False and misleading news on social media dominated discussions of the Standing Committee on Democracy and Human Rights during a session held on Monday as part of the 140th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Doha.
While most of the speakers supported the need to take the required measures to face the challenges posed by new media, all the members warned of exploiting these measures to curb freedoms and encroach on democratic values and freedom of expression.
The session discussed IPU resolutions from recent years, which include democracy in the digital era and the threat it poses to privacy and individual rights - approved in 2015, the use of media for citizen engagement - approved in 2013, and freedom of expression and the right to receive information - approved in 2009.
Parliament members from various countries around the world presented the steps taken by their countries over the past years regarding the three resolutions. These aim to reduce the risks of uncontrolled information flows on social media sites and new media, the efforts made to face false and misleading news and material that induce hate, violence, terrorism, racism and other matters.
Kuwaiti National Assembly member Ali al-Daqbaashi said freedom of expression is a pure human right and one of the national constants that cannot be compromised. However, he warned of “chaos in publishing and broadcasting material with no restrictions or conditions that limit counterfeiting and deception”.
Al-Daqbaashi held social media outlets responsible for controlling cyberspace, describing them as transcontinental and having enormous potential in this regard. He also called for co-operation between countries and these outlets to achieve the required balance between reducing disinformation and ensuring freedom of expression according to the standards of human values.
Advisory Council member Yousif Rashid al-Khater commended the words of al-Daqbaashi on holding social media outlets responsible for controlling cyberspace and social media platforms. He added that these platforms have a flaw that must be addressed to ensure adherence to religious principles, values and humanity.
Al-Khater said some flaws include easy identity fraud, opening of fake accounts, electronic flies, promotion of hate as well as the exploitation children face on these platforms. He called on parliaments around the world to take steps that compel these outlets to take responsibility for these flaws.
Member of the Oman Council Dr Abdullah al-Amri said fake and misleading news on social media networks have become one of the biggest threats to global security and peace, in the presence of electronic armies that mislead public opinion, call for overthrowing regimes and spread chaos, hate and extremism.
He added that today there are two lives, one real and another virtual, where the latter highly impacts the former. This threatens States' security and their stability and economic and development programmes. He observed that blocking some of these networks may be a solution to face the threats.
French Senate member Didier Marie touched on the waves of misleading news that have a major impact on democracy, referring to the events that took place during the US elections. He added that confronting false news on social networking platforms is difficult at the moment. However, he stressed the importance of enacting legislation to protect democracy from uncontrolled media flows and misleading news materials aimed at deceiving public opinion and upsetting election results. He added that France has enacted laws to protect the elections from any outer influence.
The session also hosted technology and publishing experts to talk about the reality of the social media platforms and new media, how they work and possible measures to reduce the risks of false news that has become a source of concern for nations and peoples.
The experts said false news on the Internet and some social media platforms have become one of the main threats to freedom and democracy and presented challenges that hinder the control of these platforms.
On this matter, a number of parliament members warned that false news have been able to inflict serious damage to democracy, losing of confidence in politicians, promoting conspiracy theories rather than rational debate and even impacting electoral results.
During the session, different suggestions were made such as establishing and international authority specialized in supervising social media platforms to control cyberspace and take punitive measures against violators. In addition, some participants called for enacting domestic and international legislations to curb false news or block websites that tolerate false news.
Parliament members from Japan, Thailand, Ethiopia, Peru, Iran, Pakistan, Bolivia, Malaysia and others briefed the Standing Committee on Democracy and Human Rights on the progress made at the national level with regard to the three resolutions made over the past years.
Member of the Dutch Parliament Arda Gerkens, who chaired the session, concluded by highlighting the importance of the discussions that took place on the material published on social media platforms. She called on social media networks to take responsibility and take preventative measures to protect societies from the threats of publishing false news.
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