MUNESRM 2021 is about how we can be united in a worldwide web.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a lot of change. It has not only impacted our day to day lives but also disrupted the world trade and movements. Amidst all this chaos, we have seen a substantial rise in the use of technology, which has already woven itself into the fabric of our everyday lives. Affected parts of the world have been able to move their education facilities online and businesses have had their employees telecommute from home. We are using social media to connect with others, lifestyle apps to shop, and informing ourselves about current affairs through the news media. Though we can see a rapid evolution of technology and innovation, the governments seem not to be able to keep pace with regulating the technologies just as rapidly. Governments need to urgently establish how and to what extent these new technologies should be regulated. If this key player in our lives is not properly regulated, we, the consumers would have to bear the consequences.
An example of how tech companies are already taking advantage of provisional [b1] [SR2] regulations is them capitalizing on users’ data and allowing the spread of misinformation. This can most evidently be seen through the example of social media.
Since most social media applications are free of charge to the user, conglomerates have become profitable through a contemporary business model. These companies have third party firms pay for the app, so that they can use the social media space as a marketing platform for their products. One way by which social media firms convince third party firms to invest in them as marketing platforms, is by displaying engaging content to the users. The longer the user stays on the app, the more the third party can advertise their products to the user and the more the social media firms get in return.
The problem with this is that people tend to be engaged with content that is captivating, which is radically for or against a particular cause. This causes social media platforms to suggest things that users would want to watch, even though the content of that post might be completely wrong. As a result, there a lot of misinformation and dissatisfaction in our society. According to recent studies, misinformation travels 6 times faster than real information on social media. The social media firm knows, based on the previous engagement of the user, what the likes and dislikes of a user are. Using this data, algorithms suggest specific content to increase the user’s screen time and display advertisements of relevant products.
The spreading of misinformation has already started showing its consequences during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a lot of “fake news” floating around about the virus itself, which poses as a serious public health threat as people are trying to sieve facts from fiction. Immense political polarization is also a consequence of this new business model of technology firms through the spread of hate speeches.
At MUNESRM 2021, delegates are going to discuss whether social media firms should allow posts on the internet which spread misinformation. Or whether that violate a fundamental human right of the freedom of speech? Also, should social media firms be allowed to have access to the consumer’s data, or is it breaching their privacy?
It is well recognized that technology needs to be regulated, but how should governments tackle this? After all, our governments were designed to protect workers, not data. If some kind of blanket regulation is imposed on all counties, then the national sovereignty of several countries will be attacked, undermining the purpose of the UN. However, if countries are left to adjust regulatory measures themselves, then third party vendors would pay a lot of money to countries with weak regulation for the data of their citizens. This would encourage other nations to lower their regulations as well. Furthermore, this will grow an environment of corruption. Even if a UN body were in charge of scrutinizing countries that have lower regulation to ensure that they are not providing any incentives for vendors to buy data of their citizens, it would undermine a key principle of the UN which is to treat each nation as fair and equal.
Not only this, the UN also has to tackle the divided stance on this issue. Some countries are of the opinion that technology should not be regulated at all as this undermines the purpose of a free market and impairs the economy. If technology has strong regulations, then companies will have less of an incentive to bring new innovations in the market.
At MUNESRM 2021, delegates will also be discussing how the framework of the regulation of technologies should be constructed so that the UN principles are not attacked. The framework also has to hold the spirit of innovation upright.
The complexity of the issues at hand really highlight the fact that there is a lot of action that needs to be taken by governments urgently.
Instead of dismissing these problems or stopping the use of technology, we need to spark a global conversation about how we as users should use technology responsibly and how governments should regulate the technology, for it to become a safe and dependable medium of information and communication to users.
Technology has certainly helped us overcome the hurdle of hosting a Model United Nations conference during a global pandemic. This conference will be held a bit differently, partly online and partly in person. At MUNESRM 2021, delegates will come together to discuss this year’s special theme and work to amend the past and craft the future. Don’t forget to sign up on MYMUN for a position as a chair or delegate and join us to discuss the world most pressing issue we face today and be united in a worldwide web!
Shriya Rastogi and Stav Oppenheimer
Secretary Generals of the MUNESRM 2021