Current Affairs

Disinformation Era

Imagine the following situation: it’s Tuesday, it’s late, and you’re just arriving home. The day has been dreadfully long, so you choose to browse your favourite social network to unwind for a while. Your feed is full of the same old: funny jokes about the latest mediatic politician, videoclips of some corny pop artist, memes about some Turkish chef, and an avalanche of baby pictures and first wedding anniversary memorabilia. You scroll, scroll, scroll, until you find a video of a cat. Now, that’s relaxing.

This behaviour is hardly surprising. The excess of information creates an overload of our receptors, causing us to shut down our senses. There is so much of it around, that it really is an effort to take it all in. We tend to absorb only the information that’s preprocessed, the easy bits. This could be tightly bound to the fact that laziness is an evolutionary trait in humans[1]. We’re built to save energy in a calorie-restricted environment. Of course, that’s not our current reality, but the evolutionary trait still remains.

Which leads us to the main causes of disinformation: the lack of diversification and the lack of verification of sources.

Let’s start with lack of diversification of sources. Believe it or not, there are people who rely exclusively on social media to keep informed on current events. Facebook, Twitter, even 9gag! One of the main issues with this approach is that the information found on such media is highly biased. The feed is composed by people we choose to follow, people we choose to befriend. With that in mind, the information and points of view we will be presented with are limited.

“Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you what you know”

Not only are we conditioned by our choice of people to follow, or people to be friends with, but also social media will keep feeding us only a subset of the available information. Social networks will determine what to show us in our main feed based on what we have searched, what we have liked, and whose profile we’ve opened in the past[2], thus creating a retro-feeding loop of related content. We’re therefore being presented only with information that an algorithm calculated that we’ll like. The posts we see, the ads, and clickbaits, all relate to our history and encase us in a pattern which in itself provides the algorithm with more detailed information about our perceived preferences.

In addition to that, some social networks give you the option of hiding a certain type of posts, either by author or, more dangerously, by content similarity. In this case, people choose to ignore information. Of course, you might want to block content from someone you dislike (just unfollow/unfriend them, trust me on this one), but an alternative reason for it might be that the information we’re wanting to block makes us uncomfortable. We experiment cognitive dissonance: mental stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously[3], or when being presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs. The ways of solving this discomfort is by either changing our beliefs, which is the most difficult and unlikely solution of all, ignoring the new information that causes our discomfort, or seeking sources that coincide with our beliefs and allow us to deem the new evidence erroneous. This last solution is what is called Confirmation Bias[4].

This ultimately leads us to the second main cause of disinformation: the lack of verification of sources. On one hand, our need to get rid of our cognitive dissonance through confirmation bias will predispose us to believe whatever sides with our beliefs, regardless of the source. We will gladly accept the words of whoever confirms our theories and ideas, even when we might be wrong (there are still people who believe the Earth is flat). It’s quite unlikely for someone to seek alternative sources of truth, trying to find points of view that contradict our truth. On the other hand, our lazy nature will lead us to believing any plausible information presented to us blindly, without going to the extent of cross-reference checking with reliable sources.

Of course, not all the information we find on the Internet is true. The best way of finding reliable information is by consulting reliable sources. A potential sources reliability ranking could be the following (from most to least reliable):

  1. Official documents, laws, and decrees (true by their enunciative nature)
  2. Scientific papers (highly reliable due to the supporting research and scientific evidence, slightly less reliable because each research opens the challenge of disproving it)
  3. Highly renowned newspapers (you would expect serious newspapers to verify their sources and have editors who make a sanitization of the publications)
  4. Less renowned newspapers (articles are less serious and sometimes more oriented at sensationalism)
  5. Social media (absolutely unreliable, where every John and Jane can write whatever they please)

In this schema, information can only be as reliable as the least reliable source that’s been quoted as a reference (i.e. if a major newspaper shares news from a less renowned newspaper, the information will only have reliability of level 4). With this in mind, anything found on social media has to be regarded as highly unreliable information. And yet, some people end up believing even the most ridiculous Alternative Facts[5].

