Opinion

Talk Europe! with Lucy Bernholz: Philanthropy in the Digital Age

“We’re counting on Europe to set forward a set of guidelines and rules and laws that embed those important values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in the way these platforms operate.”

In an interview with ERSTE Foundation’s Jovana Trifunović, Lucy Bernholz calls for a “holistic recalibration” of our technologies, organizational structures, and legal rules: “Right now, most of the digital technology that we use was created to serve commercial purposes and/or the privileges of governments.”

WATCHLIST

00:05 Bad tech
00:42 Crowdfunding
01:18 Facebook
02:05 Artificial intelligence
02:55 New opportunity

00:05 LUCY BERNHOLZ: First, we’ve gotta figure out how to make the technology work for our values. Right now, most of the digital technology that we use was created to serve commercial purposes and/or the privileges of governments. So, one of the things that we think the future of philanthropy and the future of civil society needs is a “holistic recalibration,” if you will—of the technologies we use, the organizational structures we depend on, and the legal rules that shape the whole space.

FROM THE VIDEO


“What nonprofits need to understand if they use Facebook, and certainly if they come to depend on it, is that they’re literally, then, dependent on a third party organization.”

00:42 JOVANA TRIFUNOVIĆ: Are there new products and platforms contributing to more giving by the people?

00:48 LUCY BERNHOLZ: Crowdfunding platforms, which have taken off in the last five years, I’d say, have become a huge part of the giving landscape in the [United] States and in Western Europe. So, that’s shifting where giving is happening. Is it actually expanding the pie? We don’t really know. One of the advantages of digital platforms is they leave a trail of all that behavior so we can now see that giving in a way that we couldn’t see it, when it might have been just you or me supporting our friends and family.

01:18 JOVANA TRIFUNOVIĆ: Can and should nonprofits rely on Facebook?

01:24 LUCY BERNHOLZ: There isn’t really an alternative—yet. But what nonprofits need to understand if they use Facebook, and certainly if they come to depend on it, is that they’re literally, then, dependent on a third party organization. It’s as if they were going to hold all of their meetings and do all of their work in somebody else’s office building. And at any point, that landlord can just shut it down. Because the nonprofit has given over to Facebook all of that information. It’s actually Facebook’s information now. And Facebook, as anybody who has been paying any attention for the last decade knows, changes what it’s doing every six months or a year or so.

02:05 JOVANA TRIFUNOVIĆ: What impact will the use of artificial intelligence have on the work of nonprofits and donor organizations?

02:13 LUCY BERNHOLZ: We’ve generally been asking it in the wrong way. We’ve been asking a lot of “what are the opportunities for nonprofits to actually use artificial intelligence?” when the real impact of artificial intelligence is going to come from the way governments and companies are using artificial intelligence on people, and what the implications of that are for the concerns and missions of the nonprofits. So, in other words, artificial intelligence, for example, changes the way jobs are found. When that process becomes automated, which is part of the artificial intelligence chain, that means that people aren’t reading those resumes anymore—machines are reading those resumes.

02:55 JOVANA TRIFUNOVIĆ: Digital platforms are global. What’s Europe’s role in shaping the civil society?

FURTHER READING

The GDPR mandates a baseline set of standards for organizations that handle the data of EU residents.

03:00 LUCY BERNHOLZ: Right now, in the current kind of political economy in the globe, you can pretty much look at China and Russia as huge influencers of global digital platforms in a non-Western democratic way. There’s the United States government, which is pretty much hamstrung at the moment and not doing much to set any kinds of standards—although American companies are playing a very large role in exporting a set of standards, just through their products. That means we’re dependent on Europe.

We’re counting on Europe to set forward a set of guidelines and rules and laws that embed those important values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in the way these platforms operate. And if you set those laws for Europe, the platforms will adopt, and actually the rules will start to change. We’re already seeing that. Europe puts in place the GDPR in 2018 and shortly thereafter the State of California passes the California Consumer Privacy Act. So, right now there are parts of the US government which are trying to catch up to Europe. So, I say to the European Union, please be bold and please lead in setting a set of regulations that will protect us as we all become dependent on these global digital platforms.

Video published under Creative Commons License: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. Mention name of author/rights holder as follows. Author: Jovana Trifunović and Igor Bararon / erstestiftung.org. Cover picture:  Filmstill from the Video “Philanthropy in the digital age,” Talk Europe! with Lucy Bernholz, illustration: Norma Nardi.