The Nationalist Party’s head of media Pierre Portelli delivered an impassioned criticism of Facebook’s algorithm system last night, warning it is harming democracy by manipulating the minds of voters.
“I want the PN to defend this new democracy, to defend freedom of thought and freedom of expression from the manipulation of the virtual world through social means,” Portelli said at the PN’s General Council last night. “It was a PN government which introduced digital connectivity in its current form, but we are now faced with new challenges as a result of technologies which have made us all easily accessible to everyone.”
“Everyone has heard of algorithms, mathematical sequence which are gamed to manipulate our freedom to make decisions and to influence our choices. They tell you what to eat, what to wear, what to think and eventually how to vote”
“Although the European Parliament has come up with a new legal framework and regulations to protect people from this threat, we are still far away from effectively implementing this,” he continued.
Portelli’s intervention comes in light of a recent report by a House of Commons committee into how Facebook has been used to disinformation and fake news for political purposes. The report notably states that there existed a level of familiarity between Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and data mining firm SCL, the company behind Cambridge Analytica.
They have reportedly received an email that SCL had sent Henley and Partners chairman Christian Kalin back in 2011, offering to broker a meeting between him and Muscat – who was back then still Opposition leader.
Muscat has dismissed this alleged email by claiming “it is no surprise that Britain is in such a mess”, a reference to the ongoing Brexit saga.
However, it was referred to last night by PN MEP Francis Zammit Dimech, who waved the report in front of the crowd to press his point that Muscat has harmed Malta’s reputation.
“Are you going to blame us for this report too?” he asked. “Roberta [Metsola], David [Casa], did you visit the House of Commons by any chance?”