Research & Reports

UN Reports

Report of the Special Rapporteur to the Human Rights Council on freedom of expression and the private sector in the digital age (A/HRC/32/38 – 2016)

The presentreport has several aims.First, it seeks to identify the categories of private actors that deeply influence the freedom of expression in a digital age. Secondly, it identifies questions concerning both the private sector’s protection of freedom of opinion and expression and public authorities’ responsibility to ensure the protection of space for expression. Thirdly, it laysout several areas in which normative guidance appears to be most needed. These areas will be addressed and consolidated through thematic reporting, country and company visits, and communications and consultations with Governments, the business sector and civil society. In short, the presentreport is the first of several the Special Rapporteur will present in order to provide guidance on how private actors shouldprotect and promote freedom of expression in a digital age.


Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (A/HRC/38/352018)

In the present report the Special Rapporteur proposes a framework for the moderation of user-generated online content that puts human rights at the very centre.2He seeks to answer basic questions: What responsibilities do companies have to ensure that their platforms do not interfere with rights guaranteed under international law? What standards should they apply to content moderation? Should States regulate commercial content moderation and, if so, how? The law expects transparency and accountability from States to mitigate threats to freedom of expression. Should we expect the same of private actors? What do the processes of protection and remedy look like in the digital age?


Disease pandemics and the freedom of opinion and expression (A/HRC/44/49 – 2020)

The present report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, is being submitted to the Human Rights Council pursuant to Council resolution 34/18. In the report the Special Rapporteur registers alarm that some efforts to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic may be failing to meet the standard sof legality, necessity and proportionality. The Special Rapporteur highlights five areas of concern, showing that access to information, independent media and other free expression rights are critical to meeting the challenges of pandemic.


Propaganda and Freedom of the Media (OSCE)

This non-paper aims to facilitate the OSCE participating States in formulating national and international law and policy toward the current spread of propaganda intertwined with the conflict in and around Ukraine. It distinguishes two sorts of propaganda in the contemporary world. The first is called propaganda for war and hatred; it demands legal action with appropriate measures in accordance with international human rights law. The second type of propaganda combines all its other faces. It may be against professional standards of journalism, but does not necessarily violate international law.

Online Harms White Paper (UK Government)

The government wants the UK to be the safest place in the world to go online, and the best place to start and grow a digital business. Given the prevalence of illegal and harmful content online, and the level of public concern about online harms, not just in the UK but worldwide, we believe that the digital economy urgently needs a new regulatory framework to improve our citizens’ safety online. This will rebuild public confidence and set clear expectations of companies, allowing our citizens to enjoy more safely the benefits that online services offer.

This consultation has been a critical part of the development of this policy and we are grateful to those who took part. This feedback is being factored into the development of this policy, and we will continue to engage with users, industry and civil society as we continue to refine our policies ahead of publication of the full policy response. We believe that an agile and proportionate approach to regulation, developed in collaboration with stakeholders, will strengthen a free and open internet by providing a framework that builds public trust, while encouraging innovation and providing confidence to investors.

Access Now, Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) European Digital Rights (EDRi) (hereinafter “we” or “the undersigned organ-isations”) have evaluated the Report of the High Level Expert Group on Fake News and Online Disinformation1 (hereinafter “HLEG Report”) and related policy documents deal-ing with online “disinformation” and/or “fake news” from different EU bodies and institu-tions. This document represents our combined contribution, to provide constructive feedback for the European Commission’s elaboration of an Action Plan on this topic.

Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report

This is the Final Report in an inquiry on disinformation that has spanned over 18 months, covering individuals’ rights over their privacy, how their political choices might be affected and influenced by online information, and interference in political elections both in this country and across the world—carried out by malign forces intent on causing disruption and confusion.

Digital News Report: Misinformation and Disinformation Unpacked (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism)

The global debate over so-called ‘fake news’ has changed a lot in the last year. What began as concern over the narrow problem of completely made-up news stories has since sparked a renewed interest in the much broader issue of online misinformation. In a sense, the debate has gone full circle, with some of the most active participants now urging people to abandon the term ‘fake news’ to allow the broader issues to be discussed, and to disarm politicians and other powerful people that seek to ‘weaponise’ the term for their own ends.

In this section we take a more global look at what is often incorrectly perceived as an American problem. We measure ‘concern over’ and ‘exposure to’ multiple forms of misinformation, and look at how both vary across countries. Based on how audiences perceive the problem, we consider different types of what our previous audience research suggests ordinary media users consider misinformation, including some content produced by the journalistic profession, as well as content produced outside. We also consider possible responses to the problem of misinformation, and uncover which of these audiences would most like to see.

Balancing Act: Countering Digital Disinformation While Respecting Freedom of Expression – Broadband Commission research report on Freedom of Expression and Addressing Disinformation on the Internet (ITU/UNESO)

BalancingAct: Responding to Disinformation While Defending Freedom of Expression uses the term ‘disinformation’ to describe false or misleading content with potentially harmful consequences, irrespective of the underlying intentions or behaviours in producing and circulating such messages. The focus is not on definitions, but on how States, companies, institutions and organisations around the world are responding to this phenomenon, broadly conceived. The work includes a noveltypologyof11responses, making holistic sense of the disinformation crisis on an international scale, including during COVID-19. It also provides a 23-steptool developed to assess disinformation responses, including their impact on freedom of expression.

