Online disinformation: UNESCO unveils plan to regulate social media platforms
UNESCO has unveiled an action plan amid a warning that the intensification of disinformation and hate speech online constitutes “a major threat to stability and social cohesion”.
Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, said: “Digital technology has enabled immense progress on freedom of speech. But social media platforms have also accelerated and amplified the spread of false information and hate speech, posing major risks to societal cohesion, peace and stability. To protect access to information, we must regulate these platforms without delay, while at the same time protecting freedom of expression and human rights.”
UNESCO’s action plan is the result of over 10,000 contributions from 134 countries collected over the last eighteen months. It outlines the principles which must be respected as well as the concrete measures which must be implemented by all stakeholders: governments, regulatory authorities, civil society and the platforms themselves.
Representatives from independent regulators have already welcomed UNESCO’s initiative, and several of them - notably in Africa and Latin America - have indicated that they are ready to begin implementing these measures. To this end, UNESCO will organize the first World Conference of Regulators in mid-2024.
UNESCO’s measures are organised around seven principles which must be respected so that:
- The impact on human rights becomes the compass for all decision-making, at every stage and by every stakeholder.
- Independent, public regulators are set up everywhere in the world, with clearly defined roles and sufficient resources to carry out their mission.
- These independent regulators work in close coordination as part of a wider network, to prevent digital companies from taking advantage of disparities between national regulations.
- Content moderation is feasible and effective at scale, in all regions and in all languages.
- Accountability and transparency are established in these platforms’ algorithms, which are too often geared towards maximizing engagement at the cost of reliable information.
- Platforms take more initiative to educate and train users to think critically.
- Regulators and platforms take stronger measures during particularly sensitive moments like elections and crises.
Ms Azoulay said: “Our work has been guided by one central requirement: the protection at all times of freedom of expression and all other human rights.
“Restricting or limiting speech would be a terrible solution. Having media outlets and information tools that are independent, qualitative and free, is best long-term response to disinformation.”