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Bogota Consultations Report | The Power of Information

On June 8th, 2023, Atlas, the Fundación Innovación para el Desarrollo and the Democracy and Culture Foundation co-organized grassroots consultations to crowdsource issues and solutions with the power of information. Around 70 people joined the in-person event from 8.30 am to 1.30 pm, and 10 to 20 people were present online (depending on the hour).

The consultations were performed in English and Spanish, with simultaneous translation provided by FID.

Opening

Adriana Mejìa Hernandez from FID opened the event with remarks presenting the foundation, its work, and the relevance of the consultations in the broader Colombian context. Achilles Tsaltas then provided a deep and detailed overview of the “Re-Imagining the Building Blocks of Democracy” project, leading the participants through the rationale behind the effort and how their very valuable work will be used at the upcoming Athens Democracy Forum.

Colombe Cahen-Salvador then took the stage to explain to walk participants through the programme of the day, the process of the consultations and gave examples of past outcomes and best practices to look at during this exercise. She also explained the  “rules of the game”

Online participants joined via videoconference.

Panel

The focus was then shifted to the opening panel, which featured thought-provoking remarks by the following speakers: Gina Romero (Executive Director of REDLAD), Camila Zuluaga (Journalist and Anchorwoman), Giovanni Celis (Director of RedMas Noticias), and Amy Larsen (Strategy Director, Microsoft Democracy Forward). Andrea Venzon moderated the panel and enabled the audience to participate.

The panel first focused on exploring the “power of information” notion, how it could be used and misused in democracy, and the threats of misinformation and disinformation. In particular, panelists dwelled on these elements' impact on elections and democracy, from Brazil to Ukraine, from El Salvador to the current political situation in Colombia. Subsequently, the panelists moved on to suggest best practices to counter disinformation, citing solutions such as labelling online news to inform readers of the reliability of the information, supporting cross-border networks of fact-checkers able to inform one another of what’s coming and prepare for it, as well as increasing people’s ability to identify reliable information.

Participants engaged with panelists, especially in relation to disinformation spread by public officials, a hot topic in the Colombian context. 

This panel helped set the stage and ensure participants think outside the box.

Identification of Issues

Following this panel, participants were asked to identify at least three issues with “the power of information.” 

Those present in person were divided into six groups of approximately six people and asked to designate a spokesperson to take notes and present the results. Those present online could brainstorm and input their ideas into the software provided. They all had 40 minutes to identify issues linked to today's democracy, primarily focusing on the "power of information." Interestingly, the discussions went directly to tackling disinformation and misinformation.

The spokesperson of each group was then asked to present the issues identified. Here are the issues/pain points that came up: 

  • Lack of knowledge on how to identify mis/disinformation, combined with a lack of education (of the public and journalists) on the topic 
  • Fake news is harder to correct than to make: it takes a considerable amount of time 
  • Mis/disinformation impacts decision-making processes, and there is a loss of credibility of institutions due to that impact but also to the fake news itself
  • Fighting against mis/disinformation is not a political priority, which means that fact-checking efforts aren’t either, so there aren’t enough
  • Lack of ethical standards in news delivery and creation 
  • People think that their opinions are the truth, whether it is the case or not 
  • Media don’t have enough funding, which means they can’t always properly investigate all information
  • Unclarity as to what is the right balance between freedom of expression and regulations of fake news
  • Tech can be problematic, with some software companies enabling mis/disinformation instead of calling it out; social media platforms not being regulated enough, and AI making fake news worst
  • Lack of transparency and accountability when people spread fake news, especially for those in power
  • Freedom of expression often being curtailed when authoritative governments are in power, making it hard to have more balanced news and for the opposition to be heard 
  • Lack of access to good information 
  • Too much information to process  
  • The monopoly of information from states or corporations 
  • Lack of trust in information and the system 

Prioritization of issues

Many issues were outlined, and participants then prioritized the ones they wanted to tackle, or thought were the most important. They all had three votes and proceeded to vote. 

The top three issues were selected to be tackled in the next phase. This was done online through the consultation software provided by Atlas, and in person by giving participants stickers to place on the post-its they thought were most important.

The three main issues were: 

  • 21 votes - Lack of knowledge on how to identify misinformation/disinformation, combined with a lack of education (of the public and journalists) on the topic 
  • 18 votes - Lack of transparency and accountability when people spread fake news, especially for those in power
  • 11 votes - People think that their opinions are the truth, whether it is the case or not 

Creation of Citizens’ Proposals

Following the prioritization of issues and a short break, citizens returned to their group (online and offline) to create proposals that would best address any or all of the three issues selected. They had around 40 minutes to do so. They were asked to make concrete proposals that could be used beyond Colombia worldwide.

Solutions identified online were then presented to the in-person audience by the facilitators. Here are the solutions that came up: 

  • Create a citizen-made body to review what mis/disinformation is, suggest rules on how to tackle it, and oversee the review of politicians spreading fake news claims. This body could be created by sortition and could act as fact-checkers during elections, including in political debates
  • Have a crisis number (hotline) available to call for people to ask when in doubt about whether some information is credible and factual or not. 
  • Put in place regulations/laws that sanction big media that spread fake news 
  • State to sponsor an Artificial Intelligence tool to review fake news 
  • Bring education into the 21st century: 1) provide lifelong learning from a very young age of new skills (including curiosity, and critical thinking) necessary to be able to identify real information from fake news; 2) shift the education system from an institution mainly aimed at educating to one informing public debates; 3) provide cyber-education 
  • Fund civil society to review fake news (label would then be applied to news qualifying as fake, making it clear to the reader what is and isn’t reliable information). 
  • Fund local tv & radio networks and provide space (digital and in person) for people to debate and have access to information 
  • Create an index of media companies based on how accurate their information is. An independent institution or organization would compile this and could be national and global. It would help readers/viewers/listeners in understanding whether an outlet is reliable or should be read with a pinch of salt.
  • Put in place regulations for those in power to be held accountable for spreading mis/disinformation. An alliance between the public and private sectors to be more independent and fact-check could drive the review process. 
  • Regulate how personal data is used by software companies / artificial intelligence to spread mis/disinformation on people
  • Create criteria/ethical codes to review the information's reliability. This will create rights and duties for the public 
  • Launch a state strategy for media alphabetization (that could include a multi-stakeholder alliance to guarantee political impartiality) and promote tools that encourage critical thinking and expose biases (eg, Detox Information Project

It is worth noting that a few solutions were overlapping and complementary during this process, which meant that the facilitators engaged in long discussions with the groups to group and consolidate them. 

Prioritization of citizens’ proposals

Many solutions were outlined, and participants then prioritized the ones they preferred or thought were the most important. They all had three votes and proceeded to vote:

  • 36 votes - Create an index of media companies based on their information accuracy. An independent institution or organization would compile this and could be national and global. It would help readers/viewers/listeners understand whether an outlet is reliable or should be read with a pinch of salt.
  • 22 votes - Bring education into the 21st century: 1) provide lifelong learning from a very young age of new skills (including curiosity, and critical thinking) necessary to be able to identify real information from fake news; 2) shift the education system from an institution mainly aimed at educating to one informing public debates; 3) provide cyber-education 
  • 11 votes - Create a citizen-made body to review what mis/disinformation is, create rules on how to tackle it and oversee the review of claims of politicians spreading fake news. This body could be created by sortition and could act as fact-checkers during elections, including in political debates

The session concluded with the hosts announcing the results, repeating the next steps, and thanking everyone! 


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