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IRIS 2017-10:1/1

United Nations

Consultation on platform content regulation in the digital age

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Bengi Zeybek

Institute for Information Law (IViR), University of Amsterdam

On 15 September 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression issued a call for submissions for a thematic report on platform content regulation (for a previous report, see IRIS 2017-1/4). The report will focus on search and social media companies. It scrutinises the standards they apply to content, how they deal with content that infringes standards, and the role of the State’s legislative measures and enforcement mechanisms in relation to them.

The expansion of the influence of private actors online, particularly social media platforms and search engines as primary sources of information, has triggered challenges in respect of  promoting and protecting freedom of expression. Normally, governments have the duty to act in compliance with international human rights law regarding digital freedom of expression. However, as freedom of expression online is mostly regulated independently of governments by private actors on the basis of vague standards, their operation in respect of freedom of expression necessitates clarification and navigation. The objective of the report is firstly to identify core issues and secondly to issue recommendations to States and private actors for the enhanced protection and promotion of freedom of expression online. The report examines these issues from three basic approaches, namely, company visits, submissions and consultations.

The call for submissions is addressed, in particular, to States, civil society, companies, and all other interested persons or organisations. The Special Rapporteur, in his call, welcomes information from States firstly regarding measures and policies directed at social media and search platforms and/or users to remove or restrict online content, and secondly regarding “requests or demands, informal or formal, to these platforms to voluntarily remove, restrict, or otherwise regulate content”. The Special Rapporteur also seeks an analysis from States on whether the above-mentioned measures, policies and demands are in compliance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other relevant human rights standards.

As for civil society, companies, and all other interested persons or organisations, the Special Rapporteur sets out a detailed list of questions. These questions address, for example, how the global removal of content - where a demand to take down content is made in one jurisdiction so that it is inaccessible in other jurisdictions - should be dealt with, the role of automation in regulating content, whether users are notified regarding content restrictions, takedowns and account suspensions, and the reasons and  procedures for objecting to such measures.

The deadline for submissions is 20 December 2017, and the Special Rapporteur plans to issue a report to the Human Rights Council on platform content regulation in June 2018.

References
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, Content Regulation in the digital age, 15 September 2017 EN
 http://merlin.obs.coe.int/redirect.php?id=18738