A European Public Digital Platform?
ActNow!, a network to innovate for a pan-European, independent, and non-commercial platform met at the University of Vienna in June 2023 to discuss opportunities and future collaborations. While the global tech giants' impact is evident, there is an urgent need to envision alternatives to foster democracy, social cohesion, and citizenship. The presentations and discussions proved that alternatives to the dominant digital giants are possible and gave evidence that there is much competence in Europe to create digital public spaces beyond commercial interest.
ActNow! meeting on the 13th of June brought together participants, including representatives from international organizations such as the European Broadcasting Union and the Council of Europe, from media organizations including the Austrian and German public broadcasters, and the BBC, from tech start-ups and academia, including DECA.
The presentations of the event illustrated a variety of “best practices”, some driven by public service media organizations, others focusing on civil society. At the same time, it became evident that those leading digital innovation and transformation in Europe focusing on the common good of society are often working in isolation, and restricted to their national environment, unable to reach out for a European perspective and impact. While US and Chinese digital companies collect international audiences and revenues, these European efforts are stuck in a defensive position, facing overwhelming competition. They are often forced to “feed the giants” instead of creating their perspectives and solutions.
The idea of the ActNow! workshop was to change this uneven playing field, at least the perspective. To connect the different projects, to link the world of academia with the world of PSM and civil society. By joining forces, it should become possible to build a broad coalition to showcase the existing potential, address EU policy, and inspire cooperation.
The work to define a long-term strategy and actions continues but three central ideas brought forth were:
- Make it visible – A Public Spaces Showroom event in Brussels before the EU elections in Spring 2024 to showcase a variety of institutions, academic efforts, and platform initiatives. The Showroom would make visible the capacity of the existing digital public Value- competence in Europe.
- Make it happen – DISPLAY Talks. The European Cultural Foundation in cooperation with the newspaper Die Zeit will organize talk shows in different European cities in the run-up to the EU elections, highlighting different societal issues and concluding with the topic of the “European Public Sphere”. The idea is to support and enrich these events.
- Make it work – Policy matters. A policy paper to include recommendations such as installing a “sounding board” for digital transformation and governance with relevant players from media, (civil) society, and existing non-commercial European platforms.
The core message of the ActNow meeting was clear. As the EU Commissioner Vera Jourova has pointed out: “The time for naivety is over”. If Europe will not act, digital transformation will be controlled by a handful of global acting companies. It is time to invest in European digital transformation – not just as a business model but as a social vision for democracy and citizenship.