Digital information is power, and today citizens have that new power at their fingertips, channeled through reactions, comments, shares, storing and searching on our everyday digital platforms. This new force is ubiquitous, however, and its direct effects continue to be obscured by the AI-powered black boxes of tech giants.
Unfortunately, we are often too eager to tell Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, or Jack Dorsey how they can change their platform policies and algorithms to make the world a better place, but at the same time not respond:
What are our tasks as citizens in this new reality, in which digital and physical, political and commercial as well as private and public are seamlessly interwoven?
Today, citizens need new skills to understand the complex and multidimensional power of digital information and its relationship to democratic society.
AI-powered information ecosystem and new citizenship
Trying to be up to date with what is happening around us is a human condition. Today everyone is trying to use this condition to get your attention. And, increasingly, AI-based algorithmic systems decide what kind of information gets to you.
The way information pops up in your attention has changed. The way you can consume information has changed. The way in which you can evaluate information has changed. And the way you can respond to information has changed.
Controlling information has always been electricity – or connected to electricity. Today’s algorithmically enhanced information operations are based on steroids.
In today’s world, election campaigns are spending unprecedented resources on digital platforms trying to target the right people in the right place at the right time. An information operation on social media can result in millions of people taking to the streets around the world under the same banner. Or a foreign-based social video app can be used to influence how people unpredictably participate in a local political event.
At the same time, powerful personalized computer propaganda can reach you wherever you are day and night. The people, organizations and machines behind malicious information operations use, abuse and abuse the current mainstream platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube to spread radicalizing material around the world.
As a result, the way you can manifest your citizenship online and offline has changed. Your algorithmic information flows and interfaces give you the opportunity to directly and indirectly influence the opinions and decisions of other people, the surveys and the streets.
This fundamental change will affect your ability to use your digital tools and services in an ethical and sustainable manner.
New citizenship skills: data literacy, algorithm literacy, and digital media literacy
No single platform or technology alone can solve the socio-technological challenges posed by information operations and computer propaganda. The development of methods against digital propaganda requires international multidisciplinary collaboration between technology companies, universities, social powers, news media and educational institutions.
To really get to the bottom of the problem, we need to remember that regardless of the tremendous power of tech giants or new regulations affecting social media platforms, individuals have a vital role to play in making our digital platforms accessible to all make it safer.
What is important is that new citizenship skills are required so that people can act more responsibly on digital platforms.
First, data literacy and algorithmic literacy are required to understand the fundamental properties and implications of data and algorithms that are constantly at work and directly affect what you see, think, and do online and beyond.
With data literacy, you can evaluate and monitor your data paths and their use in different systems. Algorithmic competency gives you a basic idea and awareness of how different AI systems personalize your experience and how the power of algorithms is used to influence your interpretations, expectations, and decisions. These skills also make you aware of your own (data) rights on digital platforms.
Could someone design and develop a compelling tool that will help you gain data and algorithm literacy while being as smooth as today’s popular social apps?
Second, having an up-to-date knowledge of digital media will help you better understand your feeds, which are an ever-changing algorithmic mix of seriousness and entertainment, fact and fiction, news and marketing, and disinformation and misinformation.
With digital media literacy you can recognize harmless and malicious information processes and recognize the difference between the deliberate dissemination of disinformation and the subconscious exchange of misinformation. In short, it enables you to respond more thoughtfully to different information processes that you experience online.
It is important that more data-conscious, algorithmically informed and digital media savvy users can demand more sustainable and ethical decisions from their digital platforms. At the same time, we need a new practice of Citizen Experience Design that brings citizen-oriented thinking and values to the core of AI design and development.
It is time to talk more seriously and thoughtfully about the responsibilities of the individual and the new citizenship skills required in today’s social media and tech platforms. In the long run, these emerging citizenship skills will be critical to democratic societies around the world.
Published on February 25, 2021 – 22:00 UTC