The Council of Europe has called on its 47 member states to tackle the risk that individuals may not be able to form their opinions and take decisions independently of automated systems, and that they may even be subjected to manipulation due to the use of advanced digital technologies, in particular micro-targeting techniques.
Machine learning tools have the growing capacity not only to predict choices but also to influence emotions and thoughts, sometimes subliminally. In a Declaration adopted today, the Committee of Ministers – the organisation’s decision-making body – warns about the risks for democratic societies resulting from the possibility to employ such tools to manipulate and control not only economic choices, but also social and political behaviours.
The Committee of Ministers encourages states to assume their responsibility to address this growing threat by taking a number of steps. These include appropriate and proportionate measures to ensure that effective legal guarantees are in place against illegitimate interferences and to empower users by promoting critical digital literacy skills.
The Declaration emphasises the need to assess the regulatory frameworks related to political communication and electoral processes in order to safeguard the fairness of elections and to ensure that voters have access to comparable levels of information across the political spectrum, and are protected against unfair practices and manipulation.
Finally, the Declaration stresses the significant power that technological advancement confers to those – be they public entities or private actors – who may use algorithmic tools without adequate democratic oversight or control, and underlines the responsibility of the private sector to act with fairness, transparency and accountability under the guidance of public institutions.