United Nations releases new report on countering disinformation while respecting freedom of expression
On 18 September 2020, the United Nations Broadband Commission released a new report titled ‘Balancing act: Countering digital disinformation while respecting freedom of expression’. The report focuses on how states, companies, institutions and organisations around the world are responding to digital disinformation, and provides a 23-step tool developed to assess disinformation responses.
In this regard, the report offers a Freedom of Expression Assessment Framework for Disinformation Responses to assist states and other institutions to formulate legislative, regulatory and policy responses to counter disinformation in a manner that supports freedom of expression. The tool includes the following reference points to enable the assessment of responses in accordance with international human rights norms:
- Have responses been the subject of multi-stakeholder engagement and input prior to formulation and implementation? In the case of legislative responses, has there been an appropriate opportunity for deliberation prior to adoption, and can there be an independent review?
- Do the responses clearly and transparently identify the specific problems to be addressed?
- Do responses include an impact assessment as regards consequences for international human rights frameworks that support freedom of expression, press freedom, access to information or privacy?
- Do the responses impinge on or limit freedom of expression, privacy and access to information rights? If so, and the circumstances triggering the response are considered appropriate for such intervention (e.g. the COVID-19 pandemic), is the interference with such rights narrowly-defined, necessary, proportionate and time-limited?
- Does a given response restrict or risk acts of journalism, and does it limit the right of access to public interest information?
- If a given response does limit rights, does it provide exemptions for acts of journalism?
- Are responses considered together and holistically in terms of their different roles, complementarities and possible contradictions?
- Are responses primarily restrictive, or there is an appropriate balance with enabling and empowering measures?
- While the impacts of disinformation and misinformation can be equally serious, do the responses recognise the difference in motivation between those actors involved in deliberate falsehood (disinformation) and those implicated in unwitting falsehood (misinformation), and are actions tailored accordingly?
- Do the responses conflate or equate disinformation content with hate speech content?
- Are journalists, political actors and human rights defenders able to receive effective judicial protection from disinformation and/or hateful content which incites hostility, violence and discrimination, and is aimed at intimidating them?
- Do legal responses come with guidance and training for implementation by law enforcement, prosecutors and judges, concerning the need to protect the core right of freedom of expression and the implications of restricting this right?
- Is the response-able to be transparently assessed, and is there a process to systematically monitor and evaluate the freedom of expression impacts?
- Are the responses the subject of oversight and accountability measures, including review and accountability systems?
- Is a given response-able to be appealed or rolled-back if it is found that any benefits are outweighed by negative impacts on freedom of expression, access to information and privacy rights (which are themselves antidotes to disinformation)?
- Are measures relating to internet communications companies developed with due regard to multi-stakeholder engagement and in the interests of promoting transparency and accountability, while avoiding privatisation of censorship?
- Is there assessment (informed by expert advice) of both the potential and the limits of technological responses which deal with disinformation (while keeping freedom of expression and privacy intact)? Are there unrealistic expectations concerning the role of technology?
- Are civil society actors engaged as autonomous partners in regard to combatting disinformation?
- Do responses support the production, supply and circulation of information – including local and multilingual information – as a credible alternative to disinformation?
- Do the responses include support for institutions to enable counter-disinformation work?
- Do the responses maximise the openness and availability of data held by state authorities, with due regard to personal privacy protections, as part of the right to information and official action aimed at pre-empting rumour and enabling research and reportage that is rooted in facts?
- Are the responses gender-sensitive and mindful of particular vulnerabilities relevant to disinformation exposure, distribution and impacts?
- If the response measures are introduced to respond to an urgent problem, or designed for short term impact, are they accompanied by initiatives, programmes or campaigns designed to effect and embed change in the medium to long term?
The full report is accessible here.
Please note: The information contained in this note is for general guidance on matters of interest, and does not constitute legal advice. For any enquiries, please contact us at [email protected].