The International Conference in Doha, Qatar on Social Media: Challenges and Ways to promote Freedoms and Protect Activists is addressed by Dr Ali bin Samikh al-Marri, president of the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar, vice-president and secretary-general of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions.
The International Conference in Doha, Qatar on Social Media: Challenges and Ways to promote Freedoms and Protect Activists is addressed by Dr Ali bin Samikh al-Marri, president of the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar, vice-president and secretary-general of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions.

Ground rules for online content regulations

By Own Correspondent Time of article published Mar 3, 2020

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Cape Town – As a conference opens on Tuesday in Cape Town for African election management bodies on the impact of social media on the integrity of elections, a related conference in Doha, Qatar concluded with ground rules for online content regulations:

Legality - any restrictions to content must be provided for by laws that are precise, public and transparent; specific notice must be given to those whose speech is being restricted, restrictions must be appealable and erroneous decisions must be rectified; vague formulations should be avoided.

Necessity - in accordance with international law, the least restrictive measures available should be employed to moderate content (and this is rarely criminalization); the effectiveness of the measures taken should be regularly assessed.

Public accountability - all rules for content moderation and grounds for interventions should be based on inclusive consultation processes with all relevant stakeholders; all rules and decisions should be subject to independent oversight.

Access to remedy - procedural safeguards should be respected, e.g. access to independent courts or tribunals; government agencies should never be the arbiters of lawful expression.

Transparency - the standards against which a company decides about take-downs and prioritises information must be publicly available. Regular transparency reports should reflect all actions and decisions relating to restrictions of online content, including government requests to take down information.

Throughout the plenary debates and working groups, conference participants made key recommendations.

States should:

Ensure that restrictions on online expression are lawful, necessary and proportionate.

Repeal any law that unduly criminalises or restricts expression, both online and offline, while prohibiting by law any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

Refrain from establishing laws or arrangements that would require the “proactive” monitoring or filtering of content, which is inconsistent with the right to privacy and likely to amount to pre-publication censorship.

Adopt models of regulation where only independent judicial authorities rather than government agencies become the arbiters of lawful expression. States should also avoid delegating responsibility to companies as adjudicators of content.

Establish or strengthen national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in line with the Paris Principles and ensure NHRIs are not subject to reprisals or any act of intimidation as a result of their mandated activities, including online.

Include the protection of NHRIs within national cybersecurity policy, plans and infrastructure.

Social media companies should:

Use international human rights law as reference and accept the companies’ responsibility to ensure protecting online civic space in accordance with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, notably in cases of Internet shutdowns and in terms of transparency.

Uphold, as a starting point, the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation2 and implement the recommendations by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Improve responses to online attacks, intimidation and threats against critical voices, including through greater co-operation among technical experts, civil society actors and companies to improve the reporting and ensure accountability.

As a temporary measure, social media companies should include human rights defenders and journalists as a protected category under their harmful content policies, particularly in countries where defenders face persecution by the state or are not protected by the government from retaliation for their advocacy.

Explore all legal options for challenging requests that are excessively intrusive such as requests for shutdowns. If they implement shutdowns, companies should disclose all relevant and publishable information and provide regular updates about the services affected or restored, the steps they are taking to address the issue and explanations after the fact.

Comply with human rights due diligence frameworks to avoid fostering or entrenching discrimination through algorithmic systems and maximise user choice when accessing information.

Develop proposals to transfer some of the profit made by social media companies to protect and safeguard in particular local and independent news outlets.

Human rights defenders, journalists and civil society at large should:

Ensure all perspectives, including those of under-represented groups, are brought into the decision-making about regulation of online content and in the formulation of community standards.

Advocate for enhanced media literacy in national education curricula and build capacity of civil society actors among peers, in relation to the use of social media.

Provide legal aid to human rights defenders and journalists in emblematic cases related to freedom of expression online.

Enhance the implementation of global standards of journalism, including the IFJ Global Charter of Ethics for Journalists.

Media outlets should provide adequate training to enhance online safety and security awareness for their staff, in particular those conducting investigative journalism.

Social media users, human rights defenders and journalists should ensure they use appropriate tools such as encryption in order to protect themselves and their sources.

International and regional organisations should:

Ensure all discussions on the formulation of laws and regulations for social media are firmly grounded in human rights law. International human rights instruments provide an authoritative global standard for ensuring freedom of expression and right to privacy online.

Consider how to expand civic space online, including through drafting an international declaration on the protection of civil society operating on social media.

Strengthen the response to attacks and attempts to undermine vibrant civil society and independent journalism.

Engage with new and traditional media to address hate speech narratives and promote the values of tolerance, non-discrimination, pluralism and freedom of opinion and expression.

Take all possible measures to enhance the protection of human rights defenders and journalists who operate in conflict situations, from Afghanistan to Syria and Yemen. They risk their lives every day to report on violations of international law on social media and they continue to be monitored, intimidated and killed.

National human rights institutions should:

Promote and protect online civic space, including by advising the state on national legislation and policy to ensure they comply with international human rights obligations; interacting with civil society organisations, users, journalists, media; and engaging with business on their responsibility to respect human rights.

Implement the Marrakech Declaration (2018) on the role of NHRIs in promoting and protecting civic space and human rights defenders, with a specific focus on women.

Monitor and report on civic space - online and offline - through the collection and analysis of disaggregated data, including gender-based disaggregation and statistics related to killings, fabricated legal charges, misuse of specific laws and other attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, lawyers, students, academics, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 16.

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