Ministerium für Kultur und Wissenschaft des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen
01 January 2018 to 31 December 2022
The digitalization of communication media and social media has dramatically changed the way we deal with media. To cope with the flood of information on the Internet, digital media providers rely on recommendation systems that prepare personalized content for users. For the first time, algorithms intervene in public discourse. A feared effect in the triad between users, social media, and recommendation systems is the filter bubble. This means, users will only be shown content that corresponds to their preferences and they no longer have access to the unfiltered diversity of public opinion. This informational segregation has a lasting influence, falsification and distortion, on the formation of opinions and leads to a polarization of opinions.
It is difficult for users to verify the identity of the authors of sentiments in social media. So-called social bots are computer programs deployed on the social web that impersonate humans. The developer decides how this program participates in the discourse, how often, how forcefully, and how persistently. Social bots are used to influence public political discourse using spin, demobilization, and propaganda. Censorship no longer warrants the suppression of expression; in the Web 2.0, censorship occurs via floods of unwanted and false information, like fake news.
The project Digital maturity addresses how the process of opinion formation within social media can be described, modeled, and predicted by the interaction of humans, recommendation systems, and social bots. To do so, agent-based modeling will be used to visualize emerging behavior of complex systems on the basis of individual behavior. It is a tool to understand non-linear processes with many parties acting simultaneously. To develop a phenomenologically high-grade modeling, interdisciplinary collaboration is needed to combine sociological, psychological, communicational, and informational knowledge.
The project Digital maturity will further the methodology development to model the hybrid formation of opinion. Thus, the project will contribute to the security of democracy as well as the informational autonomy of internet users. To do so, it will offer an instrument to visualize the processes of opinion formation in hybrid social networks and identify the sensitive tipping points in public discourse, with model parameters, that could lead to other qualitative system states that might pose potential threats to democracy, by example polarization, extremization, xenophobia and homophobia.
Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing and pictures, and to inform himself without hindrance from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.
Article 5, Paragraph 1, Sentence 1, Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany