Organised by the EFC’s European Democracy Network, this session on the 29 May, the first day of the EFC’s 2018 annual conference ”Culture matters – connecting citizens and uniting communities”, tackled a highly salient topic, exploring the role philanthropy can play in preserving how we communicate.

Digitalisation and the concept of ‘fake news’ is playing a bigger role than one may initially think. It can be used to describe changes in our public sphere and is becoming a defining feature of our society today. In times of digitalised media, political actors use the phenomenon, and it is an important influence on political decision making.

Before digitalisation newspapers, radio and television were where the public decisions were made and displayed before everything went ’online’. With the migration of information and opinion, major new media and tech platforms have emerged and this has raised questions. Many surrounding the use of algorithms, the problem-solving operations of a computer, as gatekeepers and editors rather than humans. The issue here being that algorithms cannot make the same judgements that a human would. Resulting in questionable decision-making and censoring.

So what can philanthropy do to support journalism? What role does it have in the new evolving digital sphere?

Lisa-Maria Neudert of the Oxford Internet Institute highlighted the question of how algorithms are being used to manipulate social media. They, along with big data, enable computational propaganda. In seeing these trends, the question is whether facts are important anymore…do they matter for the people on the streets and are they even aware that it is happening? If we were to believe that facts do not matter anymore could this mean the commercialisation of data?

Undertaken by the Oxford Internet Institution, research was carried out in the US, France, UK and Germany, analysing tweets to see how media is valued in relation to mainstream more traditional media and ‘junk media’. The aim being to educate the public and increase media literacy, and to ensure they along with political actors are aware of what is going on in the digital sphere.

James Bell of the Pew Research Centre, highlighted that social media is a growing platform for news consumption with ¾ of Americans getting their news from Facebook each day. This highlights the numbers that online propaganda has the potential to reach, and while propaganda has always existed there is now a new level of saturation due to digitalisation. Along with the rise of this fake news and spread of propaganda there has been unprecedented attacks on liberal values in countries like the UK and Hungary, with privately owned media being part of the problem.

With the growing awareness surrounding digitalisation and the collapse of the independent news model, the final conclusion? 

Let’s get facts back on the table.  


For more information about the EFC European Democracy Network, please contact Jennifer Fitzsimons at

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