Report Expert Workshop “Transparency in Social Media”

18 dec 2013 /

CaptureOn 6 December 2013 the EMSOC workshop “Transparency in social media” took place in Leuven. This international workshop was organised by the Interdisciplinary Centre of Law and ICT (ICRI) of KU Leuven, the Institute for Information Law (IViR) of the University of Amsterdam and the Hans Bredow Institut of the University of Hamburg. The participants came from very different backgrounds such as academia, consumer and advertiser organisations, companies and the European Commission. The purpose was to bring together experts from different disciplines (law, communications sciences, marketing, information design) in order to gain a better insight into transparency issues related to the use of social media.

The morning session included presentations from recognised experts in the field who looked at transparency challenges from their different disciplines:

  • Prof. Dr. Natali Helberger discussed the use of transparency and user information as a regulatory tool in different domains of law such as e-commerce, data protection and audiovisual law. These laws often focus on content and much less on the presentation of the information.
  • Dr. Eva van Reijmersdal discussed her research on sponsored content and focused on two questions: (1) To what extent do people understand the persuasive nature and what are the effects of sponsored content?; (2) What are effects of disclosing sponsored content on understanding but also on persuasion?
  • Prof. Dr. Andrew Vande Moere showed how to engage the public with complex information through data visualization. Visualisation of data is important as it may enable communication, persuasion and change in beliefs or attitudes.
  • Daniel Knapp presented his research about consumer agency in algorithmic advertising and the new challenges for transparency on the layer of the infrastructure. He raised the questions of how far the concept of ‘infrastructure’ aids the debate around transparency and how infrastructures may be unveiled.
  • Stefania Passera discussed her research on the use of visualisation and information design to make legal language more understandable and how these efforts should be focused on the user. She argued that there is now an imbalance between the current user centeredness versus the user centeredness we deserve.
  • Prof. Dr. Jennifer Urban presented the view on transparency in the United States and how the system of “Notice and choice” seems to have failed its purpose, namely to empower the user. The transparency debate in the US is at a transition point and is heavily influenced by events such as the NSA scandal.

The afternoon session was a world café session where all participants had the opportunity to discuss concrete use cases together with experts from different fields. Although these cases focused on very different topics, there seemed to be several points all groups agreed on. First, information is provided to users of social media, however, few users do actually read this information. Second, customisation and personalisation of information may help to deal with the heterogeneity of users (minors, elderly people, level of education) and to make users more inclined to read Terms of Use. Third, visualisation techniques may assist users to understand the information and at the same time, create awareness. Fourth, the timing of providing information is also important. Instead of giving everything when entering the contract, information can be presented when needed: for instance, when uploading a photo, a user could receive a notice on who will be able to see the photo. And finally, as for the use of difficult language or ‘legalese’, simplification of legal language is a first step, but we must be aware not to oversimplify. These are a few of the many ideas that were discussed at the workshop. A more comprehensive insight will be presented in the form of a paper at EuroCPR 2014 (24-25 March 2014, Brussels).