The second interactive plenary debate of the International Conference on Social Media discussed ways and mechanisms to create an enabling environment for online civic space from the legal and institutional perspectives.
Participants at the plenary debate emphasised the importance of protecting privacy on social media platforms, the dark side of social media such as the impact of hate speech on the Internet on minorities and women, and the new legislative framework to address related concerns, and the protection of freedom of expression and the protection of journalists via the Internet, and the impact of Germany's law enforcement network act and its impact on human rights.
In his intervention, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy Joseph Cannataci, stressed that privacy is a fundamental right for everyone (but at the same time it is not an absolute right) must be respected as well as human rights, the right of expression and this is the right of everyone to their privacy, noting that the United Nations recognised this in 2017.
He pointed out to the importance of all states' adherence to United Nations treaties and agreements such as the international political and social human rights conventions and agreements, stressing also the importance of a law that highlights ways to protect privacy and protect data for citizens and activists through social media platforms, and that this law also works to limit the spread of hate speech and violence against minorities through coordination with all founding bodies that provide Internet services.
In this context, he pointed out to the importance of enacting laws and legislation related to oversight, and that these laws are based on good foundations, ensuring the protection of data and privacy for all, and it also imposes deterrent and appropriate penalties for violators, and holds accountable those who commit any violation, as well as prevent any random use of technology.
During the interactive plenary debate, the Vice Chairman of the European Federation of Journalists and Member of the Digital Expert Group (DEG) Peter Freitag talked about his experience in Germany, especially with the new legislation there on the application of the law enforcement networks act, pointing out that this law came into effect after two years of the presidential campaign in the United States of America, in the wake of the increase in hate speech.
He pointed out that many observers considered that hate speech and false information greatly affected the election results in the United States, and the German government and the parliamentary majority were also afraid of this happening in Germany, and that it affects directly the electoral process, and therefore came the application of the law enforcement networks act.
Freitag stated that the law requires social media companies that have at least two million users to delete some unwanted contexts such as hate speech, defamation, crimes, and other threats when the user opposes their use or visibility.
He pointed out that in the event that this matter is ignored, a fine of 5 million euros may be imposed on the employee and on the company.
He stressed that social media is increasingly important, especially with regard to the press, freedom of expression and speech as well, and not necessarily that all that we see on social media is linked to the press, and social media channels themselves are very important and gaining importance on a daily basis.
He explained that the Journalists Union in Germany and other human rights activists and political parties objected this law, as it was an attempt to give governments a justification to play a major oversight role on privacy and personal freedoms, also, as it allows companies to do what they want, such as taking their decisions according to certain economic considerations or pressures, and not according to the law.
Senior advisor to the Office of the Special Representative on Freedom of the Media in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Olena Cherniavska talked about means to protect freedom of expression and journalists, explaining that the OSCE is particularly concerned with security matters.
She underlined the importance of the topic of the discussion because it is complicated and complex as it tackles many things, including radicalism, extremism, hate speech and the protection of journalists, stressing that freedom of expression is necessary to confront violent extremism and radicalism that lead to terrorism and many other problems.
She pointed that 30 years ago, government agencies believed that media should be controlled, especially when it comes to terrorism, and that the media should not reinforce terrorist messages by reporting news related to terrorist organisations and others.
She also stressed the importance of promoting societal awareness of immunisation against radicalisation and extremism, and the need for a safe space for civil society to prevent the spread of violent and radical extremism.
Regarding hate speech on social media platforms, Olena Cherniavska emphasised the importance of the mechanisms used to delete or prevent publishing the content of these messages, noting that there are many articles that are published and classified as harmful or extremist material and can be dealt with through automated procedures on Facebook and Google and by informing Microsoft which believes that 99% of the material is being removed before the aggrieved party files a complaint.
For his part, EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove stressed that the hate speech was growing and there is anti-Islam speech in particular, pointing that the Internet plays a fundamental role in that. He also pointed out that things get complicated when it comes to hate speech, as extremists use encrypted languages to send some bad and extremist messages
He pointed out that encrypting some of the social media platforms for their websites makes law enforcement authorities' tasks towards extremists more difficult, stressing the importance of finding ways to reduce terrorist content and hate speech and being able to verify the identity of some individuals.
He further stressed the importance of finding ways to eliminate the conflict between security, privacy and freedom of expression, using technological development to confront violence and creating a network that links all stakeholders so that people who promote hate speech are not left without accountability.
In her intervention during the session, Alessandra Moretti, Member of the European Parliament, spoke about the dark side of social media and the impact of hate speech on the Internet on minorities and women and the new legislative framework to address related concerns.
Moretti stated that it is not easy to agree on a global definition of hate speech, but the United Nations has defined it as a form of communication in which discriminatory or hateful language is used against a specific person, based on his religious, ethnic, or sexual commitment.
She said that to find solutions to issues such as hate speech and incitement to violence, everyone should be aware of the situation we live in today, as statistics indicate that 9 million women in Europe have experienced some kind of cyber violence and also the possibility of a woman being harassed over the Internet is 27 times more than a man.
She added that it is also believed that an open electronic space creates a democratic space, in which the empowerment of women can be enhanced, but unfortunately women and girls have discovered that there are frightening new technologies used online to be exposed to and harassed them, and this is similar to what happens in ordinary life, women around the world are exposed to this kind of sexual discrimination.
Regarding online hate speech, Moretti indicated that this matter is widespread. In Europe, this issue has been dealt with several times since 1993, when the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance declared the necessity to find a solution to violence and hate speech, and the recommendations of this committee were applied at a global level in 2001, when the Budapest Agreement was signed, and through the European Council, the first treaty on the Internet was reached, and its primary goal was to create a unified policy to protect societies from cybercrime, especially through the adoption of legislation and the strengthening of international cooperation in this field. Indeed, in 2016 the European Commission identified some basic steps in the face of online hate speech.
Moretti also stressed that the European Union, in turn, felt the need to confront this urgent problem, according to the European Union, hate speech on the Internet or outside is a crime in itself. In 2016, a code of conduct was created to collect data about hate speech and in some European agencies, especially in the field of human rights, data showed that through this code of conduct, Internet companies can prevent about 70 percent of illegal hate speech and cancel it, in many cases, and this cancellation happens 80 percent of the time and within 24 hours.
She also stressed that hate speech is primarily a cultural matter, and therefore attention must be paid to education and instilling correct concepts in children in the early educational stages and making sure they are aware that men and women enjoy the same rights and these rights must be respected at any time and everywhere.
Cover image credit: Khalil Agha
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