Maybe not intentionally, but the United Nations has taken sides in an ever-growing debate about the future of the Internet and the possible censorship of the world wide web. In a report released by the UN’s Broadband Commission for Digital Development, it issued a “world-wide wake-up call” to what it is has termed “cyber VAWG,” otherwise known as violence against women and girls.
The implications of the UN’s proposals are enormous. Essentially, the organization is attempting to transform the Internet from a network of complete freedom of expression to a watered-down version that enforces social commons.
The United Nations has proposed proactive policy changes for both social networks and governments alike to combat online harassment.
Presently, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook (in addition to thousands of others) are governed by United States law. As it stands, such platforms generally cannot be held liable for what people do on them. However, the UN proposes that these platforms proactively monitor and police every user’s profile and posts. It further proposes that government agencies only provide “licenses” to those companies who agree to do so.
The report reads that, “The respect for and security of girls and women must at all times be front and center.” This applies to those “producing and providing the content” as well as those with any ability to provide a “technical backbone and enabling environment of our digital society.”
The report does not provide specific steps or ideas as to how to make its proposals work. The report, however, does stress that social networks and governments need to create stronger anti-harassment policies - and enforce those policies.
The report concludes by stating that “political and governmental bodies need to use their licensing prerogative” to apply moral standards in protecting human and women’s rights. It should only grant licenses to “those Telecoms and search engines” that “supervise content and dissemination.”
Essentially, the UN is proposing that online platforms should be responsible for their users’ actions and for ensuring those users are not harassers.
Obviously, the protection of human and women’s rights is incredibly important. But, the UN’s proposals affect so much more than those rights. It essentially tries to insert its values that it believes the Internet should protect - and makes those failing to protect these values liable.
In reality, the proposals are essentially unfeasible. Persuading social networks to monitor and police everything that is posted is simply impossible. And, even if it was possible, there are major implications for free speech and innovation.
Basically, the exemptions given to online platforms allowed these platforms to come into existence. Taking away such exemptions - and making governments hold licenses hostage - would have extreme negative implications on how the Internet presently operates.