The Game of Lobbying. Will Europe Take Real Actions

Transparency in the Era of Fake News

Tamam Abusalama, Darya Tronenko, Mariana Franca da Costa Lemos, Hofman Aline, Rafael Ramiro, Celia Iglesias Berberana

A Broad Concentration in Brussels

Over 25.000. This the estimated number of lobbyists working in regular presence in Brussels, shaping aand influencing decision making in a transnational sphere, according to Transparency International EU. This increasing number of lobbying companies is tied to governments and can lead to the transformation of democracy from civil representation to representation of interests. This transformation is new and quite influential.  It’s a business-based-relationship; lobbying companies are looking to increase their profits through many ways. There is an incentive to trade money for access, which gives lobbying companies the ability to achieve their agenda and objectives.

This trend has also changed the face of media and fake news, especially with the revolutions in communication technologies and social networks. Take, for instance, the increasing relevance of media in EU lobbying processes; a closer investigation of media coverage on EU legislation is necessary to understand who’s voices are heard and why. Without this investigation, fake news will continue being spread for the benefit of a growing number of different actors, including lobbyists. EU Governments are tackling this problem with regulations, but one question stands out: Whose job is it to fight disinformation, if anyone’s? Should it be the responsibility of tech companies, lobbyists, governments, or readers themselves? Well, working together in a multidisciplinary approach is a way to minimize bias and maximize democracy.

 

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The Role of Social Media

Lobbyism is a main tool for development and adoption of state decisions, as well as for the establishment of pluralistic democracy. Social media platforms are the contemporary space of online lobbying where everyone can engage and influence. But just a few companies have the power to influence in a big scale in concrete topics.

Living in a world where technology grows rapidly and where capitals control, tech giants allocate a huge budget on lobbying efforts. Government lobbyists as well consider social media as a more affordable and effective tool than traditional forms of communications; they pay giant tech firms to lobby for them. But eventually it might cause news artificially getting viral. In fact, some news on Twitter get thousands of retweets, hundreds of replies by bots. Then it is hard to know which news is fake or not. On the other hand social medias are a helpful tool for minority groups to advocate for their causes and encourage the formation of grassroots lobbying to shape public opinion. This mostly puts pressure on the Government  to listen and take concrete actions.

Transparency to Fight Fake News and Achieve Democracy

We have been witnessing lately tension between public, governments and media organizations especially tech giant social media companies over what’s real or who’s trustworthy and not. So different groups have started pushing for transparency through projects and regulations to respond to the current online media environment of “fake news” which eroded trust but also offers new tools to increase clearness. Many have suggested that the first step towards transparency is to listen to readers about what they know, don’t know and want to know. How news is gathered, reported and verified, for instance. In this situation, media organizations and especially Governments must take concrete and firm actions to solve this problem of lack of transparency and do not get involved in economic interests

In this “post-truth era” a useful tool has emerged; Transparify. Last year their report denounced 7 opaque British think tanks that have spent £22 million to distort democratic debates and influence decision making in Britain. This money was used among other things to generate fake news. It is obvious that think tanks play an important part in the construction of public opinion and policy. When their motives and funding sources are ambiguous, it affects the whole sector and decrease citizens’ level of trust.

That’s why the Transparify initiative is important to unveil which lobbies are not trustworthy.

Plus, in addition to the already existing tools such as the Transparency Register set up since July 2011, the European Parliament is also trying to enhance the transparency among the institutions. Indeed, since 16 January 2017 it is forbidden for members of the European Parliament to practice a paid lobbyist activity and former parliamentarians will have to register if they want to do so. But still, many claims that this legislation, just like the Transparency Register in which registration is not compulsory, is too vague and won’t be sufficient to tackle the lack of transparency.

Even though such initiatives and the existing tools don’t guarantee trust or effective and total transparency they are still a good attempt.

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Via: Phillipe Lamberts

So, is there any hope for lobbying getting any transparent during the era of fake news? Nowadays, it is quite difficult to get a topic discussed in Parliament without the influence of lobbyists. It has always been called “the unsupervised grey zone”; especially with increasing social media manipulation and the absence of Governments’ desire to establish limits for lobbying for the sake of their interests. Europe, despite its effort, fail to enhance transparency and to offer citizens a clear and open decision-making process. For this reason, users must be the key to increase the democracy and their interests must be taken into account instead of lobbyists interests.

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