Nobel peace prize winners call for action on online disinformation

Campaigning journalists say data-harvesting Big Tech business model an ‘existential threat’ to democracies

A group of Nobel peace prize winners have called on governments to adopt a technology action plan to tackle the “existential threat” to democracies posed by online disinformation, hate speech and abuse.

The 10-point manifesto was presented by the 2021 Nobel laureates, campaigning journalists Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa, in Oslo on Friday. It warns that the potential for technology to advance societies has been undermined by the business models of the dominant online platforms.

“We urge rights-respecting democracies to wake up to the existential threat of information ecosystems being distorted by a Big Tech business model fixated on harvesting people’s data and attention, even as it undermines serious journalism and polarises debate in society and political life,” the plan states.

The proposals are endorsed by eight other peace prize recipients including Nadia Murad, who was awarded the prize in 2018 for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon in war, and Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 laureate for leading the women’s peace movement that ended the Liberian civil war.

The plan, presented at the freedom of expression conference at the Nobel Peace Center in Norway, comes with three general demands: an end to the “surveillance-for-profit” business model that harvests users’ data to maximise engagement and underpins multibillion dollar spending by advertisers on social media companies; asking tech firms to treat all users equally around the world; and urging newsrooms and governments to support independent journalism.

In addition, “rights-respecting democratic governments” are urged to: require tech companies to carry out independent human rights impact assessments; introduce robust data protection laws; and fund and assist independent media under attack around the world.

Six proposals for the European Union include: to challenge the “extraordinary lobbying machinery” of tech companies; and rigorously enforce the landmark digital services and digital markets acts, to ensure they end the spread of disinformation via algorithms and change tech companies’ business models.

The last proposal calls on the UN to create a special envoy focused on the safety of journalists.

Ressa, the chief executive of Rappler, a Philippine news website, and Muratov, the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, were jointly awarded the peace prize last year for their “courageous fight for freedom of expression, a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”.


Dan Milmo Global technology editor

The GuardianTramp

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