Addicted to fake news: violation of human dignity

By Prof. dr. mr. Smits. English translation from the Privacyweb site - – done by staff on Coursera’s MOOC “Privacy in the Western World” by

Fake news and privacy: obviously, the two have a strong relationship. That is because privacy is inextricably linked to human dignity. The first article of the European Charter of Human Rights states: “Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.” In my valedictory lecture about how innovation can infringe on jurisdiction and human dignity, I came to the conclusion that human dignity serves as the basis of personal law. And because having human dignity involves a personality right, the collection of data about a person by internet providers should be viewed in the context of human dignity. (See 1) Part of human dignity is that you – as a citizen – can come to a true and informed opinion about what you consider important and that this opinion articulation can take place as much as possible unobserved and uninhibited. I will try to illustrate that the latter is not without problems on the basis of two events in my own life. In January 2017 I was in Valencia and I visited the exhibition FAKE: No es verdad, no es mentira (FAKE: It is not true, it is not a lie). What touched me was how easily people accept things as true, while they are demonstrably false. That had become very clear to me once before, during my time as a volunteer at the Legal First Aid in Tilburg, The Netherlands. In the spring of 1982 one of the fellow-volunteers went cycling in the United Kingdom (UK), just before the Falklands War began on April 12. He would cycle through the UK for about six weeks. On his return it turned out that he could not put the colonial power displayed by the English in perspective. Immersed as he was in the British media, this volunteer fully understood why Thatcher had protected the country against the invasion of the Argentines. We no longer took him seriously on this subject, which touched him deeply.

Human dignity and privacy

The link between human dignity and privacy was already recognized in Germany in 1954 by the federal court in the so-called Leserbrief ruling. In that judgment, the judges derived a fundamental right to human dignity from the right to privacy and the right to develop your own personality. The purpose of this right to human dignity is to adequately protect the attributes of the natural person. This includes the inviolability of the body and the home, but also inviolability of the data collected about a person and the right to manage it as part of the right to privacy. Since this judgment, general personality law and human dignity have been inextricably linked. The European Union has incorporated human dignity into its legislation and thereby recognizes the importance of this right.

DefinitionFake news

To further clarify the relationship between fake news and the right to privacy, as part of human dignity, first I will describe what I understand by fake news, collected from the Dutch government information disinformation and fake news (See 2): “Fake news can take various forms. An example is disinformation: untrue or inaccurate information that is intentionally created and distributed to make money. Or to damage someone, a group of people, an organization or country. In the latter case the sender has bad intentions. “

The crucial elements:

  • Disguised news;
  • Distribution via websites, social media and traditional media;
  • Purpose: to influence public opinion or for profit.

Definition: Privacy

The description of the right to privacy in Article 10 of the Dutch Constitution is not that bad:

  • Everyone has the right to respect for his or her privacy, barring restrictions imposed by or pursuant to the law.
  • The law sets rules for the protection of privacy in connection with the recording and providing of personal data.
  • The law lays down rules with regard to the claims of persons for access to information recorded about them and for the use that is made thereof, as well as for the improvement of such data.

The crucial elements:

  • Respect for privacy (including the data collected about you);
  • Subject to legal limitation.

Article 10 very nicely relates where I can assure that I am “unobserved and uninhibited” (paragraph 1) and the collection of data about me (paragraphs 2 and 3).

Digital tracks

You leave digital ‘traces’ while surfing the internet, whatever device you use. Traces of which you are aware: your conscious traces (you said okay to the “imposed” conditions). But also many digital tracks that you are not aware of: your unconscious tracks. These traces are collected extremely fanatically via the five major pushermen:

Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft (GAFAM).

They use numerous data collectors for this, such as Cambridge Analytica. These data collectors add something to the data (for example, “consumer association member”, “member SP”) and resell it to anyone who wants to buy it. The enriched traces are used by algorithms to show you “relevant advertisements” (this combination of words deserves an analysis for which unfortunately there is no room here) including opinion advertisements and fun videos. You will be “spied on.” If a message addressed to you is the same every time, then you will skip it. A pusherman does not want that, so he ensures that every subsequent message is just a bit nicer, more clearly formulated, and more sensational and therefore appeals more to what you find ‘relevant’. In this way, the pusherman contributes to your view shifting unnoticed and slowly. By spying and influencing you are no longer uninhibited.

Addiction to pushermen

GAFAM ensures that you keep coming back to the pushermen. They have an interest (too big) in making us addicted. Addiction means that we are not susceptible to reason, because the person who criticizes is placed between you and your addiction. If the person who provides you with your drug is criticized by someone else, then your addiction causes you to “believe more” to the person who gives you the drug than the person who criticizes you. (3) When your traces and the dormant increasing power of others over your open-mindedness are merged and the pusherman can create the certainty of your guaranteed attention with an advertiser, it is no longer a question of a well-informed citizen, but of a mechanism of addiction: a dependent user who tends to believe everything the pusherman has presented him. Is it a coincidence that in the GAFAM-world there is also talk of “users”? After all, you accept fake news blindly. You are spied, nudged and manipulated after being spied on.

Algorithms as a solution for fake news

Our traces are used by algorithms to give us certain advertisements and opinion advertisements (true, half true and / or false) and these are programmed in such a way (to keep me addicted) that they continue to give me a certain (by myself) pushing the desired side, according to the pushermen. But we cannot know how these algorithms work. What we now know is that these algorithms have a bias that is aimed at addicting me. Is the answer to fake news then other programming algorithms that can recognize and remove fake news within the services provided by GAFAM as they tell us? Of course we are not allowed to know how these work. The suggested solution is even worse than the disease. And I don’t want to pay any attention to it here either.

Fake news solution

How do we solve this? Part of the solution lies in the way in which the Dutch freedom of expression was formulated as early as 1798 (incidentally, people at that time were also extremely bothered by fake news, called ‘defamatory libels’), then included in Article 16 Freedom of the printing press. It stated that the person responsible for the text (publisher, printer or writer) had to be mentioned together with the text. That should now also be the case with every advertisement. Another part of the solution is the continuous training of the citizen, the user, as is already being done with caution through public campaigns. And of course, there must be constant attention in education. Within this, much attention must be paid to learning to return to the source from which the (fake) information originates. My conclusion: Fake news robs us of our human dignity and open-minded opinion, and both are inextricably linked to our right to privacy.

%d bloggers like this: