Although the emergence and spread of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not equal to living on the Skynet yet, however, we are talking about much more than just a simple technological innovation. We have been using different AI-based solutions for a long time – e.g. GPS and chatbots – however, the publicly available large language models are undoubtedly revolutionizing our lives in an unprecedented way.
Today, artificial intelligence permeates almost every aspect of our lives in various ways: social media platforms provide newsfeed based on AI, air traffic control systems apply AI, even doctors and medicine employees use various types of AI… Moreover, I was preparing this post with the assistance of Google’s search algorithms.We all know that Facebok and Twitter (since Elon Musk’s takeover it’s renamed as X) and other platforms feed our hunger for news by AI-based content. Algorhythms explore the user’s taste and preferences and provide content that would probably be interesting to the reader. In the recent years, we have seen an expansion of profile based contents and this is even more tangible since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Based on the users’ feedback and reactions, platforms tend to meet users’ political and professional expectations. They know users’ presumed political orientation, their opinion about certain topics, their professional standards, etc. The user profile is build by analyzing search habits, the time spent on each website / post, the relationships between the websites the user usually visits and their sharing habits – just to highlight some of the key elements of AI based algorhytmic social media operation.
This is why, many argue that big tech companies are not just the owners of the most powerful assets in in the world – the users’s profile – but on the highway to becoming the new, unelected sovereigns.
To frame how dangerous platforms and profiling are to public trust, we only have to remind ourselves to the previous US presidential election scandal of Donald Trump and Facebook, or the Cambridge Analytica story and the Brexit. When platforms intervene to national elections and form public opinion, it is necessarily a question of sovereignty and security.
Speaking sovereignty, the paradigm requires three plus one factors: territory, population, supreme power and, since Montevideo, autonomy in external relations. By 2023, bigtech companies have the potential to exert a decisive influence on human societies across the borders. For the Westphalian system of sovereignty, such a capability, such a phenomenon, was completely unthinkable. In many cases, social media is now the communication channel of state power itself. This is not surprising, as social media and digital tools allow us to get our messages across much faster and more effectively than ever before. However, these technologies are almost exclusively controlled by a few big tech companies, whose economic potential and ability to influence society often rivals or even exceeds that of the state. And by now we have to treat the online space as an extended reality of our real world. Because the online one is part of the real world. The two can’t be separated anymore.
And we haven’t even talked about hardcore artificial intelligence companies like OpenAI. OpenAI is currently being rolled out through so-called APIs. ChatGPT is cute if we want to ask to write us a welcome letter. But its relevance and usage are wider than we can imagine, as it can be linked to other systems in the level of programming codes. Of course, the control and all the information obtained is the property of OpenAI.
According to some opinions, we would need to examine whether bigtech companies, like Facebook can be considered as quasi-states, since the online/virtual space it created can be considered a quasi-state territory, while its users can be considered as quasi-population. Of course, this is just a thought experiment.
However, taking a step back, perhaps we should treat the online or virtual space much more seriously than a commercial, or private law issue. Perhaps we should consider starting to talk about the online or virtual state territory as a factor of sovereignty where states need to exercise their sovereignty as they do over physical space, for instance with floating territory.
Norbert TRIBL is a senior lecturer at the International and Regional Studies Institute of the University of Szeged. He received his PhD in 2020, his thesis is on the applicability of constitutional identity in the European supranational space. He studied economics from 2019-2022. In 2023, he passed the Hungarian bar exam. As a university lecturer, he teaches State Theory and Constitutional Law. As an advisor to the Hungarian Constitutional Court between 2020 and 2023, he examined the place of the constitutional courts of the Member States of the European Union in the integration process, mainly from the perspective of constitutional identity and the responsibility of constitutional courts for integration. He is currently the Dean’s representative for public relations at the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of University of Szeged. He is currently a member of the Digitalization and Democracy research group of the Societal Challenges Competence Centre of the Humanities and Social Sciences Cluster of the Centre of Excellence for Interdisciplinary Research, Development and Innovation of the University of Szeged, where he is examining the impact of the technology sector and the digitalizing world on essential state functions and state sovereignty. Since 2020, he has been the editor of the Constitutional Discourse Blog. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
During the last years, numerous institutional reform-proposals have surfaced in the European public discourse and in the EU institutions, aiming to improve the visibility of the EU institutions in the eyes of the European public. One of the reform-proposals that has resurfaced from time-to-time is the idea of establishing a bicameral legislative system and/or renaming the Council of the European Union to the Senate of the EU. Such reforms regarding the Council were included in documents adopted by the European Parliament plenary and the committees, in the final report of the Conference on the future of Europe and it was discussed in the publications of the official research service of the European Parliament (EPRS) as well.
