Social media conference backs steps to ensure free speech
February 17 2020 11:00 PM
HE Dr Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri, along with other dignitaries at the concluding session of the confere
HE Dr Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri, along with other dignitaries at the concluding session of the conference in Doha. PICTURE: Shemeer Rasheed

*A number of recommendations and guidelines to guarantee freedom of speech and right to privacy presented at the concluding session of the 'Social Media: Challenges and Ways to Promote Freedoms and Protect Activists' conference

Ground rules such as legality, necessity, public accountability, access to remedy and transparency should be considered by all stakeholders while debating any online content regulations, an international conference on social media in Doha has suggested.

The international conference on 'Social Media: Challenges and Ways to Promote Freedoms and Protect Activists' organised by the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) that concluded on Monday in the Qatar capital has also recommended that governments must ensure that restrictions on online expression are lawful, necessary and proportionate.

A number of recommendations and guidelines for the use of social media to ensure freedom of speech and right to privacy were presented at the concluding session of the conference at Ritz Carlton Doha . It was attended by NHRC president HE Dr Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri, Georgette Gagnon, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, among other dignitaries.

“States should repeal any law that unduly criminalises or restricts expression, both online and offline while prohibiting by law any advocacy of national, racial, religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. They should refrain from establishing laws or arrangements that would require the ‘provocative’ monitoring or filtering of content which is both inconsistent with right to privacy and likely to amount to pre-publication censorship,” recommended the forum.

The forum has appealed to governments to adopt models of regulation where only independent judicial authorities, rather than government agencies become arbiters of lawful expression. States should also avoid delegating responsibility to companies as adjudicators of content. States should establish or strengthen national human rights in line with the Paris Principles and ensure that they are not subjected to reprisals or any act of intimation.

According to the conclusions of the forum, social media companies should use international human rights law as reference and accept the companies’ responsibility to ensure protecting online civic space according to the Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights, especially in cases of Internet shutdowns and transparency.

“Companies should uphold the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in content moderation and implement the recommendations by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of rights to freedom of opinion and expression. Companies should improve response to online attacks intimidation and threats against critical voices, through greater cooperation among technical experts, civil society actors and companies to improve reporting and ensure accountability,” the forum has recommended among several other measures.

The conference has also appealed to journalists and human rights activists to ensure that all perspectives including those of under-represented groups are brought into decision making about regulation of online content and in the formulation of community standards.

“They should advocate for enhanced media literacy in national education curricula and build capacity of civil society actors amongst peers, in relation to the use of social media. They should provide legal aid to human rights defenders and journalists in emblematic cases related to freedom of expression,” the conference has urged.

The recommendations also said international and regional organisations should ensure that all discussions on the formulation of laws and regulations for social media are firmly grounded in human rights law.

“They should consider how to expand civic space online through drafting an international declaration on the protection of civil society operating on social media and strengthen the response against attacks and attempts to undermine vibrant civil society and independent journalism,” suggested the forum.

According to the set of recommendations, national human rights institutions across the world must promote and protect online civic space by advising the governments on national legislation and policy to ensure they comply with international human rights obligations.

The conference had brought together more than 250 governmental and non-governmental organsations, human rights defenders, media workers, the tech community, international human rights mechanisms and national human rights institutions. It discussed the opportunities that social media has created for promoting human rights while exploring recurrent forms of interference in the use of social media.

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