IGF 2020 WS #313 Protecting users, protecting rights: Regulation and ToS


Organizer 1: Government, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Organizer 2: Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Organizer 3: Government, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Speaker 1: Raman Jit Singh Chima, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Laura Cole, Government, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Joan Barata, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Gabrielle GUILLEMIN, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Round Table - Circle - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

• What do we know about users’ trust of online platforms? Should this evidence inform a regulatory approach, and if so how? • New European regulation of video-sharing platforms aims to judge the adequacy of platforms' own responses to protecting their users from certain types of harmful content. What consequently might be expected to change, in platforms' ToS and actions, as a result? • What is the risk of further fragmentation in cyberspace as a result of the proliferation of national and regional regulatory regimes? • What do users need to help them understand what protections and rights they can expect from regulation?

Questions to be addressed will include: • What is the possible impact on human rights of underpinning existing self-defined Terms of Service with statutory regulatory powers? Will regulatory enforcement of ToS mean increased risks to freedom of expression, or does it in fact offer a route to greater protection for users’ rights? • The definition of hate speech enshrined in the law vs in platforms’ ToS. Twitter’s Rules or Facebook’s Community Standards generally go beyond what is established by national legislation and even international standards. What are the unintended consequences of regulating the relationship between digital platforms and end users? • Are concerns of over-removals potentially curtailing free speech warranted? Could redress mechanisms provided to users by law incentivise platforms to take action under ToS, side-stepping from legal safeguards? • Country of origin principle: Can national criminal laws, national media laws, European laws, ToS, which have sometimes contradicting demands, be reconciled?


GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


As legislative proposals for regulating digital platforms gain traction in Europe and beyond, it becomes imperative to discuss the challenges posed by having different levels of regulation and governance. In particular, the interaction between platforms’ Terms of Service (ToS), and formal regulatory regimes. These challenges are under-examined, and close examination can throw up some uncomfortable truths. Our proposed discussion will seek to explore and uncover some of the tensions and risks created by attempts to combine content moderation based on the law, with the measures adopted on the exclusive basis of platforms’ own ToS. Whereas the former is designed with a series of legal safeguards and protections for users, the latter are not – and the uneasy relationship between the two may come into stark relief as a model of ‘regulated self-regulation’ emerges, with independent regulators seeing to set parameters for, and underpin, platforms’ own governance. Whose rights will the regulators really be working to protect? This workshop will bring together the perspective of an independent regulator preparing to implement one of the first online content regulatory regimes in Europe, with voices from academia and civil society. Following a series of introductory remarks, an inclusive dialogue will be encouraged including with all workshop attendees.

Expected Outcomes

A number of publications on the LSE Media Policy Blog have developed these discussions already, and we would anticipate further publications in that series, as a result of this further discussion at the IGF and the introduction of new, global perspectives into the debate. Many countries are at a stage of developing national regimes for online regulation, or implementing the new European regime for video-sharing platforms. This discussion will be timely: affording an opportunity to influence those national developments.

The round-table format is intended to facilitate and encourage interaction and participation. This was used successfully for a previous iteration of this workshop held at Ofcom, UK.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Digital platforms have emerged and scaled in an environment that has largely exempted them from any legal responsibility on the content they host, and have in this context developed their own ToS/Community Guidelines. In recent years, liability exemptions have been questioned as platforms’ dominance and role continues to grow in our society. Pushes for regulatory intervention and demand for “duty of care” obligations on platforms have become a focal point of discussion (and tensions) in various countries. In Europe particularly, a new regime imposing legal obligations on video-sharing platforms (VSPs) will be implemented across Member States by September 2020. This is the first piece of legislation at a European level addressing content regulation on any kind of digital platform, and it remains to be seen whether it, or further, forthcoming European law such as the 'Digital Services Act', will become a global paradigm for internet content regulation, as GDPR has for data protection. As new laws and regulatory regimes come into force, it is crucial to explore their impact on internet companies that have long been subject only to self-governance, and on internet users, in terms of their protection from harm but also their rights to freedom of expression. Further, the session will also explore the application of national/international jurisdictions and the challenges raised by new national and regional laws governing a domain that is inherently global and borderless.

Relevance to Theme: “Trust” Effective online regulation is ultimately a balancing exercise between safeguarding citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms online (e.g freedom of speech) while protecting them (and the most vulnerable) from various harms. Users' trust in platforms and in independent regulation of content online, is paramount if the current digital ecosystem is to be sustained and developed. Citizens' trust in public policy outcomes being successfully secured, is also important. Therefore the themes to be explored in this session are of vital importance. The session will also explore the different roles and responsibilities of Government, independent regulatory authorities, civil society and industry, in ensuring that trust is maintained and strengthened, while fostering an honest conversation about the unintended consequences and new challenges arising from regulating digital platforms.

Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool.