems with their relationships between actors, data flows and software components in such a way that problems can be identified and, if necessary, provide linkage opportunities for new regulatory approaches.
The project is one of seven project consortia from the social and technical sciences funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. All selected projects are scheduled to run for three to four years and will each receive funding of around 1.5 million euros. Further information on the Volkswagen Foundation's initiative "Artificial Intelligence and the Society of the Future"
can be found at https://www.volkswagenstiftung.de/en/funding/our-funding-portfolio-at-a-glance/artificial-intelligence-and-the-society-of-the-future.
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