Although renaming the Council might make it easier for the citizens to understand the structure of the EU better, it is necessary to assess the effects of such a radical change, as it would in fact mean the rethinking of the function of one of the legislative bodies of the EU in the EU’s institutional system. Many member states have bicameral legislative systems, the question is, would the introduction of a two-chamber system have any benefit in the institutional structure of the EU as well? Upper chambers of national parliaments usually have a historically developed function and many of them do not have strong powers in their respective constitutional systems. One might consider that the EU is – even though it can be described as a sui generis entity – an international organization and as such, it would be unusual for it to have a two-chambered legislative body.
As an international organization, the European Union was established through founding treaties and their modifications. Member States have either transferred or shared part of their sovereignty in the European integration to make the functioning of the EU possible. Negotiating these treaties involved a long, sensitive and difficult process, reaching many compromises. The institutional setup and the catalogue of competences, the responsibilities of each EU institutions were a fundamental part of these negotiations.
Adopting a model of a weak upper-chamber may lead to the erosion of the balance between institutions. The principle of institutional balance is arguably either the manifestation of separation of powers on EU level, or a supplementing principle to it, making it an elemental part of the principle of rule of law. This post is assessing whether the effect of reforming the Council of the European Union as a second legislative chamber in the EU architecture might lead to the corrosion of institutional balance between the EU institutions.
Bicameral parliaments in different member states
According to a report prepared by the Venice Commission from 2006, 17 countries have two chambers in the continent of Europe. Inside the European Union, thirteen member states have a bicameral legislative body. In many cases, it is closely related to federalism, in other cases it is related to decentralization or regionalization. Second chambers usually play an important role between the center of the state and the geographical components of the state (for example in the case of Germany). The main function of second chambers is to represent sub-national authorities. Historically, there used to be more aristocratic chambers, but they are in the decline in a worldwide comparison. There are many bicameral states, but they also face criticism (cost related arguments, delay in decision-making) and in some cases (Sweden, Finland, Croatia), second chambers have been dispensed with.
If we assess the functions and powers of second chambers, we can see a variety of examples. There are few instances, where second chambers have the same powers and responsibilities as their first chambers (equal bicameralism), an example to this model is Italy, where the Italian Senate has equally strong powers as the lower house and it is important to note, that the Senate is also elected by direct universal suffrage. Other examples are Switzerland and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Romania and Russia used to have equal bicameralism, but not anymore. In all other instances, the bicameralism is unequal; the second chambers exercise significantly fewer powers as the first, having no budgetary powers (Austria, Ireland, Czech Republic, United Kingdom) or no powers to amend the budget without the agreement of the government (Spain). Some second chambers have no right to amendment (Austria, Netherlands) or in other cases, amendments tabled by senators are rarely approved. In most of the cases, the first chambers make the last and most important decisions on legislation. In some instances, the second chambers have powers amounting to the right of veto.
Therefore, we can establish that in the majority of the cases the second chamber has significantly fewer powers as the lower house. The question is therefore, what a proposal for a European Senate would exactly mean.
The proposal of a bicameral legislative system
The Final Report of the Conference on the Future of Europe does mention the idea of renaming the Council of the European Union to “Senate of the European Union”, however, it does not give any clarification on further ramifications or changes in the institutional setup. It is merely an idea to increase the visibility of EU institutions.
In the report of the European Parliament on Parliamentarism, European citizenship and democracy (2023/2017(INI)), the EP argues that the Council is in fact already “often portrayed as” the second chamber of the EU legislative system. In the explanatory statement of the rapporteurs, they describe the ideal structure as the lower chamber (EP) representing the citizens, and the Council as the upper chamber representing the Member States, just like in a federal state. It proposes to reform the General Affairs Council and the rotating presidency to improve the legislative process “in a bicameral system”. It argues that unanimity voting in the Council is “a de facto impediment to the advancement of the European agenda”. It proposes to reduce the number of Council configurations, demands transparency in Council meetings. The report also demands that the European Council should halt with the practice of exercising executive and legislative functions. It entails establishing the (general, direct) right of initiative of the European Parliament and argues that the European Electoral Law and the right of inquiry INL and INI proposals of the European Parliament should not be blocked in the Council and need to progress, thus referencing the introduction of transnational lists and stronger powers for the European Parliament through the setting up of inquiry committees. It suggests giving the European Parliament the full control over its own resources and budget.
