IGF 2019 WS #177 Tackling illegal content online: safeguarding digital rights

Organizer 1: Charlotte Altenhöner-Dion, Council of Europe
Organizer 2: Małgorzata Pęk, Council of Europe
Organizer 3: David Reichel, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (“FRA”)
Organizer 4: Martha Stickings, EU Agency for Fundamental Rights
Organizer 5: Gajdosova Jana, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

Speaker 1: Wolfgang Schulz, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Louisa Klingvall, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 3: Rio Victoire, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Saloua Ghazouani Oueslati, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 5: Tristan Harris, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Policy Question(s): 

What sustainable solutions to address illegal content online are proportionate, comprehensive and bring accountability to all the responsible parties? How can respect for the human rights that are at stake be incorporated in such solutions? How can regulatory solutions, such as removing illegal online content, and extra-legal measures be balanced and better complement each other? How can the wide range of stakeholders better work together to address this? Who is responsible for determining what content should be removed? How do we balance the need to remove illegal content with protecting freedom of expression? How can regulation to protect human rights be effective in the global online environment? How should we define the role of automated means in tackling societal phenomena online, such as hate speech?

Relevance to Theme: Combating illegal online content, including illegal online hate speech, and minimising its criminal potential and negative impact is a task fraught with difficulties. In addition to raising profound human rights concerns, it also raises questions of how to establish effective instruments in a global online environment that crosses jurisdictions and how, practically, to deal with huge quantity and low quality of content constantly uploaded to the internet. Recognising that we are duty bound to take up the task of identifying and addressing harmful content requires collaboration between a wide range of multidisciplinary stakeholders.
This session addresses both elements, by highlighting the human rights issues at stake and bringing together different actors to discuss how they can work together and develop new tools to respond to the threats posed by harmful content online.

Relevance to Internet Governance: The challenge of addressing illegal online content, including illegal online hate speech, showcases the multi-stakeholder nature of internet governance. Determining what constitutes illegal online content is the responsibility of governments, in line with their human rights obligations, and subject to scrutiny and enforcement by the justice system. However, the global nature of the internet and content platforms, combined with the volume of potentially illegal material on the internet, means that internet companies are essential actors. Transforming established human rights norms and principles into actionable rules to protect rights online is emerging as a core challenge for internet governance.


Round Table - U-shape - 90 Min

Description: Harmful content pervades the internet. From terrorist content to racist, antisemitic, Islamophobic, homophobic or sexist hate speech, it is a phenomenon that knows no boundaries. Whether driving radicalisation or prompting long-term psychological harm among victims of online hate, its consequences can be devastating, striking at the core of human dignity. Indeed, illegal online content impacts a wide range of human rights, from privacy, data protection and freedom of expression, to effective remedy, non-discrimination and victims’ rights.
Combatting illegal online content demands a concerted and comprehensive rights-based approach. Through an interactive, multi-stakeholder discussion focused on illegal hate speech, this session aims to identify some of the key elements of a framework to effectively and efficiently identify and remove illegal content and ensure that human rights are protected online. It will offer an opportunity to reflect on the role of different actors, approaches to regulatory solutions, and the place of on- and offline actions to tackle illegal content online.
The roundtable will consist of brief opening interventions by the subject matter experts (approx. 30 mins) to highlight the instruments they have developed and are working with to ensure take down of illegal online content, followed by a discussion with and between other participants:
Moderator: introduces the subject matter experts, explains the discussion topic and highlights the key human rights issues at stake.
Wolfgang Shultz, Council of Europe: setting out the key components of a clear, rule of law based framework for detecting illegal content, including the role of internet intermediaries and obligations of states in this regard. A special focus will be given to the CoE Recommendation on the roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries.
Louisa Klingvall, European Commission: highlighting the role of voluntary codes of conduct and how different stakeholders (regional organisations, business, civil society) can work together.
Tristan Harris, Center for Humane Technology: The role of IT companies in identifying and removing illegal content and the practical implementation of content moderation tools applied by them.
Saloua Ghazouani Oueslati, Article 19 Tunisia and the MENA Region: Defining main pitfalls of current regulatory approaches to online content, especially in the context of online hate speech.
Victoire Rio, Myanmar Innovation Lab: Discussing the specific situation in Myanmar and Facebook’s responses to violence-inciting messages spreading across the platform in this particular national context.
To support practical outcomes and substantive policy discussions, subject matter experts will be provided with a set of guiding questions prepared by the organisers. These will ensure that each of the key policy questions are addressed. Discussion during the session will be facilitated by keeping the opening interventions short, leaving the bulk of the session for exchanges of questions and ideas with and between the walk-in participants and speakers. Speakers will be encouraged to respond to each other’s interventions, and those of the audience.

Expected Outcomes: Discussions are underway at the national, regional and international level – as well as among business – about how best to tackle the phenomenon of illegal online content. This session will contribute to ensuring human rights considerations are hardwired into policy debates by identifying some of the key elements that any regulatory regime needs to take into account. Participants will gain insight into existing instruments to address illegal online content, such illegal hate speech, and learn about the roles that different actors in the process can play.

Onsite Moderator: 

Gajdosova Jana, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization

Online Moderator: 

Martha Stickings, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization


David Reichel, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization

Discussion Facilitation: 

At the outset of the session, the moderator will introduce some key questions to the audience, encouraging them to reflect on them during the opening interventions by the subject matter experts and to contribute their ideas and suggestions on these issues during the discussions. Throughout the session, the moderator will proactively reach out to walk-in participants, encouraging them to not only ask questions, but to share their own ideas and experiences. Speakers will be clearly briefed on the format, and encouraged to ask their own questions to each other and other participants.

Online Participation: 

Usage of IGF Tool

Proposed Additional Tools: The co-organisers will actively promote the session on social media, encouraging remote participation and exchanges on the issues raised during the discussion. Remote participants will be able to pose questions to subject matter experts and other participants during the session. A special hashtag will be created, digital promotional materials will be published on official online platforms of both co-organisers and finally, both co-organisers will be running social media campaigns with a specific focus on Twitter and Facebook platforms.


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