Welcome to the United Nations | Department of Economic and Social Affairs

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Online platforms, such as social networks and other interactive online services, give rise to transnational “cyber-spaces” where individuals can gather and express their personalities imparting and receiving information and ideas. By reason of their transnational dimension as well as of their private nature, online platforms are regulated through contractual provisions, unilaterally established by the platforms’ providers and enshrined in the platforms’ ToS.

Hence it may be argued that, by regulating the use of information within a specific online platform, ToS undertake a normative function that may be compared to that of the “Law of the Land”. However, differently from the Law of the Land, the contractual provisions delineated in the ToS can be applied in several jurisdictions, thus affecting platform users in spite of their geographical location. Furthermore, the private decisions that may be taken by the platform provider in order to implement the ToS (e.g. removing content which is not compatible with the ToS provisions) are not subject to the constitutional guarantees that frame national jurisdictions.

In addition, it should be noted that the spectrum of rights and remedies that are granted to platform users through the ToS may be difficult to comprehend or even read in its entirety, and similar platforms may be regulated through very different provisions that might be unilaterally modified by platform providers.

For these reasons, it seems necessary to engage in a common multi-stakeholder effort aimed at producing model contractual provisions, which can be incorporated in ToS in order to provide intelligible and solid mechanisms to protect platform-users’ human rights and foster platform providers’ responsibility.

Such an effort appears necessary to equip platform users with common and easy-to-grasp tools to guarantee the full enjoyment of their human rights. From this perspective, the, absence of binding international rules in this area despite the universal nature of human rights represents a real challenge, which can only be effectively overcome through a multistakeholder effort, taking place in accordance with the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework (endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council together with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights). Hence, the concept of “platform responsibility” aims to stimulate behaviour in line with the principles laid out by the UN Guiding Principles, focusing on the responsibility of private corporations to respect human rights and to grant an effective grievance mechanism.

Meeting Format 

The first meeting will be introduced by two keynotes, highlighting the state of play of the platform responsibility debate and triggering an open debate amongst the DC PR members and the attendees.

The opening keynotes will be delivered by:

Mr Jan Kleijssen, Director, Information Society and Action against Crime, Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law, Council of Europe

Ms Rebecca MacKinnon, Director of the Ranking Digital Rights project at New America Foundation

Subsequently the DC PR members and attendees will engage in an open discussion aimed at identifying the key elements to be addressed by the DC PR and jointly delineating the DC PR roadmap.Therefore this meeting should be considered as a “Birds of a feather session” allowing all interested individuals to jointly plan the future works of the DC PR.  

Particularly, the DC PR roadmap will be instrumental to plan the future activities of the DC PR members aimed at the elaboration of model contractual provisions that may be used to provide effective protection to specific human rights through online platforms’ terms of service.

All the attendees will be encouraged to actively participate to the debate, providing their inputs to the definition of the DC PR roadmap.

The discussion will be co-moderated by:

Mr Luca Belli, Council of Europe & Université Paris 2

Mr Nicolo Zingales TILEC at Tilburg University

Ms Primavera De Filippi CNRS & Berkman Center for Internet and Society