European Parliament resolution of 16 February 2017 on possible evolutions of and adjustments to the current institutional set-up of the European Union (2014/2248(INI)) declares that the European Parliament already considers the Council the second chamber of EU legislature and argues for establishing a system of permanent chairs instead of the rotating presidency. It would significantly change the inner structure of the Council, as it would become one single legislative Council and the Council formations would be turned into similar bodies as the committees of the European Parliament. At the same time, it would give the European Parliament a (general, direct) right of initiative. Other European Parliament resolutions (here and here) have also argued that the Council is already the second legislative chamber of the EU.
European Parliament resolution of 13 February 2019 on the state of the debate on the future of Europe (2018/2094(INI)), in article 10 it proposes to transform the Council into a true legislative chamber on an equal footing with the European Parliament. However, in article 6 it also states that the instances, where the European Council exercises legislative functions are weakening institutional balance and argues for the community method. Thus, the goal of transforming the Council in this case would mean an implicit strengthening of the prerogatives of the European Parliament.
Considering the proposals above, the European Parliament would gain a significant advantage in the EU’s institutional system over the Council. The EP would have the right of initiative, control over its own budget, through the reform of the electoral law and the establishment of the Union-wide constituency it would depend less and less on the member states during elections. Council configurations would be reduced or transformed and the European Council would become less active. By a change from unanimity to qualified majority voting in more areas in the Council, the members of the Council would lose a significant power to stop legislative initiatives. In addition, the fact that the Council is not elected, but their members are appointed by the member states further amplifies the imbalance between the two institutions in the reform proposals of the European Parliament. The report of the European Parliament on Parliamentarism, European citizenship and democracy and other above mentioned resolutions proposes therefore a model of unequal bicameralism, with a weaker Council as it is in the current system in force.
EPRS also assessed many possibilities for avenues reforming the role of the Council, leading to it becoming an “upper house”. It has dealt with the idea of reshaping the Council configurations, reforming the legislative procedure by making meetings in the Council transparent, establishing a chamber representing member states, much like in a federal state. The idea seems to be, however, mostly, trying to regulate the Council in a way that restricts its current functioning by establishing the framework of the “second chamber”, except for one detail, the question whether the Council should have the right of initiative.
There was a further proposal before the European Convent (2003) for a second chamber as well, not involving the Council, according to which the national parliaments would have been represented in a second chamber, overseeing the application of the principle of subsidiarity. Another idea was to involve them in the parliamentary control of certain, intergovernmental policy fields (mostly the common foreign- and security policy). However, the proposals currently debated in the European public discourse deal with the “parliamentarisation” of the Council.
A European Senate would be against the principle of institutional balance
Second chambers have many uses. They are often characterized (depending on the state) as embodying measures of wisdom, balance, expertise, they often have a historical nature, play a balancing role in federal states, have more freedom to express opinions, or represent interests of specific, in some cases neglected groups or ideas. However, none of these arguments seem valid for modifying the institutional setup of the EU.
It is worth remembering the history of the European integration when we assess the question of the Council becoming a second chamber. Even though the European Coal and Steel Community had a European Parliamentary Assembly, it did not have such significant powers as today. It has gained its powers gradually. In the beginning, the most important decision-making body was the predecessor of the Council, and the High Authority played an important role in the implementation. The whole structure was established for (a new kind of) international organization. Through development in time, it has gained some role in the budgetary procedure, has gained legislative powers, role in the appointment of candidates for certain positions, etc. As the powers of the EU grew, the powers of the European Parliament have expanded significantly as well. This is how we have reached today’s question about the reform of the Council, the Council has not changed as much as the European Parliament, which experienced a fundamental shift in its role.
Many of the reform-proposals regarding a new, bicameral parliament of the EU would lead to weakening the Council of the European Union and placing it in the shadow of the EP. Parliament would gain further rights (right of initiative, budgetary powers, stronger right for setting up inquiry committees, being elected through a Union wide list), while the Council’s formations would be strictly regulated, its members would still be appointed through an indirect legitimation procedure and the role of the European Council would become unclear. It is safe to say that the new model proposed by the European Parliament would establish an unequal bicameralism, where the Council would play a secondary role to the European Parliament.
