By: Emmi Kivi
July 4 2023
The U.N. Code of Conduct emphasizes a human rights approach in regulating online platforms, and does not call for more censorship.
An article published on Reclaim the Net website claimed that the United Nations is plotting a “Code Of Conduct” to introduce increased censorship for online platforms to combat misinformation. The article alleges that the regulatory overreach has left legal scholars and civil liberties organizations worried that the proposal could violate freedom of speech.
The article was published in response to the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ speech at the launch of the Information Integrity on Digital Platforms policy brief on June 12. The article was re-published on Infowars, a well-known far-right conspiracy news channel. Similar claims have surfaced on TikTok.
The U.N. policy brief on information integrity criticizes misuse of regulatory power, and flawed and overbroad legislation that risks the possibility of human rights infringements. In his speech, Guterres encouraged “a commitment by governments, tech companies, and other stakeholders to refrain from using, supporting, or amplifying disinformation and hate speech for any purpose" and pledges governments “to guarantee a free, viable, independent, and plural media landscape.” Instead, “the path towards stronger information integrity needs to be human rights-based, multi-stakeholder, and multi-dimensional,” and not through increased censorship.
In the brief’s introduction, Guterres explains that the potential principles identified in the code of conduct aim to guide “Member States, the digital platforms and other stakeholders in their efforts to make the digital space more inclusive and safe for all, while vigorously defending the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to access information.” The U.N. General Assembly and the Human Rights Council resolutions have repeatedly concurred that human rights must be protected online.
Evidence does not support the claim that scholars and civil liberty organizations have expressed severe concern. According to the U.N. brief, it underwent consultations with civil society, academics, experts, and the private sector, and these discussions will continue in the future. Two umbrella networks advocating for the freedom of expression, IFEX and Global Network Initiative, have welcomed U.N.’s platform regulation initiatives, echoing its human rights approach. The U.N. has received criticism from civil liberties organizations and scholars for being too ineffective, vague, and broad in its efforts to regulate digital platforms.
The U.N.'s Code of Conduct emphasizes a human rights-based approach to countering misinformation, stating that regulation should guarantee that freedom of expression is protected. There is no evidence that the U.N. calls for more censorship. Therefore, we have marked this claim as false.