Access Now responds to Special Rapporteur Kaye on “Content Regulation in the Digital Age”
Governments globally are moving aggressively to coerce private internet intermediaries to restrict online content under the banner of fighting “fake news,” countering terrorism, or combating illegal content and hate speech. Efforts like the those in France and Brazil to “ban” false information on social media platforms create a minefield for human rights. David Kaye, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, is conducting a study to explore the issues at stake, and Access Now has submitted evidence for the report.
Access Now is deeply concerned about the trends we are seeing around the world that force companies to rely heavily on automated systems to police and manage content, despite the fact that understanding context is absolutely critical for determining whether content is legal. According to a survey by Freedom House, 65 percent of governments ask “companies, site administrators, and users to restrict online content of a political, social, or religious nature.” Our own data support these findings; since January 2016, Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline managed 204 cases — half from Syria — that involved the flagging, removal, or blocking of online content.
This is particularly alarming because activists often rely on internet communication and platforms to document and expose human rights violations, and what they publish can be subject to over-broad censorship. In 2011, activists used YouTube to show that a peaceful protest against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s mandate had become bloody. Over the past year, activists have found that videos providing critical evidence of atrocities have been removed.
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