How can you tell Americans apart? Perhaps if after five minutes of talking you know everything about them. Their pets, their favourite movies, last year’s vacations… Everything. This is what a Canadian friend once told me, and sure, it sounds like an overstatement. But I give him that: Americans are usually very earnest, genuine in their feelings and in the way they convey them.
I could gather a sense of this at the EU-US Young Leaders Seminar in Brussels, where I was facilitating some of the discussions. As one of the organizers put it, the idea was to take a number of students and alumni from the Fulbright, Erasmus+ and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programs, ‘lock’ them together for three days, and see if they can crack some of today’s pressing issues.
This year we discussed disinformation and media literacy (last year was about the future of work, and the year before about integrating migrants and refugees). As such we heard from a wide range of panellists, including representatives from Google and Facebook as well as EU and US diplomats. We were then divided into small groups to debate what’s just been discussed. Half of us would come from Europe, the other half from the US.
As a facilitator for one of these groups, I was looking forward to hearing my pairs’ ideas, but also unsure about the outcome. How can a handful of students and recent graduates solve fake news and disinformation, anyway?
My scepticism was ill-placed. In my opinion, we came up with a list of pretty good ideas that can serve as cues for policymakers. We talked about enforcing hate speech laws to go after racist hoaxers, but also about educating — rather than punishing — those who inadvertently share their lies.
We also discussed a mandatory audit for platforms’ algorithms. A review committee made of experts, officials and citizens (including vulnerable groups) could assess the degree to which programming scripts are biased. Tech experts would help them with this task.
On a last note, what this seminar also taught me is the importance of person to person relationships when it comes to generating new ideas. I was certainly challenged by the frank, honest conversations I had with my American counterparts, but it was all for the best. In the future, I wish to hear more from critical thinkers outside the EU and the US. Count me in for an EU-Africa, EU-Asia or EU-South America Young Leaders Seminar.
Samuel Danzon-Chambaud is an MSCA Early Stage Researcher and PhD candidate with The Institute for Future Media and Journalism in DCU School of Communications researching news automation as part of the JOLT Action. In April, he attended the EU-US Young Leaders Seminar in Brussels, an annual event connecting participants and alumni from EU programs with Fulbright fellows.
JOLT is a Marie-Skłodowska-Curie European Training Network, which aims to harness digital and data technologies for journalism by providing a framework for the training and career development of 15 Early Stage Researchers.