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

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’ Terms of Service (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 different 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 with the adoption of 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 on Business and Human Rights, focusing on the responsibility of private corporations to respect human rights and to grant an effective grievance mechanism.

The ability of users to recognize and reward this type of behaviour has the potential to generate a virtuous circle, whereby consumer demand drives the market towards human rights-compliant solutions. Accordingly, the utilisation of model contractual-provisions may prove instrumental to foster trust in online services for content production, use and dissemination, allowing platform-users to directly identify those platforms that ensure the respect of their rights in a responsible manner.

The establishment of the DC PR seems therefore necessary to initiate a multi-stakeholder endeavour aimed at the elaboration of the aforementioned model contractual-provisions.