Highlight 37/2023 – A Governance Challenge in Social Media: Freedom of Expression vs. Disinformation
Amina Zouihri, 6 December 2023
It is crucial to recognise the critical importance of the convergence between technology and human rights, specifically in relation to social media and its influence on freedom of expression. This complex and pervasive link has become fertile ground for heated debate, raising major concerns about misinformation and its impact on governance.
Social media, symbols of global connectivity, have provided an unparalleled platform for individual expression and the free flow of ideas. However, their open nature and ability to rapidly generate and disseminate content have created an environment where misinformation can proliferate at an alarming rate, compromising the quality of public discourse and undermining the very foundations of democracy.
Freedom of expression, a fundamental right, faces unprecedented challenges in the digital age. The algorithms of social platforms, designed to maximise engagement, have sometimes favoured the dissemination of sensational or misleading content to the detriment of accuracy or veracity. This has led to filter bubbles, where users are exposed to information that corresponds to their own points of view, fuelling polarisation and limiting access to a diversity of opinions. It is, therefore, important to note that a precise cause-and-effect relationship between misinformation and public opinion and the electoral behaviour of individuals has not yet been scientifically demonstrated.
Furthermore, misinformation can be used as a manipulative tool for political or social ends, compromising transparency and trust in government institutions. 76% of respondents to Edelman’s 27-country trust survey said they feared that fake information or fake news could be used as a weapon.
Faced with this complex challenge, governance must adapt and evolve to meet these new challenges. Measures are needed to strengthen the transparency and accountability of digital platforms, while preserving freedom of expression. 85% of people are sceptical about online disinformation.
For this, intelligent regulation, developed in collaboration with stakeholders, can play a crucial role in promoting a healthy and ethical online environment. The OECD is identifying new approaches to strengthen the integrity of information, which is the OECD DIS/MIS Resource Hub to tackling mis- and disinformation.
UNESCO has also published “Guidelines for the Governance of Digital Platforms”. It identifies responsibility of states, citizens, and non-state actors such as civil society and social medial in protecting information and, distinguishes between the freedom of expression and other forms of expression, such as hate speeches.
In conclusion, social media is a powerful tool with the potential to promote freedom of expression, but its inappropriate use can also threaten this fundamental right and undermine democratic governance. It is imperative to strike a balance between freedom of expression and the fight against misinformation while ensuring that human rights remain at the heart of this rapid technological evolution.
Amina Zouihri, Highlight 37/2023 – A Governance Challenge in Social Media: Freedom of Expression vs. Disinformation, 6 December 2023, available at www.meig.ch
The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the authors and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.