Community governance in an age of platform responsibility

14 Nov 2018 10:15h - 11:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 13th Internet Governance Forum]

Community governance discussions are the pathway for self-regulation of platforms. The session featured discussion on the relationship between the purposes of platforms and the expectations for improving open software. Clear rules, especially with regards to intended purposes, need to be developed; and more incentives from governments would assist better effectiveness in the governance of platform responsibility. The discussion aimed to assess whether the models currently in place are adaptable from platform to platform, and what requirements this implies. Different governments have different ideas, which represents a challenge for global platforms to meet all requirements in all different geographies.  

The event was moderated by Mr Jorge Vargas, Wikimedia Foundation, who introduced the topic of community governance of online platforms as a result of requirements for the Internet to self-regulate. The need is to find common ground on policies which allow the Internet to work, and which also make the Internet a trustworthy place. The session featured an interactive discussion about how self-governance models on the Internet can look, how such norms are developed, how communities police these, and what does not work in terms of self-governance.

Ms Abby Vollmer, GitHub, explained that there are similarities in the final goals of open source communities, and the rest of the world using the Internet: An open, inclusive, vibrant platform that is free of abuse. Indeed, the final aim is to have an inclusive group of participants contributing to platforms. So the dichotomy between the general purpose of platforms, versus the expectations for building software for source maintainers involved in the project, needs to be addressed through the setting of clear rules, especially with regards to intended purposes. From the perspective of layers of moderation, at the top level, if communities are able to do some degree of moderation on their own, then the company itself could create a layer of moderation on top of that. In this case governments would need to do little more than help communities achieve a very good degree of effectiveness.

Mr Jochai Ben-Avie, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG), covered the issue of company liability for a product. He argued that there are waves of companies, big and small, adapting open source into their core business practices and core product development. In this regard, efforts should be focused on evolving thinking in the law and in policy around the liability structure.

Mr Tiago Peixoto, Intergovernmental Organization, focused on media and talked about one of the main challenges faced: The need for independence from any pressures, whether from governments or commercial forces. Currently, many social media platforms are self-regulated. The nature of this still indicates a top-down approach; however, a bottom-up approach can be achieved through open source software, depending on the grass-roots users, the people who own the content, and those who produce the code. 

To this extent, the multistakeholder approach is the right framework at the global, regional and national level. The community of users and individuals need to be included in the process.

Ms Juliet Nanfuka, Civil Society, African Group, talked about the challenges to community governance models in Southern and Eastern Africa. Using a practical example, she explained how the community of journalists follow traditional journalistic codes of conduct, ethics and principles, using traditional offline practices. However, they won’t do this online, because, as she said, ‘Online things will get violent.’ The result is that the community, group, or individuals who establish a space in some cases do not know how to deal with content. The solution to this problem is to empower content removal and the mechanisms to point out irregular content, while understanding and assessing the actions to take thereafter. Finally, improved digital literacy, in addition to greater national regulatory contexts, would allow better traditional approaches to reach the online sphere.


By Stefania Grottola