The principle of institutional balance is the manifestation of separation of powers on the EU level and an elemental part of the principle of rule of law. This balance would be significantly eroded by the reforms in question. Even though its rights have expanded greatly in the last decades, the European Parliament is proposing to introduce new powers for itself, while it plans to restrict the role of the Council drastically. As the European Court has stated in Case 70/88, Parliament v. Council, “Observance of the institutional balance means that each of the institutions must exercise its powers with due regard for the powers of the other institutions”.
It is one thing to strive for such reforms and another to be able to adopt them. Treaty modifications require consensus at the end of the procedure. The ultimate question is, would all of the member states agree to weaken their positions in the structure of the European Union?
Árpád LAPU is a policy adviser on constitutional issues at the European Parliament since 2019 and a PhD student of the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary. Between 2017-2019, he worked as an adviser at the Cabinet of the Minister of Justice of Hungary, conducting comparative constitutional analyses. He has earned his JD at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University in Hungary, has a BA in international relations from the University of Szeged and an MA in European and international administration from Andrássy Gyula German Speaking University in Budapest. He has completed an Edx MicroMaster in cooperation with the Catholic University of Louvain (UCLouvain) in international law. His field of research is non-participation in armed conflicts in international law and constitutional norms regarding non-participation in armed conflicts. He has written publications regarding the future of the EU ETS system of the European Union, institutional reform proposals of the Union, and researches in the field of social sciences.
When we say the words “data protection”, for most of us, The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR comes to mind. However, there are many different data protection laws from around the world, which I shall attempt to briefly showcase in this post.
First of all, I must point out that data protection has historically always had a huge presence in the continent of Europe, so the fact that the EU now has strict legislation in place to protect privacy is no surprise. The first ever data protection law was Sweden’s Data Act, which was passed in 1973, and came into effect the following year. In 1981, the Council of Europe adopted the Data Protection Convention, rendering the right to privacy a legal imperative. It is important to note that privacy and data protection are not the same, but they are closely intertwined, especially when we talk about the effectiveness of protecting personal data. There were many preparatory documents and various milestones in the EU before GDPR came into effect. Surprisingly though, this is not where the right to privacy first emerged. In fact, that place would be the United States and the year 1890, when two US lawyers, Samuel D. Warren and Louis Brandeis, wrote The Right to Privacy, an article that argued the “right to be left alone”, using the phrase as a definition of privacy. From then on, this right made it into international agreements, and slowly gained popularity, culminating in becoming a crucial aspect of our lives. With the technological advances of AI and other technologies relying on data, privacy has become something precious and fragile. How good of a job does the EU do in protecting it? What about the US?
Currently, when ranking countries by privacy focusing on Internet users’ rights and the Internet privacy laws each country has in place, Estonia, Island and Costa Rica sit at the top, followed by Canada, Georgia and Armenia. Unsurprisingly, China came last in the ranking of 70 different countries: but even China has privacy laws in place. The Personal Information Protection Law (‘PIPL’) entered into effect on 1 November 2021 and is China’s first comprehensive data protection, governing personal information processing activities carried out by entities or individuals within China. Together with this law, the Cybersecurity Law and the Data Security Law were introduced. The PIPL is partly modeled after the GDPR, containing principles of personal information processing, consent and non-consent grounds for processing, but there is no single specific authority in China that has responsibility for the supervision of compliance with personal data related laws.
Similarly modeled after the GDPR is the Privacy Amendment (Notifiable Data Breaches) to Australia’s Privacy Act, Brazil’s Lei Geral de Proteçao de Dados (LGPD), Egypt’s Law on the Protection of Personal Data, and India’s Personal Data Protection Bill. Despite the close resemblance, there are clear differences: for example in India, more discretion is given to India’s Central Government to decide how it is enforced and when exceptions can be made. In Egypt, the fines for non-compliance are significantly lower than GDPR with a minimum of 100,000 LE (approx. 5,560 EUR) and a maximum of 1 million LE (approx. 55,600 EUR), but data breaches could also result in prison time.
New amendments to New Zealand’s 1993 Privacy Act came into effect on December 1, 2020, and similarly to GDPR, there is a requirement to notify authorities and affected parties of data breaches and the introduction of new restrictions to offshore data transfer. However, the fines for non-compliance are significantly lower than with GDPR (the maximum fine is just 10,000 NZD, however there is a mechanism in place for class action suits), and the “right to be forgotten” is not included in the Privacy Act.