While there doesn’t seem to be a way of fixing the disinformation globally, there is a way of solving it on a personal level: inform yourself, look for reliable sources that confirm what you have read or heard, look for alternative points of view, try to avoid the confirmation bias. If you’re too lazy to do it on your account, get a reliable fact checker (like Chequeado.com or Politifact). Do not stay with the apparent truth.

Keep informed.

 

[3]: Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. California: Stanford University Press.

European crossroads: enlargement and Brexit

The process of incorporating a State to the European Union is complex and lengthy. The exit is equally complex although there is no precedent. Admission requires the application of the Copenhagen criteria summarized in stable democratic institutions, rule of law, market economy and acceptance of European law, such requirements do not seem easily met by many of the candidates. As obvious as it may seem the admission of a new state requires that it be European. An example of this is the failed application of the Kingdom of Morocco in 1987 to the European Community.

In the current universe of candidates, to access as members, we must make a difference between the official candidates who are under negotiation or awaiting launch, as is Turkey (which meets few of the requirements of the commitment and that is why his candidature moves at glacial pace since 2005. Given the current political situation we do not see a change in the short or medium term), Montenegro (since 2005), Serbia (since 2012), Macedonia (since 2005) and Albania (from 2003) and potential candidates with or without formal request presented as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

The European Union has had a long and complex path, from the European Union of Coal and Steel in the 50s to the Lisbon treaty, creating strict and necessary regulations for its continued expansion. But this should not be the only thing to consider.

We should not miss the funding values of the Union whose bases constitute the real soul of Europe today. The European Union was conceived beyond economic integration from a moral criterion and from the ashes of two world wars that changed history and shaped the world. They are the humanist and democratic principles of Konrad Adenaeur, Jean Monnet, Alcide de Gasperini, Robert Schuman among many others that should guide the future of the Union.

The European Union represents a unique case of integration in world history that has established peace and prosperity in a continent that took the blows of dominance and hegemony over the last 500 years.

Brexit is also a new opportunity to advance towards fuller integration and a more comprehensive concept of Europe. The mission of the Union should not be limited against the criteria of incorporation of members nor diminished in terms of objectives based on the lack of commitment of present or potential members.

The European Union is open to European states entity but it does not have an ecumenical mission in the old continent. Those who can commit to the funding values of the Union and want to run the risk of full integration will be those who enjoy the benefits and virtues that 50 years of integration have harvested.

Europe’s future depends on it. The EU should not be lost before the paradigm of believing that more is better but those who can commit willingly with the European principles and values are those to be called part of the European integration.

What was a utopia today is a reality. Its future depends on the integrity within the principles of its funding spirit, those sown in the ashes of World War II, and present in the minds of all Europeans long before.

A day will come when there will be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and bombs are replaced by votes, by universal suffrage, by the venerable arbitration of a great supreme senate which will be to Europe what Parliament is to England, the Diet to Germany, and the Legislative Assembly to France.

A day will come when a cannon will be a museum-piece, as instruments of torture are today. And we will be amazed to think that these things once existed!

A day will come when we shall see those two immense groups, the United States of America and the United States of Europe, facing one another, stretching out their hands across the sea, exchanging their products, their arts, their works of genius, clearing up the globe, making deserts fruitful, ameliorating creation under the eyes of the Creator, and joining together, to reap the well-being of all, these two infinite forces, the fraternity of men and the power of God.”

Victor Hugo. Discours d’ouverture, congrès de la paix, [Opening address, Peace Congress], Paris (21 August 1849)

Democracy in Argentina

2015 is a year of elections. The Argentines vote to choose the destiny of our country and of other forty million people.

These elections are the expression of a democratic system, the election of the governors by the governed, as it happens with many other countries in the occidental world and some other countries outside of it.

 

What is considered as democracy?

 

Is the term that gave its origin equally applicable to the system we know today?

 

We can start by saying that partly it is not. The Greek democracy, or the government of the people, did not correspond to the current definition of popular government. For example, in ancient Hellas not every inhabitant were considered citizens (with political rights) and most of the population was slave. On the other hand, those who had political rights should assume them as their duty in the agora or in the political arena.

