Internet Freedom Meet in North Macedonia: Solving Challenges Requires Society’s Involvement

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Educating citizens about the sharing of data on the Internet, where gender-based violence, disinformation and other harmful narratives abound, is a necessity, BIRN’s Internet Freedom Meet conference in Skopje heard.

Photo: BIRN

The Internet Freedom Meet (IFM), organised by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) with the support of the European Union, brought together experts from different spheres of society this year to discuss ongoing and new challenges in the online sphere.

David Geer, Head of the Delegation of the European Union in North Macedonia, said solving Internet challenges requires the involvement of the whole of society. “They are not just challenges for governments to tackle but for all of us and all relevant addresses of Internet governance, from the private sector, government, academia, technology companies, to civil society and the media,” Geer said.

Speaking about foundations, consequences and solutions for the misuse of data on the Internet, Kosovo’s Commissioner for Information and Privacy, Krenare Dermak, said the first step is to teach citizens the basics of Internet searches. He suggests we should never agree to give access to all cookies, because that means giving access to all of our information, while at the same time, the user usually does not know where that data goes and to whom.

Journalists at the Internet Freedom Meet drew attention to gender-based violence, which is common online and mostly aimed at the sexual freedom of women. They stated that thousands of men are sharing intimate content on girls and women without their permission. The victims are often minors, which is an additional motive for the involvement of prosecutors. Recently, several leaders of Telegram groups were arrested in one action.

Telegram, it was noted, is an attractive app for those who intend to break the law, participate in creating or joining extremist groups, or are part of huge disinformation networks. Anonymity, protection of exchanged messages, and the lack of cooperation from Telegram owners with local prosecutors, all contribute to the popularity of the application.

While it can be used benignly and positively, it has also caused significant damage to individuals and society as a whole, experts concluded at the conference. Strict regulation of the use of artificial intelligence (AI), expert Arvin Kamberi mentioned, may not be the best solution. However, in the long run, AI’s monopoly on knowledge could become problematic.

Participants in Skopje also discussed the need for and reasons behind the use of public surveillance cameras, which must be strictly regulated, as well as the way in which camera data is used.

Finally, panelists touched on the problem of elections and pre-election campaigns, which are increasingly challenged by misinformation and the use of artificial intelligence, AI, to undermine the integrity of institutions or political opponents.

The IFM concluded with the presentation of BIRN’s project “Reporting Digital Rights and Freedoms”, emphasizing how cooperation with independent experts and institutions can be achieved.