THE Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, has said the regulation of social media platforms is imminent to protect access to information “while at the same time protecting freedom of expression and human rights.”
She disclosed this recently in a statement released by the United Nations’ agency, while unveiling its action plan to tackle the prevalence of online disinformation and hate speech, describing it as a major threat to global stability and social cohesion.
“Digital technology has enabled immense progress on freedom of speech. But social media platforms have also accelerated and amplified the spread of false information and hate speech, posing major risks to societal cohesion, peace and stability. To protect access to information, we must regulate these platforms without delay, while at the same time protecting freedom of expression and human rights,” Azoulay said.
The statement noted that over 10,000 contributions from 134 nations were gathered over the course of the last eighteen months, concluding in a consultation process that was unique in the history of the United Nations system to create the UNESCO’s action plan.
The action plan covers the values that need to be upheld alongside the specific actions that all parties involved—governments, regulatory bodies, civil society, and the platforms themselves – must take.
Independent regulators have already applauded UNESCO’s idea, and some of them—most notably in Latin America and Africa—have said they are prepared to start putting these policies into action. In mid-2024, UNESCO will host the inaugural World Conference of Regulators in order to achieve this goal, the statement added.
It further stated that the organization shall additionally provide assistance to its Member States in incorporating this action plan into their respective legal frameworks.
Azoulay said that safeguarding the right to free speech and all other human rights at all times has served as the cornerstone of the organisation’s activity. She added that limiting or restricting speech would be a bad idea noting that the best long-term reaction to misinformation is to have independent, high-quality, and free media outlets and information tools.
Alongside the release of the action plan, the IPSOS conducted a poll for UNESCO that included over 8,000 respondents from 16 countries that will host elections in 2024. At a time when social media platforms have become the primary source of information for a significant majority of citizens, it indicates that 85% of citizens are concerned about the influence of online disinformation.
According to the same survey, 87% of respondents think that the disinformation has already had a significant impact on their nation’s political landscape and are afraid that it will have an impact on the outcomes of the elections that will take place next year.
Consequently, 88% of respondents are urging authorities and lawmakers to act swiftly to regulate social media in order to address this issue.