 

Today, according to the theory of the American political scientist Robert Dahl, we  must say that what we call democracy represents an open, inclusive and competitive political system. This system is based on citizen participation and the control of the citizens over the government.

But, beyond the dogmas and without wanting to hurt susceptibilities, we will analyze if the current Argentine system correspond completely or partially to a modern democracy.

 

How democratic is Argentina today?

 

 

 

  • Free, periodic and competitive elections.

 

We can’t doubt that at a national level we live in a country where, since the return to democracy, a system exists in which the officers are elected by vote in clean elections that are carried out regularly and in which coaction is rare and alternatives from the current government can compete freely. It is a different story at a province level in which periodicity is not affected, but competitiveness is partially affected.

 

 

  • Inclusive vote.

 

Practically every adult can periodically participate in the elections. There are no privileges or qualified votes, nor the exclusion of certain groups or sectors.

 

 

  • Right to hold public office.

 

In theory, any Argentine citizen can run for office representing a political party. In practice, it is not as easy for an “outsider” of the traditional political circle to access it, but it is not restricted by any anti-competitive requisite.

 

 

  • Freedom of speech.

 

It may be one of the most controversial characteristics of the Argentina of today.

The citizens have the right to express themselves, without putting themselves in danger of receiving severe punishments, about political issues included criticizing public officers, the government, the regime, the socio-economic system or the prevalent ideology, among others.

There is no doubt that in Argentina we currently live fully the “freedom of speech”. However, this doesn’t omit the attacks from the party currently in government to certain media and journalists, creating and adverse environment but without affecting the democratic principle.

We must take into account that every media responds to particular interests that can crush with those of the government of the time. The serious thing would be that for the communication channel to be silenced. In Argentina, apart from the adverse environment and certain critics there is no evidence of the violation of this principle. In case of any violation by the media, it is the responsibility of justice and not of the government to judge it.

 

 

  • Variety of information sources

 

Citizens have the right to use different sources of information which do not only exist but are also protected by law.

Even though it’s true that the new media law encourages this variety of sources, it doesn’t differentiate between those close to the government or not. Anyway, we must say that in Argentina there is currently a broad variety of sources of information.

 

 

  • Associative autonomy

 

The citizens, to ensure the defense of their rights and interests, can build organizations and associations relatively independent, including political parties and interest groups.

 

Thus, we can say that in Argentina we currently live in a full democratic system. However, this doesn’t mean that certain characteristics, as freedom of speech, are more likely to be damaged than other. But nobody can doubt that from a formal point of view we live as a country under a full democratic system.

Maybe going deeper of the formal content of democracy, we may ask ourselves what have we accomplished as a society and how much is missing.

There is no doubt that to leave in a full and healthy democracy we must heal the social debt. That one that leaves millions of Argentines out of the system and makes us vulnerable regarding the democratic quality and its future.

It’s us, the citizens, the responsibles for strengthening democracy and for including everybody and assuring its benefits for the whole population.

Let’s celebrate democracy, but we know it is not enough. The challenge is the inclusion.

South America, that phenomenon

A common origin, several attempts to constitute, a reality that repeats itself, amidst dichotomies, along the Andes and the marine line. In Latin America, and even more in the South region, the historical and political root is one. The Hispanic colonization, with the subsequent plundering and resources extraction, and the configuration of a power scheme that was kept after the independence and the emancipation, at least political, that the continent went through in the19th century, is a common factor of undoubtable weight in the explanation of the current scenario. On the other hand, the dependence remained in the economical and productive aspect, while the social inequality was accentuated. Today, our continent wants to be a global main player and strives to raise as the actor that could be and wants to be. However, in the 19th century, the prospect was another.

The political genesis

The flame ignited by the French and the Americans lit the enlightened elites of the continent. Under the pretext of maintaining the autonomy while the Napoleonic Empire took over the European crowns, Latin America rose and fought for independence. Continue reading…

Violence and terrorist acts: what do we do now?

