Article 19: Social Media Council would help Ireland combat online disinformation

Credit: Fuchsia MacAree

Would involve participation from social media companies, media, and members of civil society

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26 March 2021 | 0

Article 19, an international organisation that works to defend and promote freedom of expression and access to information , concluded its #KeepItReal campaign with a virtual event exploring the impact of online disinformation on freedom of expression in Ireland.

The campaign started a conversation with young people in Ireland to ensure their voices are heard in debates around “fake news” and how decisions are made about what is allowed on social media.

Joined by young people from all over the country, expert speakers David Kaye, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Aoife Grace Moore, political correspondent at the Irish Examiner, Siobhan Cummiskey, director of public policy, campaigns and programmes EMEA at Facebook, and Pierre François Docquir, head of media freedom at Article 19 explored topics such as the role of government and social and traditional media’s responsibility to counter harmful disinformation while protecting free speech online.

 

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Article 19 also spoke on the organisation’s proposal to establish a Social Media Council (SMC) in Ireland.

Inspired by the experience of press councils, this proposed self-regulatory mechanism would be the first initiative of its kind and would fit within the legal framework of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, currently under consideration. It will be a forum where measures to deal with disinformation and other problematic content can be discussed, fine-tuned, assessed, or reviewed.

As the SMC is envisioned to enable broad participation from social media companies, media, and civil society among others, it would also be used as a forum to elaborate a common understanding, not only about the types of content that should be moderated but also about the appropriate and realistic technical approaches to moderation. It would provide an appeals mechanism where users would have access to an independent, external body that can make decisions on disputes related to content moderation. The decisions would be based on international human rights law in order to preserve the right to freedom of expression and other fundamental rights.

“Disinformation, when amplified at the scale possible on social media, threatens the public’s ability to sort fact from fiction,” said Article 19 board member David Kaye. “And yet government action to counter it, particularly but not only in authoritarian environments, threatens freedom of expression itself. We need to develop mechanisms to address this vast problem without undermining fundamental rights, and social media councils provide one innovative way to do so.

“At the root of the Social Media Council is the idea that we don’t necessarily want government to be telling companies or individuals what is or is not appropriate speech. However, we do want transparency, because social media platforms are incredibly opaque, so we know very little about how they make content moderation decisions about what’s appropriate on their platforms. We want tools that allow for a public grievance… but also most importantly, providing a kind of civil society, human rights orientation to decision making around online content. This is the thrust behind Social Media Councils and the thrust behind public ownership behind these kinds of decisions and these kinds of questions around platforms. These are hard questions. They are in some respects some of the biggest, most important for our democracies in a digital age.”

“Ireland has been the ideal place for this campaign, and we believe a Social Media Council would work very well here,” said Pierre François Docquir, head of media freedom at Article 19. “Not only does Ireland host the headquarters of social media companies in Europe and have a successful history of self-regulation with the likes of the ASAI and the Press Council, but it is also in the middle of a vibrant and ground-breaking debate on platform regulation and online safety with the current consideration of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and the formation of the Media and Online Safety Commission. We believe the SMC could work well within the future regulatory framework in Ireland.”

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