Clash of digital civilizations: governments and tech giants

9 Dec 2021 12:50h - 13:50h

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The main objective of the workshop was to make an overview of recent developments in regulation of digital platforms and services across various regions. Ms Anna Dupan (Higher School of Economics, Moscow) posed a general question to the panelists: is it possible to create a balanced system of regulation in which national interests of governments will be protected, along with the fundamental human rights of users, and business interests of technological companies? She also drew an analogy with the existing conventions of airspace and high seas, and said that the internet will inevitably go through this process, too. 

The first panelist, Mr Patrick Penninckx (Council of Europe), made parallels with the AI framework that was recently adopted by the CoE. ‘We need a similar framework for the internet not in order to stifle it, but to enhance it, to ensure that on the one side you have announcement of progress and innovation, but also to underline that certain applications of the internet potentially pose risks to human rights, democracy and the rule of law’.  He added that the CoE looks particularly at the impact of the platforms and the internet intermediaries on human rights, the rule of law, and democracy: ‘We should not be able to give too much responsibilities to private stakeholders, which some governments tend to do (think about hate speech).Or not too little responsibility when they are taking over some editorial functions.’ Penninckx concluded that digital platforms now have political importance: ‘You see that in 70 countries we have had election interference, that, basically, means we have to make sure that all of this is protected’. 

Ms Hariniombonana Andriamampionona (Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique d’Antananarivo, Madagascar)  provided the context of legal frameworks for internet regulation in Africa.

She said the internet has become a critical enabler of social and economic change, and therefore, new ways of addressing development challenges after the beginning of the pandemic. Currently some African states have adopted data protection regulation, but many are still drafting it. Frameworks for content regulation are also underway. Andriamampionona highlighted the problem of internet shutdowns and disruptions of social media ordered by the governments. Those have an impact on human rights as well as a negative affect on economies. Finally, she said that governments should not impose criminal sanctions and arrests when seeking best practices for content regulation as a first mean: ‘While criminal sanctions can be an effective way to counter hate speech, it is necessary to find an appropriate balance between censoring content and expressing freedom of expression’.

A short overview of French regulation was provided by Mr Lucien Castex (AFNIC). In 2018, a regulation was adopted for dealing with fake news, or ‘fight against information disorders’. The most problematic was the definition of disinformation. The law created a range of new duties for online platforms, including obligations to cooperate with the French regulator, develop a necessary accessible and visible reporting system, and make transparent algorithms. Castex also mentioned the law against hate speech and various frameworks on the EU level that are under discussion now.

Mr Roberto Zambrana (Internet Society, Bolivia Chapter) provided insights from the Latin America. He noted that that Terms of Services differ considerably from region to region, while being less human-rights friendly for Latin America. Zambarana pointed that each country in the region has its particular agenda and regulation, and that there is a need to learn from other regions like EU to come up with a very strong regulatory framework. He also touched upon the digital taxation issues, which are significantly affecting Bolivia. For example, the emergence of digital entertainment platforms led to local TV cable providers loosing the market, while such platforms are not being taxed locally. 

Finally, Ms Mary Lou Rissa Cunanan (Suyomano) presented a positive example of how digital platforms are aiding the Philippines during the COVID-19 crisis. She spoke about Suyomano – a virtual Filipino platform focused on culture learning experiences, drawing from local languages, Filipino mythology, culture, medicine, and so on. It provides assistance to displaced hospitality teachers and tourism workers on how to pivot digitally, how to market their crafts and skills locally, and help them continue to promote Filipino culture under the ‘new normal’. 

By Ilona Stadnik

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