What is happening in the digital world?

If we took a quick poll about the real world, people might answer: vaccines, AstraZeneca, lots of unemployment, political battles... But the digital world is just as real. Come and see.

April 12, 2021-Reading time: 6 minutes
mobile digital world

Photo: Rodion Kutsaev/ unsplash

Five or six thought-provoking joint news items have caught my attention in recent weeks. They have to do with freedoms and also with the digital world in which we live.

1) Songs in Cuba. Cuban singer Yotuel, from the group Orishas, has released a video titled 'Patria y vida' (Homeland and Life). Singing alongside him are the duo Gente de Zona, musician Descemer Bueno and rappers Maykel 'Osorbo' Castillo and El Funky, who are part of the Cuban dissident movement San Isidro. They blame the government for the economic crisis, lack of food and pressure against those who think differently, reports France24. Although he does not sing, Luis Manuel Otero, coordinator of the San Isidro Movement, formed in 2018 to promote freedom of expression on the island, also appears.

The artists directly oppose the well-known phrase coined by Fidel Castro in March 1960, 'Fatherland or death,' and call in their song to change those words to 'fatherland and life,'" the lyrics say.

2) Big tech dominance. The so-called 'big tech' companies are consolidating their global dominance and exceeding $1 trillion in revenues for the first time, boosted in 2020 by the strong digital pull of the hardest year of the pandemic. We are talking about Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google) and Facebook.

At the same time, the CEO of Renta 4 Banco, Jesús Sánchez Quiñones, emphasized two things in 'Expansión':

a) the six largest companies in the S&P 500 (on Wall Street) are all technology companies: those mentioned above, plus Tesla; and individually, Apple, Microsoft or Amazon are worth more on the stock market than the entire Spanish Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

And b) the latest actions of some of them "limiting the free speech of thousands of people and driving a Twitter competitor like Parler out of the market, marks a turning point," to the point that "the Texas attorney general has launched an investigation."

3) News about Twitch. The media are increasingly talking about Twitch, defined as "the Youtube of video games" by vozpopuli.com. It is mainly focused on the broadcasting of videos related to video games, and unknown to most people, but not to the followers of Ibai Llanos, for example, nor to the markets.

Amazon bought Twitch in August 2014 for 735 million euros. At the time of its purchase, it had 55 million users. Today it has 525 million (17.5 million per day) with an average audience of more than 1.5 million viewers.

This platform has recently updated its policies to prohibit serious misconduct and misconduct that may affect its community of users, even if it occurs outside the platform, especially those related to hate speech and harassment, as reported by ABC. The regulation will be applied whenever there is "verifiable evidence available", also in other social networks, and even outside the Internet.

To cite a third mention, the youtuber and eSports presenter, Cristinini, explained on the program Zapeando, on laSexta, what Twitch is all about, "It's a site where your children see other people playing video games and doing live broadcasts," she explained. What engages young people is improvisation, "without scripts, or staircases. You go live and let it be what God wants. That's what they like", says lasexta.com.

4) The tornado of the social networks. On Sunday, April 11, El País published an analysis with this headline on the front page: "La tecnoutopía que se convirtió en una ciénaga" (The technoutopia that turned into a swamp). Inside, the title seemed more constructive: "How to get social networks out of the swamp". The lead notes that Facebook has been denounced by Reporters Without Borders in France for allowing the spread of "disinformation and hatred." "We are going through an era of disenchantment with the networks, born as a technoutopia of freedom of expression. Perhaps, warn some experts, we have ceded too much power to this oligopoly," he adds.

The first lines say, textually, that "Donald Trump was left in January without accounts in most of the social networks. The decision frightened even many of those who are against his messages full of capital letters. Some critics believe that these platforms have become an oligopoly of public debate and that they should not have so much power as to leave the former president without a voice. Others point out that this certifies the end of a technoutopia that we should never have believed in, and that we should never have turned social networks into our preferred support for public debate". The rest of the analysis is pay-per-view.

