Conference recommends enhancing social media freedom and security

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) The two-day International conference on ‘Social Media: Challenges and Ways to Promote Freedoms and Protect Activists'' concluded yesterday proposing a set of recommendations for the states, social media companies, human rights organisations and other stakeholders.
The conference was organised by the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) in cooperation and coordination with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the European Parliament, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI).
The conference discussed the opportunities that social media has created for promoting human rights, while also exploring recurrent forms of interference in the use of social media.
The participants also discussed responses to hate speech in practice and the use of social media platforms to incite violence and discrimination, including against religious minorities.
The recommendations were presented in the closing session of the conference which was also attended by Chairman of National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), H E Dr. Ali bin Smaikh Al Marri along other dignitaries.

In the closing session, H E Dr. Al Marri, expressed his gratitude for all the participants who took part in the activities of the conference. He also expressed his confidence that the discussions would serve the primary goal of the conference, which was to support and protect activists and social media pioneers and to expand civic space.

''We will spare no effort to coordinate with our partners to develop an implementation plan and a mechanism to activate the results and recommendations of this conference and put it on the agendas and programs of international platforms, he added.

Recalling the victims of conflicts in the world, H E Dr. Al Marri said that everyone should be a voice for them at all international forums. He said that the National Human Rights Committee, through its initiative of organising the conference, was looking forward to more coordination and work with its partners.

Throughout the plenary debates and working groups, the participants made many recommendations. They recommended that the States should ensure that restrictions on online expression are lawful, necessary and proportionate. The States should repeal any law that unduly criminalises or restricts expression, both online and offline, while prohibiting by law any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

The States should refrain from establishing laws or arrangements that would require the proactive monitoring or filtering of content, which is both inconsistent with the right to privacy and likely to amount to pre-publication censorship.

The States should adopt models of regulation where only independent judicial authorities rather than government agencies become the arbiters of lawful expression. States should also avoid delegating responsibility to companies as adjudicators of content.

The States should establish or strengthen national human rights institutions in line with the Paris Principles and ensure that NHRIs are not subject to reprisals or any act of intimidation as a result of their mandated activities, including online and states should also include the protection of NHRIs within national cybersecurity policy, plans and infrastructure. 

The conference also presented a set of recommendations for the social media companies. The participants recommended that social media companies should use international human rights law as reference and accept the companies'' responsibility to ensure protecting online civic space in accordance with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, notably in cases of Internet shutdowns and in terms of transparency.
The social media companies should uphold, as a starting point, the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation and implement the recommendations by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
They should improve responses to online attacks, intimidation and threats against critical voices, including through greater cooperation among technical experts, civil society actors and companies to improve the reporting and ensure accountability.
As a temporary measure, social media companies should include human rights defenders and journalists as a protected category under their harmful content policies, particularly in countries where defenders face persecution by the State or are not protected by the government from retaliation for their advocacy.
The social media companies should explore all legal options for challenging requests that are excessively intrusive such as requests for shutdown. If they implement shutdowns, companies should disclose all relevant and publishable information and provide regular updates about the services affected or restored, the steps they are taking to address the issue and explanations after the fact.
They comply with human rights due diligence frameworks to avoid fostering or entrenching discrimination through algorithmic systems and maximize user choice when assessing information and lastly, also develop proposals to transfer some of the profit made by social media companies to protect and safeguard in particular local and independent news outlets.The participants asked human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society to ensure that all perspectives, including of those of under-reported groups, are brought into the decision making about regulation of online content and in the formation of community standards.
They should advocate for enhanced media literacy in national educational curricula and build capacity of civil society actors amongst peers, in relation to the use of social media and provide legal aid to human rights defenders and journalists in emblematic cases related to freedom of expression online.
They should enhance the implementation of global standards of journalism, including the IFJ Global Charter of Ethics of Journalism.
Media outlets, the participants recommended, should provide adequate training to online safety and security awareness for their staff, in particular those conducting investigative journalism. The conference recommended that social media users, human rights defenders and journalists should ensure they use appropriate tools such as encryption in order to protect themselves and their sources.
The participants of the conference recommended international and regional organizations to ensure that all discussions on the formulation of laws and regulations for social media are firmly grounded in human rights law as international human rights instruments provide an authoritative global standard for ensuring freedom of expression and right to privacy online.
They should consider how to expand civic space online, including through drafting an international declaration on the protection civil society operating on social media as well as strengthen the response to attacks and attempts to undermine vibrant civil society and independent journalism.
They should engage with new and traditional media to address hate speech narratives and promote the values of tolerance, non-discrimination, pluralism and freedom of opinion and expression.
They should also take all possible measures to enhance the protection of human rights defenders and journalists who operate in conflict situations, from Afghanistan to Syria and Yemen. 
The conference has recommended that national human rights institutions should promote and protect online civic space, including by advising the State on national legislation and policy to ensure they comply with international human rights obligations; interacting with civil society organisations, users, journalists, media; and engaging with business on their responsibility to respect human rights.
They should implement the Marrakech Declaration (2018) on the role of NHRIs in promoting and protecting civic space and human rights defenders, with a specific focus on women.
They should also monitor and report on civic space - online and offline - through the collection and analysis of disaggregated data, including gender-based disaggregation and statistics related to killings, fabricated legal charges, misuse of specific law''s and other attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, lawyers, students, academics, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 16.


The Peninsula

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