These are some of the data protection laws in place which have significant similarities to the GDPR, but seeing that no EU country except for Estonia made it into the ranking of the best countries by Internet users’ privacy, it is worth asking whether GDPR is actually the best regulation out there.
While researching this topic, I have found that 137 out of 194 countries had put in place legislation to secure the protection of data and privacy. The continents of Africa and Asia are at 61 and 57 percent of countries having adopted such legislations. Naturally, some form of legislation is better than no safeguards in relation to privacy, but I think that the most important aspect of any law is not the written word, but how it is enforced in practice. Personally, I believe that the true effect of GDPR does not come from the specific text alone, but rather how it has shaped the way other countries relate to data protection, and how significant the case law has become since data breaches were taken seriously. The laws I briefly mentioned have ever-expanding requirements, new legislation is put in place in several countries (such as Canada’s New Data Privacy Law (CPPA)). The law on data protection might be completely different within a country, like in the case of the US, where while there are no formal laws at the federal level, there is some federal legislation that protects data on a more general level. Knowing that it might restrict competitiveness for businesses, the US typically does not have strict laws in place. Several US states have created their own laws, with California’s California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) providing privacy rights and consumer protection, which allows for residents of the state to establish precisely how their personal data is being collected and what it is being used for. The New York Privacy Act obligates companies to acquire consumer’s consent, disclose their de-identification processes, and install controls and safeguards to protect personal information. There are laws in place in Colorado, Connecticut and Virginia, with bills introduced in Utah, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas. While there had been a EU-US Privacy Shield framework in place to make GDPR compliance more understandable for organizations operating on both sides of the Atlantic, the agreement was struck down by the European Court of Justice, as they were of the opinion that that the rights of EU data subjects were not adequately protected from US surveillance.
Data protection is a national security issue, so it is understandable that different nations might feel apprehensive about data flow. But we must understand that we are living in a world that is so interconnected that simply creating data protection laws will never be enough to actually make sure there is no misuse or data breaches. But is cooperation possible on an international level in such a sensitive matter? Experts have previously made a case for a global privacy standard, which would be easier on data protection officers and authorities, stating that “while the European Data Protection Board has provided guidance about adequacy thresholds, each company’s risk assessment necessarily will be subjective and result in inconsistent application of the GDPR’s data privacy scheme.”. There is a data privacy international treaty in place, which is wholly ineffective: this leads me back to my point about the importance of implementation when it comes to any regulation. As long as different nations have diverging interests – which will always be the case – an international data protection treaty seems far away. For the purpose of business many countries attempt to comply with the GDPR, which forced its way into the consciousness of the international committee, but is still often ignored by those companies which are powerful enough to pay a fine and not change their lucrative practice of selling personal data.
So what is the solution? Can we find any common ground in relation to privacy laws from around the world, especially with the emergence of newer technologies and AI legislation also taking precedence worldwide? Or will we just keep trying to comply with differing regulations until one day we find that privacy has vanished altogether – if it hasn’t already?
Only time will tell what this possibility means for the future of data protection, but one thing is for sure: privacy laws became more significant in the eyes of world leaders through legislative effort from the EU, and are here to stay. Let’s hope that something similar will happen with regard to Artificial Intelligence, so that we may have an imperfect, but slightly safer future.
Mónika Mercz, JD, is specialized in English legal translation, Junior Researcher at the Public Law Center of Mathias Corvinus Collegium Foundation in Budapest while completing a PhD in Law and Political Sciences at the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Budapest, Hungary. Mónika’s past and present research focuses on constitutional identity in EU Member States, with specific focus on essential state functions, data protection aspects of DNA testing, environment protection, children’s rights and Artificial Intelligence.
Understanding the complexities of the media landscape is absolutely necessary in this day and age when information is everywhere and can be obtained quickly at the tip of our fingers. One of these ideas that deserves consideration is the idea of pluralism in the media. At its most fundamental level, media pluralism refers to the wide variety of media sources and voices that are made available to, and are within reach of the general public. It ensures that various societal groups, whether they are based on ethnicity, ideology, or interest, have a platform to express their views and that no voice or perspective becomes overwhelmingly dominant. These goals can be accomplished by ensuring that there are multiple platforms.
