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The Washington Post (2 February 2021) reported, “Former president Donald Trump lost the 2020 election largely due to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a post-election autopsy completed by Trump campaign pollster Tony Fabrizio. The 27-page document shows that voters in 10 key states rated the pandemic as their top voting issue, and President Biden won higher marks on the topic.”
American citizens are not alone in realising that press freedom is under attack. Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Brazilians and Filipinos – to name just a few – are also deeply concerned. They can all learn from PEN America which has put forward An Agenda for the Biden-Harris Administration called “Free Expression and the First 100 Days” (19 January 2021). In a plea to defend and promote press freedom in the U.S., PEN calls for affirmative steps to undo the damage to Americans’ attitudes toward the press and to shore up press freedom and respect for the role of professional media in the U.S.
Affordability a major hurdle in ensuring equitable access Today, access to the internet and mobile phones is critical for people everywhere. Still, 40% of the world’s population has no access to the internet[i], with countries such as India (50%), Ethiopia (81%), and Brazil (29%) having significant portions of their population classified as “unconnected”[ii]. In terms of mobile telephony, while access has increased significantly—there were an estimated 5 billion cellphone users as of 2019, only 45% of mobile phone users in developing countries have access to a smartphone.
Following the riot at the US Capitol on January 6, the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, followed by other online platforms, suspended and then banned President Donald Trump’s accounts due, as Twitter put it, “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
Last year – and even as recently as January 6, 2021 – saw anti-democratic tendencies and misinformation magnified by social media in several countries, contributing to near breakdowns in the rule of law. It is time for stringent regulation of social media companies and online platforms as part of a more concerted plan to curb abuse, hate speech, and cyber-bullying.
Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 says, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Stars on the digital Walk of Infamy are being awarded to world leaders. Former US President Donald Trump, current Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro have each received one. They have been admonished by Twitter and Facebook for posts that violate public interest policies and rules about misleading information.
Public safety and national security are two advantages of facial recognition technology. Law enforcement agencies use the technology to identify known criminals and to find missing children or seniors. Airports are increasingly adding facial recognition technology to security checkpoints. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security predicts that by 2023 97% of travellers will be subjected to facial recognition.
Using smartphones to track and trace during the Covid-19 epidemic creates a smokescreen for wider surveillance measures that may infringe people’s right to privacy. Human rights activists are concerned that such data can be used to discriminate against migrants, refugees, and on racial grounds.
The antics of the outgoing US president have raised profound questions about the role of mass and social media in society today. How do public interest media – the kind that publish information and points of view on important issues that affect policies, lives, and livelihoods – stay independent?