Dynamic coalition on platform responsibility

27 Nov 2019 15:00h - 16:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

This dynamic coalition session gave the opportunity for participants to present their academic work related to the responsibilities of platforms in content moderation. The participants discussed platform values in relation to the freedom of expression and democracy, ways of content moderation, transparency, and the need for new legal frameworks.

As Mr Nicolo Zingales (University of Leeds) noted in opening the session, and other participants agreed, there are two sides to platform responsibility. On the one hand is economic value, and on the other hand are social values like democracy, human rights, labour protection, and environmental protections. The question for this session therefore was how can we make sure that the operation of private entities fits in a framework where the pursuit of economic gain does not undermine social values, and have these two in harmony? As Mr Chris Marsden (University of Sussex) noted later in the discussion, the interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights already states that the issues of democratic and social values are paramount over the economic health of individual companies.

The participants concluded that the question of content moderation by the platform is the most controversial, especially with relation to the freedom of expression. Mr Edison Lanza, (Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Organization of American States) said that states should be the ones to enforce obligations to respect human rights and recommendations of the international standards and bodies. Mr Nic Suzor (Queensland University of Technology) disagreed, stating that platforms are going to have a key role in governing on-line content, regardless of the laws. Mardsen also stated that co-regulation is required to make sure that the companies effectively maintain transparency.

Another topic that came up was the challenges to freedom of expression and platforms’ responsibility in case of dissemination of misinformation or hateful statements. The participants discussed the importance of the Santa Clara Principles, and the fact that they are going under review next year.

Transparency and accountability of platforms was discussed from the point of view of the businesses by Ms Monica Rosina (Facebook) stating that they are putting processes in place to ensure transparency, such as Facebook’s external oversight board. Mr Giovanni De Gregorio (Univerista’ Milano Bicocca) pointed out that transparency is one of the principles to protect democratic values, but also requires users to know the basics of content flows online and in social media.

Mr Rolf H. Weber (University of Zurich) addressed the dilemma of how to reconcile legal rights with economic and social values. He pointed out that data has an attributable value creating a tension between individual and their private data and the interest of society to have and use large amounts of data. One way to bridge between these two situations can be data access rules balancing these interests.

Looking at the ethical or social ethical intervention of the whole problem, Weber stated that this dimension would require the implementation of the new principles of access and accountability. He pointed out that we might have to consider implementing new instruments on national and international levels. Principles of human autonomy, fairness, and trust would have to be strengthened too.

Introducing procedural considerations, Mr Ivar Hartmann (FGV) stated that we should consider state regulation being less about the merits of instances of speech, and more about the protection of procedural rules.

Mr Yseult Marique (University of Essex) addressed the question of a proportionality test in relation to the interference in the elections on the one side, and the freedom of expression and privacy on the other.

Ms Dragana Obradovic (Balkan Investigative Reporting Network) spoke of the impacts of the platform content moderation in journalism, Ms Catalina Goanta (Maastricht University) addressed the content moderation and social media platforms in an actual city setting.

By Pavlina Ittelson