SOCIAL MEDIA COUNCILS: A MODEL FOR THE OVERSIGHT OF CONTENT MODERATION ON SOCIAL MEDIA

For the second session of GFMD’s members-only webinar series, Pierre François Docquir, Head of Media Freedom at ARTICLE 19, presented their ongoing initiative to develop Social Media Councils (SMC) for the moderation of content on online platforms. This project offers an alternative to social media platforms governing decisions related to content moderation in a public forum.

Context

ARTICLE 19’s Social Media Councils project started in response to the variety of roles that social media platforms play in the media landscape and the large amount of control they possess over the content users interact with. Beyond simply hosting the content, the platforms have become key players in the circulation and distribution of news, potentially facilitating a substantial influence on public debate. Problems have arisen amidst the ambiguity surrounding decisions on what the public can and cannot share on these platforms. Issues such as a lack of opacity in the handling of content, the lack of mechanisms for users to discuss and appeal issues with the platforms, and the absence of international basic standards on freedom of expression have illustrated a need for SMCs.

Governance of the councils

SMCs are proposed as voluntary mechanisms to moderate content practices of the participating platforms. All participants (social media platforms and other stakeholders) sign up to a mechanism that does not create legal obligations for either party. Its strength and efficiency rely on voluntary compliance by platforms, whose commitment, when signing up, will be to respect and execute the SMC’s decisions (or recommendations) in good faith. These councils would be autonomous and transparent organisms in which various stakeholders have a say. Ideally the councils would serve as representatives of civil society as a whole, composed of unions and associations of journalists, academics, human rights groups, the advertisement industry, and vulnerable group.

Social Media Councils would be guided by a code of principles based on international law in regards to freedom of expression and would operate in two major areas:

  • Elaborating guidelines for social media platforms, setting international standards for content moderation.
  • Functioning as an appeals mechanism, reviewing cases on an individual basis. For this task, the first approach will be left to algorithms and internal processes, leaving the SMC as the last instance to appeal. Thus, big and difficult cases taken on by SMCs could be set as precedents to guide following decisions.

Aims of Social Media Councils

The main goal of SMCs is that all national and international actors would take part in deciding the particularities of each situation which requires a specific response in terms of content moderation, making the participation of all relevant stakeholders a necessity to adapt on a case by case basis.

At present, Social Media Councils are being set up for a pilot program at a national level. Moreover, this initiative is open for public consultation to gather opinions on certain aspects that will shape SMCs going forward such as: the international standards SMCs should adopt, which functions it should take on, its local or global focus, and what jurisdiction and definitions should be accounted for. You can take part in the consultation process here: www.article19.org/social-media-council