Youth IGF Informs: UNESCO to shape regulation of global digital platforms

Youth IGF
Youth IGF Informs
Published in
4 min readMay 5, 2023
UNESCO Internet for Trust

On 22–23 February 2023, UNESCO held an “Internet for Trust” Conference in Paris, aimed at bringing together stakeholders to discuss a set of guidelines for regulating digital platforms. The participants are seeking to improve access to information, fight misinformation, protect freedom of speech and safeguard human rights. The draft of the guidelines was discussed at the conference. UNESCO announced it aims to publish them in September this year and further hold thematic and regional consultations.

Many asked why UNESCO has decided to take a lead in developing guidelines for regulating digital platforms. According to Tawfik Jelassi, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information at UNESCO, it is part of its mandate to promote peace, freedom of expression and the free sharing of information. The guidelines will not be legally binding. “UNESCO is not a regulator”, said Jelassi, adding that the body’s role lies in advocacy, as well as guiding governments in updating national regulations and establishing national regulatory authorities. The guidelines can and should be customised to different regions and be used by states as a roadmap for platform regulation.

Tawfik Jelassi, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information at UNESCO. Photo by Youth IGF

Countries should not just copy UNESCO’s guidelines, said Roberto Viola, Director General of DG CONNECT at the European Commission. “We need to monitor how guidelines are used by states to draft national regulations and have constant dialogue on how the process is going”.

Roberto Viola, Director General of DG CONNECT at the European Commission. Photo by Youth IGF

One of the central issues discussed was artificial intelligence and its use by online platforms. Participants stressed that an ethical and human-centric approach in the design and implementation of AI is key. The majority of investment into AI comes from private companies, so governments often do not understand what they are trying to regulate. “We need massive public investment into AI”, said Rainer Kattel, Deputy Director and Professor at the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose in London. Namibia has announced the establishment of an AI Institute that will help to improve coordination between government agencies on AI regulation.

Rainer Kattel, Deputy Director and Professor at the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose in London. Photo by Youth IGF

Despite the advantages of generative AI, such as providing access to information in many languages, it can cause a lot of harm: it can generate misinformation, violate intellectual property, exploit human labour for training, process personal data without users’ consent and violate data protection laws like GDPR. Another question is how generative AI should be treated as an actor. If it spreads false information, who should liability lie with, the developers or the users who share it?

Content moderation was one of the central themes. Platforms have to ensure the professionalism of content moderators and provide them with certification programmes. Moderators need better working conditions, especially those in developing countries. The safety of users is heavily dependent on all of these factors. The regional presence of platforms is also a challenge. Platforms must define what a “region” is and how it is represented. “Only two people can represent one country in Africa, which is a problem”, said Cal Gish, Africa Lead at Build Up.

Cal Gish, Africa Lead at Build Up. Photo by Youth IGF

Julie Inman Grant highlighted a “safety by design” principle that she advocates for in Australia as an eSafety Commissioner. Safety features and measures have to be embedded by companies from the beginning so that the safety burden does not fall on users. Participants also called for digital platform users to be empowered by giving them access to information in their native languages. Clearer reporting procedures must be ensured. Platforms need to have fixed terms within which they have to contact victims of online crimes and provide them with assistance.

Julie Inman Grant, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner. Photo by Youth IGF

The conference also featured a Youth Talk , at which young people calling for stronger regulation of content on social media. If it is not regulated, hate speech and disinformation become normalised and can even be perceived as humorous, so youngsters need to know such issues are serious. However, overregulation of young people’s use of the internet is risky. It hampers their access to communication and education, and creates gaps in society. The Youth IGF supports the Youth Track at the Internet for Trust Conference. Stronger cooperation between the Youth IGF and UNESCO is essential. “There are only three of us in the room”, said the youth representative from Austria. “How are you supposed to solve issues that concern us?”

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Youth IGF
Youth IGF Informs

Young leaders about policies & governance. Focus on online safety, cybersec skills, online fakes & all the hottest internet issues. Founder Yuliya Morenets