Pluralism in the media serves as a hedge against the formation of potential media monopolies, which occur when a single organization or a small group of organizations control the entirety of the information flow. When such monopolies are allowed to continue operating unchecked, they can result in a skewed presentation of events, issues, or narratives, which in turn can influence public opinion in ways that are biased. Pluralism in the media helps to cultivate a more democratic environment by ensuring that a wide variety of voices are heard. This provides citizens with a broader perspective and a more comprehensive understanding of the issues at hand. In the past, there were not as many sources of media. The primary sources of information dissemination at the time were printed newspapers, radio broadcasts, and, later, television channels. These mediums had high entry barriers, and often required a significant investment of capital and resources to get started. Because of this limitation, the media landscape was frequently dominated by a relatively small number of voices, which typically reflected the more powerful or affluent segments of society.
Nevertheless, the introduction of the internet and other digital technologies brought about a dramatic shift in this landscape: all of a sudden, the barriers to entry decreased. Everyone who has access to the internet has the potential to become a broadcaster, journalist, or influential person. Emerging media such as blogs, podcasts, and personal video channels each offer distinctive points of view and cater to specific subsets of audience members. The rise of digital technology has bolstered the concept of media pluralism, making it possible for even the most underrepresented groups to have their voices heard.
However, the expansion of the digital realm brings new challenges to the concept of pluralism. Platforms that are driven by algorithms, such as social media websites, frequently prioritize content in accordance with the preferences and actions of users. Echo chambers are situations in which individuals are primarily exposed to viewpoints and ideas that are congruent with their existing beliefs. While this ensures a tailored user experience, it also carries the risk of creating echo chambers. This has the potential to accidentally restrict the breadth of information they receive, which runs counter to the very concept of pluralism in the media.
In addition, although the digital space makes it possible for a variety of voices to be heard, it also raises questions about the credibility and authenticity of those voices. It is essential to be able to differentiate between fact and fiction in today’s oversaturated media environment. In this setting, pluralism necessitates not only the participation of many different voices but also a dedication to maintaining the truth and adhering to certain journalistic standards. As the distinctions between fact and fiction become increasingly hazy, the question of whether or not the state should play a role in keeping its citizens informed becomes the subject of a heated debate.
The central focus of this discussion revolves around the notion of online pluralism. The internet provides a medium through which individuals, including professional journalists, bloggers, and casual users, can disseminate their thoughts and perspectives. The process of democratizing the dissemination of information has led to the emergence of a wide range of perspectives, encompassing both significant and inconsequential viewpoints, coexisting in a vast expanse. While the event serves as a commemoration of the fundamental right to freely express oneself, it also presents a precarious situation where misinformation can easily proliferate. Given the magnitude of this challenge, the significance of the state’s role becomes paramount. One perspective posits that it is imperative for states to intervene and implement regulatory measures pertaining to online content to guarantee that their populace is exposed to information that is both accurate and balanced. This intervention may take on diverse manifestations, such as the implementation of regulations targeting tech giants to mitigate the spread of misinformation, the establishment of state-sponsored digital literacy programs, or the creation of state-produced content with the objective of achieving a more balanced information landscape. Nevertheless, the implementation of state intervention presents a distinct array of challenges. The demarcation between regulation and censorship warrants consideration. The state’s conceptualization of “truth” may not consistently exhibit impartiality. Efforts to manipulate the prevailing narrative may result in the suppression of authentic dissenting perspectives, thereby impeding the fundamental nature of democratic dialogue.
The provisions of the Digital Services Act relating to the role of very large online platforms in the news media are of particular interest. For example, providers of very large online platforms should “pay particular attention to freedom of expression and information, including the freedom and pluralism of the media and identify and address systematic risks that jeopardise media freedom and pluralism.” Those provisions, therefore, require platforms to preserve and guarantee media pluralism, thereby providing, inter alia, the means to achieve a more balanced mass media. This proposed solution is based on the principle that it is possible to reduce polarization through diverse content and that filter bubbles can be neutralized by introducing various types of news into them. However, given the bias of the traditional media, the overall picture becomes more complicated, and the above conclusion may not hold. This ignores the phenomenon of the so-called hostile news bias, which suggests that users reject otherwise objective and neutral information that contradicts their worldview and see it as hostile news. A study published by an American research group examined how users react to opposing opinions on Twitter. If the test subjects were Republicans, Twitter recommended a multitude of Democratic content, and vice versa. After examining the attitudes before and after, they found that as a result of the messages from the opposite side, the users’ attitudes became more and more polarized, and they strengthened much more deeply in their original ideas.