5) Youtube cancels EWTN's account in Spain. Easter Monday,

EWTN, the world's largest religious content TV network, which broadcasts in more than 145 countries, reported that Youtube, owned by Alphabet (Google), had cancelled, or censored, its account on the platform.

The alleged reason was "inappropriate content", or "inadequate". The president of the TV channel in Spain, José Carlos González Hurtado, informed in a family email, on the eve of Easter celebrations, that the "inappropriate content" referred to "a documentary about the truth of abortion and the RU 486 abortion pill".

After the Youtube Live account was reinstated, it was definitively cancelled for another "inappropriate content". This time it was a cartoon, "Saints and Heroes". "We created a Facebook Live account and started broadcasting from there. The next day they suspended our account. I think we have the honor of being the first Catholic site to have been censored by Youtube and Facebook in Spain...", added the president.

The reason given by Youtube for the cancellation was "violating the Community Standards". Youtube has more than 2 billion users per month, and states among its Rules that "the reasons for which we can cancel an account or a channel are to repeatedly violate the Community Standards". Community Guidelines or the Terms of Service (e.g., when a user continually posts videos or comments that are abusive, harassing, or hateful), regardless of the type of content; or engage in a serious case of misuse, even if only once (e.g., when a user behaves in an abusive mannersend spam or share pornography).

Internet, exposed place

In recent times, the debate on the goodness of the new technologies, and particularly on the network and its platforms, has increased notably, as seen in the above-mentioned report from El País, but we could also mention El Mundo and its digital version, elmundo,es, leader in the network, or ABC and abc.es, etc., or La Vanguardia, etc.

Pope Francis, in his Message for World Communications Day in January 2019, clearly pointed out the openness to the net. "For as long as the internet has been available, the Church has always sought to promote its use at the service of encounter between people and solidarity among all, and invites reflection."

The network is a resource of our time, he added, and "constitutes a source of knowledge and relationships that was unimaginable until recently. However, it has become "one of the places most exposed to misinformation and to the conscious and planned distortion of facts and interpersonal relationships, which often take the form of discredit".

The Pope acknowledged that "on the one hand, social networks are useful for us to be more in contact, to meet and help one another; but on the other hand, they also lend themselves to a manipulative use of personal data for political and economic advantage, without due respect for the person and his or her rights."

Francis also referred to the fact that the web "is an opportunity to foster encounters with others, but it can also increase our self-isolation, like a spider's web that traps us".

Distinction between dominion and abuse of dominion

At the beginning of these lines, we referred to a reflection common to several of the news items mentioned above. It is the following. One thing is the legitimate dominance of a position in some field, be it economic, market, social, political, etc., and quite another is the abuse of that position of dominance, which must be proven. The legislative texts on Competition Law and others clearly reflect this.

José Carlos González-Hurtado argues, following the latest news, that 'big tech' "is neither neutral nor controlled by any public authority". "To draw several parallels, it is as if the electricity company decided to cut off electricity because it did not approve of the use made of that electricity. Or as if the water company were to shut off the supply for ideological reasons."

The issue would take some time to be debated, because the European Commission announced at the end of the year that it had considered imposing fines of up to 10 percent of their revenues on some large technology companies for alleged abuse of dominant position (lainformacion.com).

Moreover, German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself has declared that "it is up to legislators to set the rules governing freedom of expression, not private companies". According to several experts, this is a debate that will grow on both sides of the Atlantic.

For the time being, the network is a field that is little regulated in the world. In addition to the benefits it has brought to the world in terms of social communications, advancing in its regulation is a pending challenge that will be up to the jurists to face.

The authorRafael Miner

Journalist and writer. Graduate in Information Sciences from the University of Navarra. He has directed and collaborated in media specialized in economics, politics, society and religion. He is the winner of the Ángel Herrera Oria 2020 journalism award.

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