By Andres Kogan Valderrama
HAVANA TIMES – Chile’s Senate recently voted in favor of a draft that seeks to declare the recently-formed Commission against Disinformation unconstitutional, with Senators asking President Boric to revoke the decree that established it. This shows us, yet again, that the most conservative groups in Chile have zero interest in moving towards a country that seeks to safeguard its democracy, much less make progress in terms of digital rights.
I’m raising this issue because of the great outcry from political, economic and media groups, after a presidential decree was passed to create a Commission with the mission of advising the Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation and the Ministry General Secretariat of Government about the global disinformation phenomenon and how it manifests locally in Chile.
Thus, it makes no sense that Senators are trying to turn to the Constitutional Court to stop this Commission from working, as if it were really a new kind of Ministry, which is allegedly seeking to censor, hush and persecute dissident voices, with some figures going as far as labeling it a Stalinist measure.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and it masks the fears of a sector that is wrapped up in itself, and in leaving things as they are has no shame in misinforming the population about a commission against disinformation, as much as a joke it lmight seem, thereby creating a polarized political climate of distrust that only makes Chileans more uneasy with politics on the whole.
As a result, if you take a serious look at what appears in the decree (2), and not what people want to imagine, it is explicit in pointing out that the commission has an advisory role and that it seeks to recommend, assess and write up reports that allow them to pick up on the latest advances in the global disinformation phenomenon and how dangerous this could potentially be for democracy at home.
Meanwhile, this Commission completely casts the media debate outside of its functions, focusing only on digital platforms, thereby leaving aside any recommendation about the need to decentralize media ownership and policies to boost public communication.
That said, it would be good if these sectors could better engage in a public debate about their understanding of the global disinformation phenomenon and how they see the role of Digital Platforms in the world today and especially in Chile’s context, rather than insulting and trying to stop the advisory commission from doing its job.
Thereupon, leaving behind the ghosts they have about some authoritarian and totalitarian governments who have in fact established their own agenda spilling blood and spreading disinformation, because this is far from the case in Chile, as it isn’t this Commission’s job to impose anything on anyone.
Furthermore, this commission couldn’t be more relevant, as Chile and other countries within the region owe a great deal when it comes to policy on the issue. Especially when we compare this to what the European Union has done, taking into account the influence of disinformation, calling on different actors to tackle the dangers it poses to democracy and taking appropriate action (taxes, data protection) within the framework of digital sovereignty.
We mustn’t forget the role that the most popular social media platforms played during the pandemic, where different disinformation campaigns went viral about vaccines, wearing masks and alleged medicines against COVID, where presidents like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro even pushed these irresponsibly and criminally, while most of the world was locked up at home.
As a result, those who continue to see the Internet as a pure space for freedom of speech aren’t aware that it has been privatized by mega tech industries, which aside from brutally concentrating economic power and developing extraction of the personal information of millions, remove profiles and restrict content visibility, without anyone being able to ask for accountability.
Given this situation, greater regulation for platforms and a strong impetus to establish digital literacy should be a State obligation rather than an option, because they have been quite absent in these matters over the past 30 years. This is the time for them to guarantee digital rights for everyone, without exceptions.
In other words, moving towards digital decolonization, as Chilean researcher Patricia Peña rightfully says, who is a member of this new Commission, and points out that disinformation affects the way human rights are exercised, as we find ourselves in the datafication of our everyday lives via algorithms that stem from artificial intelligence.
But to do this, we need senators who oppose the work of this Commission, to understand just how important this issue is and to put their State phobia to one side, because instead of defending freedom of speech, they are emptying it of content and closing the door to engaging in a serious public debate and essential civil debate that we desperately need today.