Everybody is talking about the terrorist attack that happened a few days ago in Charlie Hebdo. Whether it is to condemn violence, to condemn Muslims, to defend the non-radical Muslims, to defend freedom of speech, and/or to comment the magazine’s work. Many theories have been developed: that Muslims want to end the Western world, that the radicals were offended by the satirical portraits of Prophet Muhammad, that the radical terrorists were seeking, through the attack, to generate Islamophobia to gain more followers, etc etc etc.

Continue reading…

How neutral should the Internet be?

Allow me to introduce you first to how the internet works under the hood. Your local ISP (Internet Service Provider, like Comcast or Verizon) is just the last provider in a chain of entities that provide the infrastructure for internet. They usually buy their bandwidth and connections to other providers from a larger company (a ISP for ISPs). They are categorized in multiple layers, usually referred to as tier 3, tier 2, and tier 1 providers (roughly “local”, “regional”, and “global” respectively).

net-neutrality

Bandwidth is not as cheap as one may think. You pay for outgoing traffic from your network to another provider, usually one that sits one tier up. The more intermediaries the data has to go through, the more expensive it gets. I estimate that sending data to another computer in the same city is around 100 times cheaper than sending it across the globe, say, from South America to Asia, as that package will be passed around through a set of providers located in Europe or the US first.

It’s quite a complicated process (but it’s fully automated), and you could make an analogy with the international phone operators in the 1950s or 1960s, only that this time computers are the ones switching the lines around. A single company has no control over how the data will be routed. Your Tier-3 ISP doesn’t mind whether the tier 2 ISP will route your package from New York City to India: and it’s probably up to the Tier-1 provider to decide whether to go through Europe and Turkey or through California and China…

Netflix needs a lot of bandwidth. It has a cost effective strategy: placing servers close to your place to get better deals for bandwidth from the same local ISP that you have. This allows Netflix to provide a better service to you (being in the same region is not only cheaper, but faster, which means less waiting time before  stream your movie) and it is also more convenient for your ISP (they save costs in outgoing connections to their Tier-2 provider and instead relay traffic inside their own network).

Net Neutrality

So, what is net neutrality?

Stephanie Creets, blogger at SingleHop, has summed-up the essentials to understanding this controversial issue in a balanced way. This subject is related to what happens when the network is congested. The owner of an ISP gets to choose how to prioritize traffic when the network is overwhelmed. For example, in your company’s network, the network administrator probably decided to give priority to applications like Skype, in order to avoid having those horrible delays in the conversation that we all hate. ISPs come up with similar solutions.

The owner of a network decided then to differentiate between different kinds of packages. It’s analog to enabling a fast lane in a highway: prioritizing one kind of vehicles over others. This means, not all “packets”, not every activity that you need internet for, are equal.

Comcast is not only a Tier-3 provider. They are also a Tier-2 provider. They are the owners of their infrastructure, and they’ve cut a deal to give priority to Netflix connections in case there is a network congestion problem. This sounds good; since it will allow you to see your movies in great quality at 7 PM, the peak hour for network traffic. The bad thing is, giving priority to some kind of traffic means that another type of traffic will be slowed down (like, for example, your Skype calls). Enabling a fast lane means that there’s one less lane for the cars that don’t go into the fast lane.

So it’s as simple as that: differentiating amongst traffic, by enabling fast lanes, goes against “net neutrality”. Is that a good thing? That’s arguable. If you’re a Netflix user, it’s good because you’ll be able to stream your movies faster. If you’re trying to do something else, maybe it’s not so great.

What do you believe? Should law-makers demand a neutral, more equitative, behaviour from ISPs?

International Collaboration Day

Today, Tuesday 16th of January, we celebrate in more than 40 cities and 4 continents the International Collaboration Day, created to highlight the coworking spaces.

Recent decades have brought continued growth in areas associated with collective action. Just 20 years ago, collaboration was in a secondary scene, however, nowadays it has made it’s way into all strata of our society, move to the center of the global scene and transform the strategic priorities of all organizations.

