By Sankalp Srivastava
Freedom of speech and expression is often considered one of our most valuable rights, regardless of the political context, but especially when there is a political context. We live in an age where technology has made civil participation more equitable, universal, and far-reaching. Majority of this participation is in the form of the content posted online by individuals,Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash and increasingly governments all around the world are encouraging participation through their own platforms.
Why does online content regulation require attention?
Everyone today participates in posting content online, whether as an online blogger, an anonymous poster, or even on social media. However, there are different standards adopted by the organisations that put their own content filters for adult content, hate speech, incitement of violence, amongst others. This is done with the rationale of complying with legal norms as well as ethical norms. In fact, even the UN Human Rights Council acknowledged the importance of internet companies in this regard.
In the face of varying content norms, there is now a push for regulating of these content guidelines across platforms, internationally. Within India, content aggregators have begun to seriously consider avenues of self-censorship as a way out of the currently ambiguous system.
As a result of the same, there are two sets of content guidelines, those made mandatory by the state and those enforced as a part of the rules of the platform on which the content is posted.
What should states consider?
For legislators seeking to regulate free speech on the internet, there are several challenges, given the multitude of platforms, including, streaming services, content aggregators, news websites, in addition to social media platforms that provide citizens with information and/or platforms to participate in exercising their rights.
Additionally, due to the fact that any free speech regulation will fall within the domain of human rights, a necessary corollary becomes to consider whether regulation will lead to a loss in net neutrality and a ‘free and fair’ internet. Ill-advised regulatory decisions in India result in large-scale walling off the internet as pointed out by this article in Medianama.
What is the effect of ‘community guidelines’?
With respect to internet companies regulating content posted on their websites, issues such as self-censorship , fake news and data privacy have garnered the most attention. Due to the pace of technological reform, these have been left largely unregulated by the law.
Internet companies often find themselves in the midst of controversy due to varying community guidelines. YouTube’s controversy involving its monetization standards attracted the ire of many YouTube creators. Similarly, there have been several cases whereby Twitter has taken less action against its users, such as the recent case against fake accounts.
Hence, we see that, while access to the internet is often considered human right companies struggle to stay ethically and culturally relevant while considering regulation in this ever-growing field. In order to ensure protection and regulation, there needs to be a synergic contribution by both the state and internet companies.
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