BILETA 2017, Parallel session 1

by Paul Maharg on 20/04/2017

I’m attending a parallel session on ‘Online speech’, with the first two addressing the problems of fake news.  First up, Felipe Romero Moreno.  He analysed the definition, purpose, impact, liability, govt response and possible solutions.  On definition, he noted the difficulty — perhaps best described as ‘news without any basis in fact’.  He noted Jonathan Zittrain & George Bemis’ definition based on intent — ‘wilfully false’.  Purpose?  Profit, political advantage, lack of regard/care, and just for fun.  He drew the distinction between creators (eg Macedonian teenagers), facilitators, (intermediaries looking for ad revenue clicks) and consumers (looking for validation/confirmation).  Impact of fake news?  There’s the issue of questionable authority vs evidence-based authority.  Can be powerful politically, obviously (US elections, certainly Brexit).  Who is liable?  The policy question remains eg internet service providers, search engines?  The example of China — more censorship was introduced, and cyberspace admin leads to criminal prosecution.  In Germany, Merkel proposed posting of fake new via social media will result in criminal sanctions.  Iran – law is targeted at news channels on Telegram, some channels need a licence.  Italy proposed independent authorities with the support of the state.  In the USA, there are two proposals, one for internet service to be responsible.  BILETA responded to this, here.

Possible solutions — AI, follow-the-money approach, education from childhood onwards.  Re AI, there’s the risk of overclocking and mistaken identification.  Any solution must be compatible with the ECHR.  Following the money approach is a strategy used to tackle online copyright infringement.  Eg City of London police IP crime unit.  Education examples include BBC IE programme, Google IE introducing fact check boxes, etc.  Felipe recommended referencing system to check the accuracy of information; wikipedia open-source approach based on peer checking, and for readers to create and edit information.

Next up, Mark Leise, doctoral student U of Strathclyde (good to see SU represented here), on ‘Fake news: A regulatory response’.   Neat form of slides as a fake news sheet —

He started with Lessig on the next slide — ‘screw the First Amendment, the integrity of our democracy is at stake here’ and called for code-based solutions.  Andrew Murray, he declared, wanted a ‘networked community of more accurate trolls [as the] answer to the problem of fake news’.  And that robot ethics should be formed for the ‘active algorithmic army’.  Mark then told us that these slides were a complete fabrication — the previous sentences were full of fake news, and shows how we could be taken in.  (Actually I was sceptical about the second, Murray example — he quoted the Heart of Midlothian Technology Group which I’d never heard of,  and I don’t think Wattie Scott was into fake news.  OK fiction, but not the creation of fake news.  Though he did write anonymously, novels and campaigns, eg the Malachi Malagrowther papers — not fake news, but for a campaign?  And he did promote a view of Scotland that if not entirely fake was hardly representative of its political diversity.  But I digress…)

Fake news is there, Liese says, to deceive and use anonymity to cover the work of the creators and the campaign backers.  Forms include comedy, satire, hoax, fringe opinion, deception.  The problem is ‘confirmation bias’ – which leads to motivated reasoning.  Motivated reasoning describes emotion-driven reasoning that is designed to avoid emotional dissonance.


He drew up a typology of deception campaigns, below:


And a matrix of potential regulatory responses:


Next up in fast succession, Mackenzie Common, doctoral student, LSE, on ‘Apples and oranges: why online hate speech online is fundamentally different and the problems this poses for the law’. She analysed the issues of accessibility to victims — unified, platforms, real names, personal information.  Geographical distance of perpetrator to victim is problematic — the Brandenburg/Fighting Words test, and Innocence of Muslims video.  Also important is permanency, the role of mirror sites and the problem of cross-jurisdictional access, and the way that that affects the right to be forgotten.  Example: the Nuremberg Files case — Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette, Inc, v. American Coalition of Life Activitists, 2002.  The current tests defining and regulating online hate speech, she said, are very difficult to meet.

Finally Emily Allbon, Morris Pamplin, City U., London  on ‘Keeping it real: Transmedia for online legal education’.  They described a LLB in Legal Practice in partnership with CILEx.  It’s DL, a new frontier for City Law School, and tackling the issues that students have, with family, work and other commitments.  Engaging students was going to be an issue, and they needed to make the most of different media, linking this to practice, and it needed to have a narrative to it.  They described the loneliness of the long distance learner — learners out of campus and education, and the need for a familiar connection.  This significantly shifted their design.  Emily’s recent work on Lawbore, but she wanted more of a community.  She name checked Maharg on Ardcalloch and SIMPLE, Thanaraj & Sales on virtual law clinics, and Serious games (Silverman 2012).  They put together two environments, therefore.  First is CitySCaPe.  Second is like Millcaster, a Business Management environment.  There’s a spectrum in terms of high- and low-fidelity sim here.  And it fitted with the idea of narrative, teaching the law through storytelling — see Stelsow & Gardner, 2011.

Their approach is that of transmedia — ‘a thoughtful blend of story, characters and narrative, layered with play’ (Warren et al, 2015) — ‘Transmedia contributes to a continuous learning process where linear learning is no more’ (ibid).  Their approach was collaboration:  Ness Lyons, a solicitor and writer (, Learning Enhancement & Development (LEaD, where Morris is based), and City Law School academics.  We follow Carrie through a typical day, in the community of Lagton, being asked for legal advice on a range of issues.  See below for the wireframe of the interactions Carrie has with other characters.

Content, characters and plot lines cut across the modules on the programme.  Lagton as a community needed to seem real and multidimensional.  They therefore used a variety of medium, length, tone narrative styles and genres, and integrated into online learning activities in a variety of ways.  Issues: resource and time implications, embedding media in teaching and learning, and how to incorporate student co-creation.

As I said at questions, the work of researchers at Edinburgh U, particularly Jen Ross, is useful with regard to the common  polarisation of distance – intimacy in online education (cf final apopthegm in their Online Teaching Manifesto — ‘Don’t succumb to campus envy: we are the campus’).  I noted that Emily and Morris were doing what we were doing in the online PBL JD at ANU, which is to use narrative, thematise, blend what had hitherto been silos of learning, and creating alternatives to the usual vanilla apps supplied by our institutions (Blackboard, etc) which are so inadequate to the specialised needs of every discipline in the university, including law.

Fascinating paper, great project.  It left me really wanting to learn more.

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