Baltic Sea Region Hackathon: Young region builders spark innovative solutions to combat disinformation and strengthen democracy

In an inspiring display of collaboration and innovation, approximately 45 young participants from the Baltic Sea Region gathered on 6-9 July 2023 for the Baltic Sea Region Hackathon. The event focused on generating fresh ideas to address challenges within the region, with a particular emphasis on combating disinformation and bolstering democracy.

The Baltic Sea Region Hackathon 2023, known as “b_hack”, organised on 6-9 July 2023 in Lübeck, Germany by the TH Lübeck and the state of Schleswig-Holstein in collaboration with the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), represented a platform for young people around the Baltic Sea Region to exchange their perspectives on current digital and societal challenges.

The participants, aged between 18 and 25, from Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, and Sweden worked diligently to develop IT solutions that could effectively counter disinformation and strengthen democracy. In the presence of the Schleswig-Holstein state ministers, Dirk Schrödter (Digitalization) and Werner Schwarz (Europe), the participants showcased their outcomes, with the best project being chosen through a public vote: citizen-friendly processing of Baltic Sea data.

“Probably never before have young people from so many countries in the Baltic Sea Region worked so closely together on digital and democracy issues. Smart solutions and the best ideas come when we combine our perspectives,” remarked Dirk Schrödter, Chief of the State Chancellery and Minister of Digitalization in Schleswig-Holstein.

The Hackathon’s winning project, the visualisation of Baltic Sea data, emerged due to the shared concerns among coastal nations regarding the impact of climate change on the region. The team dedicated themselves to visualising and making Baltic Sea data accessible to all, with a specific focus on water quality information. The interdisciplinary group, under the supervision of Thorleif Harder (TH Lübeck), consisted of Alina Nikula (Finland), David Penkowoj, Muriel Fauth, Pauline Rothkegel (Germany), and Nalinkumar Shanmugasundaram (Latvia).

Pauline Rothkegel highlighted the project’s journey, stating, “During the project’s development, we discovered that while certain datasets are publicly available, they are not easily accessible to the general public.” The diverse perspectives from various academic disciplines such as computer science, biology, humanities, and economics significantly contributed to the project’s success. The improved data visualisation aims to combat disinformation surrounding climate change. The work is to be published in the medium term.

The Baltic Sea Region Hackathon proved to be a resounding success, fostering collaboration and driving innovation. Dirk Schrödter expressed his appreciation for the Hackathon’s spirit, stating, “This is how great and useful digital applications are developed that promote peace, sustainability and sustainable development in our region.”

Werner Schwarz, Minister for Agriculture, Rural Areas, Europe, and Consumer Protection, shared his enthusiasm for the format, saying, “I am very happy about the great response from Europe. The event is a milestone for youth engagement in the Baltic Sea Region, which the state government has been supporting for years as part of its European policy. Such innovative formats make an important contribution to cross-border networking!”

Dominik Littfass, Senior Advisor for Regional Cooperation and Communication at the Council of the Baltic Sea States, who was significantly involved in the organisation of the event, lauded the “Hanseatic spirit” of cooperation. Littfass emphasised the need for new ideas to combat disinformation, underscoring the significance of such gatherings.

In addition to the winning project, the Hackathon featured six sessions where young participants collaborated on various topics. Sessions included the identification of echo chambers and tracking the flow of German and Polish disinformation on Twitter, filtering the ten most influential influencers, creating Deepfake videos featuring Minister Dirk Schrödter, producing TikTok videos and a poster campaign to illustrate media disinformation. The last two workshops delved into exploring the workings of a detector capable of identifying AI-generated texts and examining the fair distribution of households in a democratic context.

The Baltic Sea Region Hackathon exemplified the power of collective action and innovative thinking in the fight against disinformation, while simultaneously promoting democratic values. It served as a beacon of hope, inspiring participants to continue driving positive change in their respective regions.

Photos: Lutz Rößler