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How Can Algorithmic Systems in Public Communication Be Regulated?

How Can Algorithmic Systems in Public Communication Be Regulated?

Hamburg, 27.04.2022. Who and what actually determines whether certain messages reach us in digital media? In a project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, the Department of Informatics at the University of Hamburg and the Leibniz Institute for Media Research are developing a new method to shed light on the interrelationships of complex media ecosystems and derive protective mechanisms for social communication.

Public communication has changed profoundly in the course of digitalisation, but the instruments of media law have not been sufficiently adapted. New actors are active, and algorithmic systems and other technologies are often used to exert influence. A much larger number of actors, systems and algorithms are involved in these processes than it often appears to the public. This poses new challenges for ensuring successful social communication. Whereas attention has so far been focused on the preservation of media diversity, the focus is now on complex systems and the associated challenges.
New Representation of Complex Digital Communication Systems
Using specific case studies such as "Facebook News", researchers from the University of Hamburg (Prof. Dr Judith Simon, Prof. Dr Ingrid Schirmer, Prof. Dr Tilo Böhmann) and the Leibniz Institute for Media Research (Prof. Dr Wolfgang Schulz) are therefore developing a new so-called "Socio-Technical Ecosystem Architecture Method" (STEAM) in a project involving computer science, ethics and law.

The method that is now being developed will provide a holistic view of news dissemination in an ecosystem such as Facebook News and will help to map these ecosystems and their actors as well as their relationships in a way that offers opportunities for new regulatory approaches.

Today's media ecosystems challenge existing mechanisms for protecting social communication and its essential functions. This is because new types of providers and technologies, especially in the field of artificial intelligence, have gained relevance in the generation, selection, curation and prioritisation of content. By the time, a piece of content is shown to the user, numerous decisions have been made in advance and a large number of stakeholders have been involved.
Interdisciplinary Approach
"The aim of the project is to develop a socio-technical ecosystem architecture method. This method builds on existing architecture concepts in computer science and combines them with ethical and legal issues of social communication," explains Prof. Dr. Tilo Böhmann from the Department of Informatics at the University of Hamburg. Media law expert Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulz, Director of the Leibniz Institute for Media Research, points out that "we need to fundamentally rethink how we can continue to ensure that socially relevant communication takes place openly and freely."  “To this end, it is important to ascertain the normative goals of social communication in order to support them in the best possible way with appropriate measures”, says Prof. Dr. Judith Simon. Prof. Dr. Ingrid Schirmer from the Department of Informatics at the University of Hamburg adds, "New approaches to solutions require an interdisciplinary analysis of how messages are created and distributed. Socio-technical ecosystem architectures trace the complex path of individualised information distribution in an understandable way."

The project is one of seven project consortia from the social and technical sciences funded by the Volkswagen Foundation with a total of 9.8 million euros as part of the initiative "Artificial Intelligence and the Society of the Future". All selected projects are scheduled to run for three to four years and will each receive funding of around 1.5 million euros.

More information on the research project is available on its project website at https://leibniz-hbi.de/en/projects/steam-the-socio-technical-ecosystem-architecture-method.
Christiane Matzen (HBI)
Tel. +49 40 45 02 17 41, c.matzen@leibniz-hbi.de

Christian Kurtz (Informatik / University Hamburg)
Tel.: +49 40 428 83 22 30, christian.kurtz@uni-hamburg.de

Photo by fabio on Unsplash


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