Grantees in the spotlight

Better transparency tools to put pressure on platforms

In order to tackle the influence of intermediaries such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube on the public discourse, several regulatory attempts are in the making, both at EU level and in the EU countries. With the project ‘Governing Platforms’ funded by Civitates, AlgorithmWatch and partners are developing innovative governance proposals to feed into the EU and the individual countries’ policy processes.

Mackenzie Nelson is project manager at AlgorithmWatch and coordinates ‘Governing Platforms’.

“While it is clear that algorithmically driven intermediaries shape public discourse, we do not know the exact details. That is why transparency is one of the most important regulatory goals.”- Mackenzie Nelson, project manager of ‘Governing Platforms’ at AlgorithmWatch.

How is Covid-19 changing the digital sphere?

Observations from our latest Civitates convening​

Concentrating on the threats that responses to the current health crisis present to the digital sphere is necessary, but we shouldn’t forget that the crisis creates some opportunities too.

Last week we (virtually) convened our grantees working towards a healthy digital public sphere. The discussions highlighted that when talking about digitalisation, it can be difficult to think along positive lines. After all, we’re seeing negative online tendencies, such as online misinformation influencing election outcomes and a lack of transparency on how our data is handled and used by advertising and targeting companies – just to name a few.

"Governments and tech giants have started cooperating more closely, in ways that may have significant pitfalls. In such times, stressing citizen’s rights in the digital sphere should be a priority.” - Rumena Filipova from Centre for the Study of Democracy in Bulgaria.

 

“The Covid-19 crisis highlights the need for civil society to adopt a proactive mindset”- Svetlana Mihaylova, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Bulgarian Fund for Women.


“Actions to tackle the covid-19 virus using personal data should have proper safeguards.” – Diego Naranjo, head of policy at EDRi.

Further Stories

In Hungary, Viktor Orbán’s government seems to have seized the opportunity of the crisis around the covid-19 pandemic, to rule by decree for an unlimited period of time. Earlier this week, the Hungarian parliament voted by a two-thirds majority for new legislation that could jeopardize the democratic rights of citizens.

Read the whole story.

We all know digital freedom violations take place. However, as a lot of data is often missing, evidence can be hard to provide. With funding from Civitates, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), a network of non-governmental organizations promoting freedom of speech, human rights and democratic values in Southern and Eastern Europe started to cooperate with SHARE Foundation in Serbia. Together they systematically monitor digital rights and file cases in five countries;  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia.

Read the whole story.

Political campaigns increasingly target voters online with messages appealing to personal characteristics, a strategy known as political microtargeting (PMT). A Civitates-funded project by watchdog NGO Panoptykon Foundation sought clarity on the scale and impact of PMT in Poland, gathering evidence to inform European policy makers. Panoptykon Foundation is a non-profit that protects fundamental rights and freedoms in the context of fast-changing technologies and growing surveillance. The organisation engages in research, awareness-raising, civic engagement and advocacy towards policy makers.

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Experience tells us that cooperation and mutual trust between organisations of active citizens makes democracy stronger. To date there has been a lack of support for cooperation between networks of Czech civil society organisations working towards a healthy democracy and civic space. NeoN, a new, decentralised network, is helping to develop platforms and solidarity across the sector. It does so by coordinating working groups on crucial topics such as justice and migration, as well as knowledge groups of joint advocacy, communication and fundraising. Civitates provides funding to NeoN for its work in defending democratic principles and civil society.

Read the whole story.

As a result of the recent municipal elections, the opposition is now in the driving seat in several cities in Hungary, including Budapest. It is not yet clear whether this development will also lead to more space for civil society to meet and discuss issues of common interest. Civitates is supporting ‘Open Spaces’, a new coalition that tries to provide an answer to the various challenges of the shrinking civic space.

Read the whole story.

Over the past four years, the governing party in Poland has pushed through significant judicial reforms. Some of these reforms have violated the constitution and catalysed a fight with the European Commission. Civitates, a philanthropic initiative for democracy and solidarity in Europe, is funding a new coalition that promotes European values in Poland.

Read the whole story.

Though it is widely believed that the spreading of false information changes people’s perceptions, it has so far been very difficult to prove the role of disinformation in influencing elections. Civitates has funded the development of a toolkit by Democracy Reporting International and MEMO98 in order to assess how online public discourse is impacted by disinformation, hate speech and other phenomena.

Read the whole story.

The spread of misinformation using advanced technologies via different social media outlets is widely seen as posing a growing threat to democracy in Europe and throughout the world, especially in the run-up to elections. Civitates supports a project that aims to understand how misinformation flows in Europe and how the quality of public discourse can be improved.

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High levels of spending on political advertising that target individuals and small groups of individuals via social media have been a major feature of recent election campaigns. This trend for political parties to use highly personalised digital campaigning via social media -with low levels of transparency- was the reason why ‘Who Targets Me’ is being supported by Civitates.

Read the whole story.

For several years now, Bulgarian NGOs have been the target of smear campaigns and hate speech because of their actions against corrupt and non-transparent political decisions. To counter this problem, Civitates is supporting a Bulgarian coalition that strengthens support for the work of civil organizations.

Read the whole story.

Not long ago, Romanian NGOs active in the field of anti-corruption were described as foreign agents who had sold their souls to the enemy. Today, with support from Civitates, a new coalition of like-minded organizations works to improve regulations for civil society in the country.

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Slovakia has long been known for having a relatively open and liberal climate for civil society actors. Over the past two years however, organizations have been under attack. Civitates, has funded a new coalition to reverse this trend.

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The atmosphere of insecurity in Hungary has a chilling effect on civil society organizations, particularly those in rural areas. Civitates funds projects to strengthen democracy in Europe; for example Hungary’s Civilization coalition, which is ready to spring into action in case civic organizations are under attack.

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Good communication is key in the twenty-first century to informing public opinion. As the debate over refugees and migrants has become ever more polarized in Italy, Civitates has funded projects of support for civil society organizations which have found themselves on the frontline of humanitarian action and of efforts to try to explain the real story behind the anti-migration noise to the public and politicians.

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The stabbing and death of Pawel Adamowicz, the liberal mayor of the Polish city of Gdansk in January 2019 was perhaps the clearest sign yet of the tensions and divisions in the country. Civitates has funded projects of support for civil society organizations which have worked tirelessly in difficult conditions to try to break down these divisions and keep democracy and public participation at the heart of society.

Read the whole story.