In Resources on the Arts (scratch)

Diversity of Content in the Digital Age

Meeting Report

November 6, 20196 November 2019

Digital technologies and the arts

Department of Canadian Heritage and Canadian Commission for UNESCO

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Based on a meeting billed as part of a “global conversation to better understand the challenges and opportunities that the digital environment brings to cultural diversity”, this report highlights key findings and discussions related to the diversity of digital content.

The two-day meeting, including participants from academia, government, civil society, and the private sector, highlights the major challenges in discoverability and ensuring exposure to a diversity of content in an environment where, paradoxically, more and more cultural content is being produced. Algorithms (used in digital search and recommendation systems) are a primary way content is organized and found online, and they are often proprietary and not transparent. Further, the report indicates that “users do not have the capacity or tools to understand how algorithms function, including how they recommend content”.

Canadian and international academic experts prepared “thought leadership” papers on three main themes:

  1. Discoverability of local, regional, and national content
  2. Remuneration and economic sustainability of content creators
  3. Algorithms and integrity of the digital public sphere

Addressing discoverability, Drs. Philip Napoli and Mira Burri “argue that the vast quantity of digital content is increasingly being curated by a small number of gatekeepers with a negative impact on discoverability of local or national content”. Meeting participants identified potential actions that stakeholders could take in this regard, including regulations related to the diversity of content, the privacy of data, and the reliability of information.

Concerning the theme of remuneration, Dr. Guiseppe Mazziotti notes that most content creators using online platforms “receive little remuneration due to their works being oriented towards local or niche audiences”. Other issues related to remuneration include differences in copyright law across countries, the perceived devaluing of content (with an expectation from users that content will be free), and the lack of transparent information on how remuneration schemes function on large online platforms.

Regarding algorithms and the integrity of the digital public sphere, Drs. Hunt, McKelvey, and Owen discuss the tendency for algorithms to recommend content “closely aligned to an individual user’s perspective that may reinforce or confirm existing biases”, which can lead to increased political polarization.

Other discussion themes include the need for greater copyright literacy among content creators, potential tensions between private and public stakeholders, given that “the public good may not coincide with financial imperatives”, and concerns that content from culturally-dominant countries can crowd out local and diverse content from smaller countries. The report points out that “access and exposure to diverse content, including reliable information and news, is a central component of democratic resilience”.

The report concludes that “online platforms, civil society, academia and governments each have unique and valuable contributions to make towards protecting and promoting diversity of content. Meeting participants confirmed that ongoing collaboration between all stakeholders is the best way to move forward”.

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