The research concludes that disinformation cannot be addressed in the absence of freedom of expression concerns, and it explains why actions to combat disinformation should support, and not violate, this right. It also underlines that access to reliable and trustworthy information, such as that produced by critical independent journalism, is a counter to disinformation.

A Multi-dimensional Approach to Disinformation: Report of the Independent High level Group on Fake News and Online Disinformation

In January 2018, the European Commission set up a high-level group of experts («the HLEG») to advise on policy initiatives to counter fake news and disinformation spread online. The HLEG consisted of 39 members and was chaired by Prof. Dr. Madeleine de Cock Buning. Its members had dif-ferent backgrounds, including academia and journalism, writ-ten press and broadcasting organizations, online platforms as well as civil society and fact-checking organizations. The HLEG’s tasks were to advise the Commission on all issues arising in the context of false information spread across tra-ditional and social media and on possible ways to cope with its social and political consequences. The main deliverable of the HLEG was a report designed to review best practices in the light of fundamental principles, and suitable responses stemming from such principles.

The analysis presented in this Report starts from a shared understanding of disinformation as a phenomenon that goes well beyond the term «fake news». This term has been appropriated and used misleadingly by powerful actors to dismiss coverage that is simply found disagreeable. Disinfor-mation as defined in this Report includes all forms of false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed, present-ed and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit. It does not cover issues arising from the creation and dissemination online of illegal content (notably defamation, hate speech, incitement to violence), which are subject to regulatory remedies under EU or national laws. Nor does it cover other forms of deliberate but not misleading distor-tions of facts such a satire and parody.

2019 Cybersecurity Threatscape Report (Accenture)

The 2018 Cyber Threatscape report noted the clear need for more effective use of actionable threat intelligence. With state-sponsored activities a growing force to be reckoned with, extended supply chain threats, targets against critical infrastructure and a surge in miner malware and more financially motivated advanced persistent threats, CISOs have had their work cut out to budget and act effectively.Strong investment in cybersecurity has not been lacking. But despite these investments, the relentless creativity of cybercriminals continues to put pressure on organizations to be defense ready. Threat intelligence provides the right information to make better business decisions. But the scope of that intelligence is growing. Businesses could start evaluating their cyberpostures from many different perspectives—the cyberposture of suppliers, partners and acquisition targets are just as important as their own organizations to avoid opening up new security gaps or inviting in threat actors who are dormant or active on third-party networks.

Some would argue that the Chinese Communist Party has successfully reinvented authoritarian communication for the 21st century, combining both Orwellian and Huxleyean features of surveillance and thought control. Yet, a closer look reveals some cracks in what otherwise appears to be an unassailable system of control. Drawing from often overlooked sources of evidence, this report shows that China’s homegrown social media platforms have responded to market incentives by subtly shielding users from certain forms of online censorship and repression. Meanwhile, the party confronts rising costs­­­—both economically and politically—for stamping out the diffuse forms of dissent that spread across these networks. Has the debate over the role of new communications technology in China’s political system really been decided?

  • China’s $56 billion internet advertising market now dwarfs advertising in print, radio, and broadcast—and investments have frequently followed audiences to platforms where they feel free to express themselves.

  • Chinese state officials are frequently raising concerns about the growing threat to the party’s control posed by social media, including the dangers of “out of control” algorithms.

  • Hiding key indicators from the censors, reviving banned accounts, and creating opportunities for collective action: social media platforms are quietly and subtly testing the political boundaries in response to their audience’s preferences.

The so-called Right to be Forgotten (RTBF) refers to the removal of content from either search engine indexes or even the entire internet so that it is not readily accessible to end users. While the concept emerged out of a European legal tradition that favors the privacy of non-public individuals, in practice it has led to the censorship of information relevant to the public interest. It has endangered press freedom by leading to the removal of news articles, and it has hindered media development by erasing content from the digital public record.

  • The implementation of the Right to be Forgotten within Europe has led to cases where news content has been censored.

  • The legal concept is already being invoked in many contexts outside of Europe in ways that enable press censorship.

  • Negotiating individual privacy with the public’s right to know is a balancing act for which there are no easy solutions, but it is one that has substantial implications for media development.

The blind spot, dubbed “dark social,” originates when visitors arrive from links shared by email, text, or private messaging applications—not to be confused with the more nefarious “dark web.” As analytics firms begin to shine a light onto the dark spots of referral data, they are learning that these invisible, peer-to-peer forms of sharing news are far more important than previously understood, kindling further consideration among publishers of how to harness messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram for distribution.

This report finds that in some of the world’s most repressive media environments, dark social might be playing an even greater role. A CIMA analysis of data obtained from Chartbeat suggests that in such environments, citizens are gravitating away from Facebook, Twitter, and other public platforms and toward channels perceived to be more secure and private when sharing and discussing news. While publishers everywhere need to find distribution strategies that work well with dark social forms of sharing, independent news publishers working in oppressive environments might have an even larger incentive.

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