July 2, 2020 — International governments can create spaces for free speech without having to impede freedoms, said participants in a German Marshall Fund of the United States webinar.
The event, titled “Freedom and Accountability: A Transatlantic Framework for Moderating Speech Online,” saw participants discuss practical examples of the future of free speech in the world.
“I love that idea that government doesn’t only have to impinge on freedom but can create space for freedom — that’s incredibly valuable,” said Karen Kornbluh, director of GMF Digital, who moderated the event.
David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said that there are numerous encouraging defenses of free speech protections for tech companies online.
One example he cited is the scrapping of a French anti-hate speech law that would have placed sizable fines on social media networks that failed to remove hateful content within 24 hours of its posting.
“I think what we're seeing in Europe... is actually quite heartening,” he said. “That was really tough, but also reinforced fundamental freedom of expression principles, and did so in a way that I think actually is likely to help shape the conversation in Europe.”
Susan Ness, fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center, said that despite the currently widespread anti-social media sentiment, platforms are taking well-intentioned and diligent steps toward trustworthiness.
“I don’t think all of the blame in the world should be on platforms,” she said. “They certainly do have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens, and I think we’re seeing more and more movement in that direction.”
Civil rights groups and policy experts have recently criticized social media companies like Facebook for their responses to incidents of potentially harmful or incendiary speech.
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