16 de enero - Día Internacional de la Colaboración - No faltes!

Continue reading…

How to make the most of the SABF experience

This time last year, I was preparing for my trip to the South American Business Forum. As a student, I have been to many international and local conferences, and I can honestly say SABF was the best conference I have attended. This was mostly due to the amazing organising team, their dedication to excellence, and the quality of the delegates. However, the quality of a conference experience also depends on the delegate’s preparation and attitude. Here are some tips on how to make the most out of the SABF experience:

Before the conference:

  • Be prepared. You don’t have to do heavy research on all the topics that could be covered during the conference, but you should try and read on topics that you are most interested in. This means that you can contribute more during the sessions, and you may already get an idea of questions to ask speakers.

  • Have goals. Think about the top three things you want to get out of the conference. It could be anything from sharing your experiences with others, to learning about a particular topic or organisation, or talking to a particular speaker.

During the conference:

  • Add value.  If you are selected for SABF, it means the organisers can see your potential to contribute to the conference. You were probably selected because of your leadership experience, entrepreneurial mindset or other extra-curricular activities. So be prepared to share your unique experiences. Also, be prepared to share your culture- most likely, you will be one of few (if not the only) delegate from your country. Most of the valuable and memorable conversations I had were with delegates who I exchanged ideas and knowledge with.

  • Speak up. There will be many opportunities to ask questions and share your opinions, so make sure you take them. Speaking in front of 100 people can be daunting, but remember that they are 100 friendly, curious and open-minded people.

  • Be curious. You will meet people from all over the world and from different walks of life. There are some incredible students selected to be part of SABF, so try and get to know people and their stories. During my conference, I met a variety of people- from students who already founded their own start-ups, to leaders of student organisations, to students involved in NGOs.

  • Be open-minded. Ultimately, any experience is only as good as your attitude. You might encounter cultural differences, or opinions that are vastly different to yours. There may be things that don’t go smoothly, or as planned. When those things happen, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. What could you learn from the experience?

  • Take notes. The conference is only 3 days, but it is intense. I had so many epiphanies and new ideas come to me during the conference. Even now, a year on, I still refer to my notes and find that my understanding of a particular issue is constantly evolving.

  • Savour it. SABF is full of dynamic people, thought-provoking sessions and learning opportunities. Buenos Aires is a beautiful city with many attractions. Argentina is very rich in history and culture. Make the most out of everything! The same experience won’t be replicated again.

After the conference:

  • Stay connected. There won’t be many opportunities in life where you will meet so many different people from so many different backgrounds, all in the same place. Stay in touch with your newfound friends. The conversations that you started during conference can be (and should be) continued afterwards.

  • Remember the lessons. Take some time afterwards to reflect on what you have learnt, and how you can move forward with the knowledge.

  • Share the experience. Be open and proactive sharing your experiences- whether it’s through a speech, writing a blog, or spreading the word about SABF in your university.

To all those that have been selected for next year, I wish you the very best!

How SABF changed my life

When I made up my mind to write this article; at first, I thought of writing especifically about one of the talks that was given in last year´s SABF, and how this talk made me think again a lot of aspects regarding the direction my career was heading to.
But then, I realized that this single talk, as enlightening as it had been for me, not quite caught the great change in the way I now think my future and my career, that the SABF as a whole, made me experience.
At this point in my professional education I have no doubt, and who knows me, knows it: the SABF was the beginning of a new life and the source of new motivatión and enthusiasm for my studies. In this brief post, I will try to express why this conference has the potential of being a life changing experience and how it changed mine.

Continue reading…

13 Lessons learnt from World Business Dialogue ’13

  1. Family in Business. The most successful companies, and the most prone to survive crises are family owned. Treating the company as a part of your identity sparkles innovation and creativity; marvelous example is the Ferrero company (http://bit.ly/Zpq2wX) where the founder Michele Ferrero designs almost all products. Moreover, when a company is hit by exogenous factors and economic hardships, the family as a whole acts as a catalyst in the survival of the firm due to the personal connection the members have established with its existence.

    Continue reading…