Diversity of Content Online
Citizens’ access and exposure to a diversity of content play a central role in the making of a resilient democracy. A healthy democracy requires its citizens to have access and be exposed to information and content from a wide range of views and perspectives, particularly from local and regional news. This in turn:
- promotes a healthy public discourse;
- fosters greater social inclusion;
- encourages understanding and tolerance between different cultures and communities; and
- builds citizens’ resilience to disinformation.
Thanks to modern digital technologies, we have access to more content and information than ever before. Like other countries, Canada recognizes that while online platforms offer significant benefits to our society and economy, they also bring challenges, such as their impact on the presence and discoverability of diverse content, including Canadian content.
Issues, such as the phenomena of filter bubbles and disinformation, as well as the business models used by online intermediaries affecting the remuneration of content creators, including journalists, are now mainstream. In the digital age, there are growing concerns that citizens’ media diets are less diverse due to content being highly personalized and reflecting fewer, and more polarized, points of view.
Multi-Stakeholder Working Group on Diversity of Content Online
Because the Internet crosses all borders, it is necessary to work with a range of stakeholders to develop solutions. That is why the Department of Canadian Heritage has established a Multi-Stakeholder Working Group with like-minded countries, civil society, and the private sector. This initiative builds on the work that was started in 2018 on Canadian Heritage’s International Engagement Strategy on Diversity of Content.
The Working Group’s mandate is to develop Guiding Principles that help foster greater exposure to diverse cultural content, information and news online. Exposure to diverse content should contribute to a healthier public discourse, greater social inclusion within society, bolster resilience to disinformation and misinformation, and increase our citizens’ ability to participate in democratic processes. Canada, and other key stakeholders, such as other governments, civil society organizations, and private sector actors, would then adopt these Guiding Principles as a framework for efficient cooperation in this space.
Progress made so far
The Multi-Stakeholder Working Group has been established and is comprised of representatives from governments (Canada, Australia, Finland, France, and Germany), the private sector (Google, Netflix, Deezer, and Vubble), civil society (Article19, International Federation of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity, the Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music, and the Coalition française pour la diversité culturelle), and a para-public institute (the European Audiovisual Observatory).
Monthly Working Group meetings have taken place virtually throughout 2020 and 2021 to develop the Guiding Principles on Diversity of Content Online. In June 2021, the Guiding Principles were endorsed by the Multi-Stakeholder Working Group and were publically released. The Guiding Principles focus on four key themes deemed essential to the promotion of diversity of content online:
- the creation, access and discoverability of diverse content online;
- the fair remuneration and economic viability of content creators;
- the promotion of diverse, pluralistic sources of news and information, as well as resilience against disinformation and misinformation; and
- the transparency of the impacts of algorithmic treatments on online content.
The release of these Guiding Principles marks the beginning of the next phase of work for the Multi-Stakeholder Working Group. The Guiding Principles will continue to evolve over time to keep pace with a continuously evolving online environment. In the coming months, members will develop specific commitments that set out concrete actions to implement these Guiding Principles within the scope of their responsibilities.
The Multi-Stakeholder Working Group will also work towards building a larger international consensus between countries, private sector and civil society organizations. Interested parties are encouraged to reach out at email@example.com.
Research and discussion papers
Over the past year, discussion papers from leading academics were commissioned to feed into the development of the Guiding Principles. The papers, covering a range of topics and issues around diversity of content online, can be viewed from the list below:
- Diversity of Content in the Digital Age – Towards Guiding Principles, by Antonios Vlassis
- Analysis of Potential Measures to Support Access and Discoverability of Local and National Content, by Destiny Tchéhouali
- Diversity by Design, by Dr. Natali Helberger, Dr. Judith Moeller, and Sanne Vrijenhoek
- Digital Content Governance and Data Trusts, by Digital Public
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