UNESCO to launch guidelines for social media

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MANILA — The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will launch in September the first global guidelines for regulating social media to improve reliability of information and promote human rights online.

The first-ever conference to discuss draft global guidelines for regulating digital platforms ended in Paris last Thursday with a call to uphold the right to seek and receive information in the face of rising disinformation online.

The three-day Internet for Trust Conference, organized by UNESCO and attended by more than 4,300 participants, marked the latest phase in the global dialogue to develop solutions for regulating digital platforms.

Speakers UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa underlined the urgent need for common global guidelines to improve the reliability of information while protecting human rights.

“The blurring of boundaries between true and false, the highly organized denial of scientific facts, the amplification of disinformation and conspiracies – these did not originate on social networks. But, in the absence of regulation, they flourish there much better than the truth,” Azoulay said in her opening speech.

She urged countries to act together so that information remains a global common good, stating that “only by taking the full measure of this technological revolution can we ensure it does not sacrifice human rights, freedom of expression and democracy.”

In his message to conference participants, Da Silva, known as “Lula,” recalled the violent attacks last month against democratic institutions in his country.

“What happened that day was the culmination of a campaign, initiated much earlier, and that used lies and disinformation as ammunition,” the Brazilian president said.

“To a large extent, this campaign was nurtured, organized and disseminated through digital platforms and messaging apps. This is the same method used to generate acts of violence elsewhere in the world. It must stop,” he added.

In her speech, Ressa emphasized that lies spread faster than facts as for some reason, “facts are really boring.”

“Lies – especially when laced with fear, with anger, with hate, with tribalism – us against them. They spread. It’s like throwing a lit match into kindling,” she said.

The Rappler president, co-founder and chief executive officer cautioned against tolerating social media algorithms which reward lies, as future generations will inherit a world in which truth has been dangerously devalued.

“Without facts, you can’t have truth; without truth, you can’t have trust, and we have no shared reality,” she said.

UNESCO is conducting multi-stakeholder consultations to create guidelines for regulating digital platforms.

The guidelines aim to support regulators, governments, legislatures and companies dealing with content that potentially damages human rights and democracy while protecting the freedom of expression and the availability of accurate and reliable information.

At present, at least 55 countries are working on regulatory initiatives, according to the UN agency.

Azoulay, however, advocated for a coherent, global approach based on human rights, as she noted that if regulations are developed in isolation, they are doomed to fail.

“Information disruption is, by definition, a global problem, so our reflections must take place at the global scale,” she said.

The UNESCO chief closed the conference by urging all countries to join its efforts to transform the internet into a tool truly at the service of the public and helps assure the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek and receive information.

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