On March 9th 2023, Project Liberty’s McCourt Institute submitted written inputs to UNESCO consultation on the draft Guidelines for regulating digital platforms: A multi-stakeholder approach to safeguarding freedom of expression and access to information. This follows the UNESCO Global Conference: Internet for Trust: Regulating Digital Platforms for Information as a Public Good held in Paris on 21-23, February 2023.
Context and Opportunity
There is an alarming trend of Internet fragmentation which can result from a deliberate strategy led by states, as evidenced by the recent Declaration on the Future of the Internet and discussions held at IGF 2022 in Addis Ababa. Indeed, some states assert their sovereignty over the Internet by imposing national or regional regulations to digital platforms, regardless of the need to maintain an interoperable digital space.
In parallel, digital platforms are also contributing to Internet fragmentation. The “lock-in effect” is a good example of Internet fragmentation caused by digital platforms. It describes the situation in which users become so dependent that it becomes burdensome for them to switch to another platform. For example, Youtube videos no longer play on Facebook, and Facebook links no longer auto-display on Telegram etc. This has the effect of further siloing users and reducing the interoperability of the Internet.
It is possible to argue that digital platforms have expanded public participation by providing unprecedented access to information and creating new avenues for dialogue. However, it is also important to acknowledge that they do not always adhere to the principles associated with the traditional concept of a “public square”1. This includes the ideal of fostering an open and inclusive space for free speech, public participation, and access to information, without any undue influence or bias. While digital platforms have had a profound impact on the way we communicate and interact, it is necessary to carefully evaluate their role as a public forum for open discussion and debate.
However, the international community – including all stakeholders working in a collaborative fashion – has an opportunity today to leverage the potential of such platforms as a force for good. In this context, the McCourt Institute recognizes the urgent need for global cooperation in developing ethical governance frameworks for digital platforms. The Institute also calls for a truly multi-stakeholder approach for developing such governance norms, in accordance with the UNESCO ROAM principles.
View the full consultation here.