Digital intermediaries and communication platforms

In the course of the digital transformation, a new communication infrastructure has emerged which includes search engines (e.g. Google), social networking platforms (e.g. Facebook), multimedia platforms (e.g. YouTube) and microblogging services (e.g. Twitter). This has expanded the possibilities of private and public communication and information searches. These new services (platforms) can enrich public debate, but they can also entail risks for public communication in Switzerland.

Digital intermediaries and communication platforms - OFCOM report

Instructed by the Federal Council, OFCOM worked with the Federal Chancellery to draw up a report on the activity of platform operators (intermediaries) in relation to public communication as well as in the formation of opinion and the formation of political policy. The report explores the question of how the behaviour of intermediaries and the use of online platforms by the public affect public communication in Switzerland and the formation of opinion among the Swiss population.

The report identifies problem areas including hate speech, false information, quasi-censorship and a lack of transparency. Various studies commissioned by OFCOM (LINK auf Laufende Forschungsprojekte und veröffentlichte Studien) have concluded that the population is entitled to effective protection against illegal hate speech and disinformation, and that the rights of users should be better protected with respect to intermediaries. Various efforts are also being made in this direction in other countries. Against this background, a broad discussion is needed in Switzerland on the role played by intermediaries in society and on their governance.

The Federal Council has instructed DETEC to present a discussion paper by the end of 2022 on whether and how communication platforms should be regulated.

Current research projects and published papers

In spring 2020, OFCOM invited researchers to submit project outlines relating to digital disinformation and hate speech (call for papers available here in German, French and Italian: Media research. The following projects have been selected and awarded funding, with results expected in early summer 2022:

Project group

Brief description

Dominik Hangartner, ETH Public Policy Group / Fabrizio Gilardi, UZH Digital Democracy Lab / Sophie Achermann, alliance F (Federation of Swiss Women's Organisations)

Prevalence of hate speech on Twitter in Switzerland and strategies to counter it ("Hate speech on Twitter")

Hate speech project

The project deals with hate speech on social media. The first part of the project focuses on a relevant and large sample of Twitter users to conduct a descriptive investigation of the occurrence of hate speech in Switzerland. The second work package involves a field experiment to investigate the effectiveness of a range of strategies to reduce hate speech on Twitter.

Achim Edelmann, Institute of Sociology, University of Bern

Tracking disinformation: Testing effects of information veracity, source credibility, and partisanship on sharing behaviour ("Tracking disinformation")

Disinformation project

The project investigates the spread of disinformation in public (e.g. Facebook) as well as private (e.g. WhatsApp) digital networks. The study uses a series of experiments to examine which characteristics of content and people lead to disinformation being passed on - or not.

Edda Humprecht and Sabrina Kessler, UZH Department of Communication and Media Research

Disinformation on COVID-19 vaccination on YouTube: An analysis of content, impact and subsequent verification processes via online search ("Disinformation on YouTube")

Disinformation project

The project examines disinformation on YouTube using the example of COVID-19 vaccinations. It first surveys the most shared disinformation videos and uses them to form a typology. It then tests the impact on opinion, knowledge and vaccination intention and examines subjects' search for information when they want to check disinformation.

Lea Stahel and Sebastian Weingartner, UZH Institute of Sociology / Dirk Baier, ZHAW Institute of Delinquency and Crime Prevention

Who ‘hates’ how often in digital Switzerland? Extent of digital hate speech and its socio-structural influencing factors ("Extent of digital hate speech")

Hate speech project

The project first determines the proportion of internet users in Switzerland who are perpetrators and/or victims of digital hate speech. Not only will the frequency of perpetrators and victims be examined, but also which sociodemographic and socioeconomic groups are represented particularly often. The project will also develop a differentiated data collection tool for survey studies on digital hate speech.

Florent Thouvenin, UZH Centre for Information Technology, Society, and Law / Mark Eisenegger, UZH Research Centre for the Public Sphere and Society (fög)

Governance of Disinformation in Digital Public Spheres ("Governance of disinformation")

Disinformation project

The project first compiles the state of research in communication and identifies the central problem areas, especially with regard to digital platforms such as social media services. Secondly, the existing legal regulations and a possible need for standardisation are identified for these problem areas. Based on this analysis, governance recommendations are then formulated which take into account state regulations, forms of co- and self-regulation as well as measures to strengthen media competence. 

Aleksandra Urman, UZH Department of Informatics / Stefan Katz, polyflow GmbH

An Overview of the Swiss Political Telegram User Communities and their Role in the Distribution of Toxic Speech ("Telegram user communities")

Hate speech project

The project uses computational methods to investigate the political public sphere on Telegram in Switzerland, in particular with regard to how hate speech spreads and who is involved in spreading it. The project identifies the key actors who spread hate speech and their targets. In a further step, the project will determine which digital communities are emerging and how they are connected to each other and to other countries.

OFCOM has commissioned various studies which deal with questions relating to communication platforms and public communication in Switzerland.

Assessment of Existing Regulatory Standards and Regulatory Options Regarding Intermediaries in Switzerland (2020)

Study of 30 October 2020 (PDF, 12 MB, 02.02.2021)(The whole study is only available in French)

Governance of Information Intermediaries – Challenges and Solutions (2020)

Opportunities and Threats in Relation to the Impact of Tech-information Intermediaries on the Swiss Public (2020)

Report July 2020 (PDF, 573 kB, 01.10.2020)(The whole report is only available in German)

The Changing Public Realm: Considerations from the Perspective of Fundamental Rights (2020)

Constitutional Principles of a Possible Regulation of Public Online Debates (2020)

Study of 5 March 2020 (PDF, 909 kB, 25.06.2020)(The whole study is only available in French)

Functional and Dysfunctional Public in a Democracy (2020)

Artificial Intelligence, Intermediaries and the Public Sphere

Artificial Intelligence, Media and the Public Sphere

OFCOM and the Federal Chancellery participated in an interdepartmental working group under SERI guidance on the challenges associated with artificial intelligence. As part of their work there (more information available here: Artificial intelligence, they prepared a report on artificial intelligence, media and the public sphere.  

Legal basis for social media

Social media platforms such as Twitter, blogs and Facebook present new legislative challenges. The Federal Council nevertheless concludes in its second report (2017) on the legal basis of social media that no further legal regulation is currently necessary (report available in German, French and Italian).

Specialist staff
Last modification 17.03.2022

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