A vision of ‘good’ regulation of digital media platforms: what role for public scrutiny?

Curator's Note

Imagine public scrutiny would be in place and govern speech online. Further, envision that this governance would be exercised in a ‘good’ manner by regulators acting with democratic legitimacy following the rule of law. Also, they would pursue public interest agendas: agreed upon shared values subject to open debate and reflective to perpetual societal changes. Within this imaginary scenario, global speech providers (aka platforms) would not only be compelled to mitigate tensions between their own standards and local laws, but proactively seek co-regulatory measures in a consultative and accountable fashion.

The realisation of this vision is the challenge 28[1] European Union Member States and their corresponding 44 national regulators are confronted with right now. The recently adopted amendments to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive are to be implemented at national level by March 2020, opening the door for a new regulatory regime to online video-sharing and social media platforms. Audiovisual media content hosted by platforms will be subject to broadcast-like regulation at least with regards to hate speech, harmful content to minors and terrorist content. National lawmakers are to come up with legislative solutions stretching their jurisdictional boundaries yet meaningfully correspond with their local rules and enforcement traditions. This exercise is truly novel and the path is unknown.

Let’s take the issue of hate speech online: is there a way to harmonise diverging regulations and, more importantly, the underlying historical and cultural differences in the context of Europe? Actually, how distinct or conflicting are they and could there be an opportunity for approximation? The numerous and complex grounds to render incitement to hatred illegal, including race, sex, nationality, morals, anti-Semitism and Xenophobia – just to name a few – embedded in domestic laws reflect on past and current European traumas and the several challenges societies are faced with.

The momentum offers a unique and distinct chance for a European and human rights-based answer towards global speakers. A visionary outline of a new co-regulatory regime which foresees the interaction and correspondence between national and Union level Codes of Conducts subject to regular, transparent and independent monitoring and enforcement by national regulators could be the first step in this direction.




[1] At the time of writing Brexit was still pending.

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