Getting away from the digital binary

Jennyfer Chrétien

General Delegate of the Renaissance Numérique think tank

Digital transition is usually associated with a variety of new opportunities it presents for our society, such as improvements to healthcare and mobility or community engagement and solidarity. But it is also a source of vulnerability. It’s a complicated subject that requires nuanced solutions.

Every day, the news covers stories of new digital threats, such as cybersecurity risks, misinformation, hate speech and the processing of personal data without consent. But hysterical reactions in the media don’t help us prepare for this transition; in fact, they tend to have the opposite effect.

For example, look at how we regulate online hate speech. As the boundary between verbal and physical violence starts to break down and threaten our sense of community, online regulation has become a matter of urgency for society. The issue is so vast and complex that we can’t address it just by finding out who is responsible and holding the sites hosting this content accountable. Public opinion is taking an increasingly Responsible use harsh approach, calling for an end to online anonymity and for information to be sanitised. But this ignores the fact that debating online is not black or white. Internet users aren’t passive — they can think and act. They need to be given the right tools by our justice system and gain better awareness through civil society.

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The digital regulations that we apply today are weak even when they first enter into force. It appears there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, a lack of resources; there is no guarantee future regulations will give the justice system greater scope to enforce higher standards. Secondly, a lack of support for citizens; how can we help them better understand the new rights and tools that are available? Just 5% of people in France were aware of their data protection rights when the General Data Protection Regulation came into force in May 2018. The new regulations will call for cross disciplinary and multilateral approaches right from the planning stage.

Sophie Nerbonne

Meeting international data protection standards