The issue of diversity of information is also a regular topic of debate in traditional media, and the practical problems associated with it are magnified in the online space. How can diversity be measured? What are the indicators that help to determine whether an online platform’s service meets the conditions for diverse mass media? What exactly is diversity in the online space? Obviously, it is impossible to expect an online platform to balance the content presented to each user on a pharmaceutical scale along the lines of political bias, but beyond the aforementioned neutrality, what are the positive desiderata that we can expect from platforms? And then there is the next big question: the question of the verifiability of the measures taken. Indeed, online service providers and advertisers have integrated personalized technologies into the user experience to such an extent that we have lost the possibility of objectively verifying the information presented to them. While everyone sees the same thing in a traditional media stream — including, where appropriate, the authorities that monitor the area — the mix of content on social media is different for each user, making it impossible to have a centralized, one-size-fits-all content monitoring system. We have now entered the age of the “networked information economy”, where information is usually produced in a decentralized way by users, and because it is free, a very large number of people take advantage of this possibility, making it almost impossible to control what is displayed and how it is displayed for each user.
The algorithmic nature of many platforms can, ironically, hinder internal pluralism. For example, a social media site, aiming to tailor content to a user’s preference, might end up showcasing only a narrow band of perspectives, thereby reducing exposure to diverse views within that platform. On the external front, while the internet has lowered barriers to entry, leading to a proliferation of content creators, the dominance of a few tech giants can overshadow smaller, independent entities, making it harder for them to gain visibility.
Moreover, the sheer volume of information in online media, while a testament to external pluralism, can also blur the lines between credible journalism and misinformation. The challenge, then, is not just to promote pluralism but also to ensure that it is anchored in accuracy and reliability.
 Erin Carroll: Making News: Balancing Newsworthiness and Privacy in the Age of Algorithms. 106(1) Georgetown Law Journal 69-114. (2017). p. 72.
 Cristopher Bail et. al.: Exposure to opposing views on social media can increase political polar-ization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 115(1) 9216–9221 (2018)
János Tamás Papp JD, PhD is an assistant professor at Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary, and a legal expert at the Department of Online Platforms of the National Media and Infocommunications Authority of Hungary. He has taught civil and constitutional law since 2015 and became a founding member of the Media Law Research Group of the Department of Private Law. He earned his JD and PhD in Law at the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of the Pázmány Péter Catholic University. His main research fields are freedom of speech, media law, and issues related to freedom of expression on online platforms. He has a number of publications regarding social media and the law, including a book titled „Regulation of Social Media Platforms in Protection of Democratic Discourses”.
The democratization of AI will undoubtedly promote transparency and accountability of the technology. But what happens when open-source AI falls into unauthorized hands, or is misused? What is the greater risk, development monopolies concentrated in the hands of large companies or uncontrolled use?
With the rise of generative language models, artificial intelligence has infiltrated areas of our lives that would have been unimaginable even a few years ago. In social media, AI algorithms are responsible for making the user experience as comfortable as possible and maximizing the time spent on these platforms. In e-commerce, it’s a common practice for users to receive suggestions for additional products they may be interested in based on their search history, previous transactions and known preferences. Tools developed for smart homes learn the user’s habits, which can help them optimize energy use, for example, but also significantly improve comfort.
Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) has become so dominant that, for example, the Vice-Chancellors of the Russell Group universities in the UK have issued a joint statement on the subject. It is therefore essential that their students and staff are equipped with basic knowledge of artificial intelligence. Without this knowledge, they will not be able to take advantage of the opportunities that technological developments in teaching and learning will create. The declaration also highlights the importance of promoting AI Literacy, sharing best practices, and the importance of special trainings about the ethical use of AI, especially GAI.
In such an environment, it is particularly important that the tools that enter education, from which we expect credible and reliable information, provide truly unbiased and reliable data to those who use them.
As the democratization of AI takes off, it is reasonable to believe that the range of tools that can be used will expand. Since the launch of GPT-3 and the ChatGPT developed from it, hardly a month has gone by without a technology giant coming up with a new solution, a large language model (LLM) or its own architecture. A fair number of these are completely open-source. An excellent example is Llama 2, developed by Meta.
However, while making such tools publicly available will undoubtedly help to increase transparency and trust in technology, it also carries risks. Dame Wendy Hall, co-chair of the British Government’s AI review, once said that such moves are like ‘giving people a template to build a nuclear bomb’.
