Interview with Luiza Brandão (Founder, The Institute for Research on Internet & Society-IRIS). IRIS is an independent study center founded in Brazil with a mission to explore, study and understand the Internet’s outspreads on modern society. IRIS is also a content partner for the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform
In your experience, what are the implications of lack of access to information in the age of COVID-19?
The age of COVID-19 has highlighted a lot of issues that we have been working on in the last couple of years. One of them is our relation, as a society, with information. The lack of accessibility to information is a reality for many people around the around who do not have free access to ICT (Information and Communication Technology), which continues to be an important target. The disinformation that has been spread mainly through social media platforms challenges democracies, justice systems, electoral intensities, and within the pandemic of COVID-19, also public health. There is a lack of access to accurate, reliable, and complete information which creates space for a lot of conspiracy theories. Brazil faces this kind of challenge through circulation of content that is not in favor of WHO standards for example causing an increase in the spread of COVID-19.
At the center of this informational challenge, the lack of accessibility to information can lead to discouragement of fact-checking, critical thinking, and trust in science and expert recommendations. As a result, we redirected our efforts as a research institute to reinforce science-based information in a way that might be easier for the public to consume, utilizing non traditional media such as social media platforms. In this period we must not only think about the content of information we produce, but also — perhaps more importantly — how we spread it. The communication of information during the COVID-19 pandemic is probably one of the most important lessons we will take from these challenging times.
What trends have you seen in implications of public policies related to the internet?
The impact of the internet in our lives keeps growing on a daily basis. This makes public policies and norms, in general, even more critical to keep fundamental rights safe.
Internet governance follows this trend, as the decision-making processes about the internet, across a variety of stakeholders, also present an impact on the social organization.
One of the most important trends we have observed is that we can no longer sustain a difference between “digital life” and “real life”, or online/offline.
To establish best practices around digital behavior, it is crucial to develop public policies for internet governance that allow for universal accessibility. Besides the societal implications related to the internet, at IRIS we pay attention to the transnational effects of policies regarding the internet, in the context of international relations among states, and safeguarding humans rights. IRIS is also dedicated to other fields of internet governance, such as digital inclusion, data protection, and content moderation. Our work focuses on highlighting internet governance issues and providing accurate references for stakeholders to work towards strengthening of digital rights.
Could you speak about your research in regards to Internet and Society in Brazil?
Our research is interested in the impacts of the internet and new technologies on society: its development, dynamics, norms, and standards. Aware of the importance of information and communication technologies to economic and technological development in the 21st century, IRIS also seeks to understand how diverse fields of knowledge may contribute to the strength of human rights in the digital age.
For that, our research is multidisciplinary and comprehends several topics (not rarely, many of them at the same time). The research involves internet governance, democratic regulation of the internet, policies involving data protection, surveillance, privacy, freedom of expression, digital inclusion, and literacy. These are some challenges Brazil faces in practice, not just in our daily life, but also in the elaboration of rules, public policies, strategies, and bills that will shape the future of the internet and society. From the access to the internet to the extension of rules over the cyberspace, we work to address some of the tendencies to the internet and other technologies over our social, legal, cultural, and economic organization.
What have been your personal experiences in regards to the importance of access to free and open information?
It is commonly understood that the internet has revolutionized access to information. I am personally passionate about the ideals the founders of the internet shared that time, to build a communication network, based on cooperation, shared information, and so hard work.
Looking at the path we have followed, I also realize, however, how much further the idea of free and open information and communication technology is for many people around the world. 10 years ago, I did not have access to the internet at home, and the idea of endless world-wide information was hard to realize in a small town in Brazil.
Being from the Global South stresses the importance of free and open information. Because if there is no access to it, the chances are even lower of fighting inequalities, pursuing human development, and challenging the historical, economic, and scientific gaps.
There is still a lot to be done, and access to free, open, and accurate information is a core value of my work (perhaps my whole life) to challenge fate and build a better future.
Last year, the World Economic Forum launched Strategic Intelligence, an online digital platform to address some of the issues raised by Luiza. The tool helps individuals and organizations decipher the potential impact of rapidly unfolding changes, while counteracting the misleading and unreliable information that is circulating. The Strategic Intelligence tool helps you understand the global forces at play and make more informed decisions.
Join the World Economic Forum’s Digital Membership community to monitor these issues and more on intelligence.weforum.org
To explore Strategic Intelligence, visit intelligence.weforum.org or search Strategic IQ in the iOS, Play or Huawei stores.
Organisations are also able to embed Strategic Intelligence in their own intranet or website. For further details, explore our developer site at widget.intelligence.weforum.org.
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