What is at stake at the Unesco conference on internet safety?
The purpose of the initiative was to discuss and find solutions for the challenges that the internet and digital technologies pose with regard to trust, security and privacy of users.
This picture taken on January 12, 2023 in Toulouse, southwestern France shows a smartphone and a computer screen displaying the logos of the Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and their parent company Meta. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)
It is indisputable that digital platforms impact democracy, including electoral processes in different parts of the world. Political and ideological groups use agile tools with a broad reach to disseminate false content and hate speech and to violate people’s privacy.
How to make the internet a safe, reliable and democratic environment for everyone? This was one of the main issues under discussion at the “Internet for Trust” Conference, staged by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris, between February 21 and 23. The event was focused on debating the drafting and development of a set of “Guidelines for Regulating Digital Platforms” in order to create a foundation or a common guide for action on the matter.
The conference was held in response to a global call for action from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, to tackle the spread of disinformation and the denial of scientifically established facts, which pose “an existential risk to humanity”.
The director general of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, said that this is one of the “most complex and decisive challenges of our time”. According to her, it is necessary to establish common principles based on human rights, in particular on freedom of expression.
With the presence of technology experts, companies, government representatives, international bodies, academia, the press and civil society organizations, the purpose of the initiative was to discuss and find solutions for the challenges that the internet and digital technologies pose with regard to trust, security and privacy of users.
The Supreme Court justice Luís Roberto Barroso, the influencer Felipe Neto and the journalist Patricia Campos Mello were some of the public figures from Brazil who participated in the event.
Raissa Belintani, coordinator of the Strengthening Democratic Space program at Conectas, emphasized that the initiative by Unesco is commendable and addresses one of the key issues of our time, one that could have a positive influence on places like Brazil. “Many research groups and specialized organizations have been monitoring the impacts of the dynamics of the digital ecosystem on our democracy, in particular in the most recent election period. Since 2022, a group formed by more than 100 Brazilian civil society organizations has been monitoring, cataloging and analyzing the policies and conduct of platforms and messaging channels with regard to anti-democratic content, the incitement of political violence and the spread of climate and socioenvironmental denial. Therefore, the recent experience of Brazil could be important in the global effort to make the internet safe for all people and democratic institutions,” said the lawyer from Conectas who was in Paris.
Next steps and necessary adjustments in the process
Given the intention for the definitive version of the “Guidelines for Regulating Digital Platforms” to be released later this year, the proposed text has already gone through various rounds of consultation that resulted in promising changes, such as the emphasis on human rights due diligence. However, as highlighted by the participants at the event and ultimately accepted by the UNESCO representatives, the discussion also needs to take place at the regional level and in a more sectoral way. Contributions to the current version of the document may be submitted electronically until March 8. The proposal under discussion, as well as the consultation form for sending comments and/or suggestions about the text, is available at this link.