It should be remembered that currently known solutions, including LLMs, have several vulnerabilities. One aspect of these can be found in the creation of similar models. Data leakage due to biased training data, an inadequately constructed algorithm, or even models trained with sensitive data are all such factors. The other side of the coin is the use of existing models. Problems can be caused by over-reliance on the output of them, which can lead to the propagation of false information, insufficient or vague objectives when implementing ethical principles (AI alignment), or the phenomenon of poisoning in newer training data during fine-tuning.
Another example of the risks of language models is ChatGPT. Who is not familiar with the famous ‘As an AI language model…’ response that comes as a reply when typing inappropriate prompts. This is common when a user asks a question that would violate the company’s ethical principles, such as hate speech, sexist, racist content, or otherwise facilitate the transmission any kind of inappropriate content. However, we must remember that language models do not have any ethical sense, moral compass, or other help in generating answers. Although ‘moderation’ of questions and answers seems to be part of the internal workings of the ChatGPT, little official information is available regarding this.
To filter the model’s responses, two other cases are possible. In the first case, the question formulated by the user does not reach the language model in the first place. In the second case, the answer already generated by the language model is ‘stopped’ by a moderation process if it does not comply with the ethical principles of the operator.
Both steps are most easily illustrated using the OpenAI Moderation API. This is a service that uses a separate machine-learned model to decide if a text contains elements indicating self-harm, sexuality, harassment, or other prohibited activity. In this case, the investigated text may be a question addressed by the user to the model or a response to it by the model. If the answer is yes, the text will be moderated to prevent the creation of unwanted content.
One problem is that such models – like the ones behind the already mentioned Moderation API – never work at 100% efficiency. Given that even humans cannot identify similar content without error, this is perhaps the smaller problem. The bigger problem is that democratization may enable people who are unable or unwilling to take the necessary ethical principles into account to develop their own chatbots. One can easily imagine what would happen if a ChatGPT-level language model started flooding social media with hateful comments. All the malicious user would have to do is create a sufficient number of fake accounts to flood the profile of any company, public figure or even party with comments of their choice.
There are also signs of this on a smaller scale, for example when the aforementioned ‘As an AI language model’ appears in the comments of several Twitter profiles. Presumably, some of these are already the misguided results of such automated generation. The text generation capabilities of today’s LLMs are now sufficient to convince the average user that the content was written by a real human. Given this, and the fact that more and more people are getting access to more and more powerful tools as open-source AI spreads, we should also expect to see an increasing incidence of misuse.
Moving away from language models, the spread of deep fake is also worrying. Deep fake refers to video or audio content in which someone’s digital image is faked using artificial intelligence. In this case, the dedicated purpose is to allow the result to serve explicitly manipulative purposes. But so is the phenomenon of hackers using generative AI to improve their offensive code or using artificially generated voice to generate phone calls with malicious intent. The latter could be, for instance, a case where a subordinate receives instructions to perform a certain action in the voice of their manager.
The democratization of AI is therefore a double-edged sword. Increasing transparency and promoting accountability towards the large companies that currently own the technology is a necessary step. Without it, AI could easily become the privilege of a privileged few. This kind of inequality would erode trust in the technology in the long term and, if combined with an inadequate regulatory environment, could easily lead to abuses in areas such as right to privacy. At the same time, full access to a technological solution necessarily implies that it will be easier to use by people who would not have the resources to produce it without it. Let us take the example of LLMs again. The pre-training of an LLM can cost millions of dollars. Most market actors or private individuals cannot afford this. However, fine-tuning an existing model, for example to run as a chatbot, costs a much smaller amount of investment. If this fine-tuning does not follow the necessary ethical standards, either by accident or through deliberate negligence, it is easy to see that the result could be a lot of chatbots ‘uncontrollably’ prowling the web.
It is likely that neither the vision of a fully monopolized AI nor the vision of hundreds of chatbots on the rampage will be clearly realized. The question is, how will we be able to ensure a balance between cognition and security soon?
István ÜVEGES is a researcher in Computer Linguistics at MONTANA Knowledge Management Ltd. and a researcher at the Centre for Social Sciences, Political and Legal Text Mining and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (poltextLAB). His main interests include practical applications of Automation, Artificial Intelligence (Machine Learning), Legal Language (legalese) studies and the Plain Language Movement.