Terms of use: Applying a human rights framework to social media platforms

Human rights
Human Rights by HeadsOfBirds from the Noun Project

To better demarcate the lines between freedom of speech and censorship, the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls for social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram to apply a human rights framework to their terms of use.

It would be great to see EFF and other digital rights organizations lead on what this means in practice, providing a template, checklist or ‘Declaration of Social Media Human Rights’ that companies could pledge and be held accountable to.

One idea would be to turn platform policies — such as Twitter’s civic integrity policy — into an open source document where the public could view and comment on. We’d start to publicly see where there are flaws and how they could be resolved. This would be a huge shift in how these companies work and expose terms they may not want visibility on, but it would also help to democratize places of community that, while owned by private companies, are becoming more and more like publicly managed spaces.

From EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry:

The decisions by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and others to suspend and/or block President Trump’s communications via their platforms is a simple exercise of their rights, under the First Amendment and Section 230, to curate their sites. We support those rights. Nevertheless, we are always concerned when platforms take on the role of censors, which is why we continue to call on them to apply a human rights framework to those decisions. We also note that those same platforms have chosen, for years, to privilege some speakers—particularly governmental officials—over others, not just in the U.S., but in other countries as well. A platform should not apply one set of rules to most of its users, and then apply a more permissive set of rules to politicians and world leaders who are already immensely powerful. Instead, they should be precisely as judicious about removing the content of ordinary users as they have been to date regarding heads of state. Going forward, we call once again on the platforms to be more transparent and consistent in how they apply their rules—and we call on policymakers to find ways to foster competition so that users have numerous editorial options and policies from which to choose.

EFF’s Response to Social Media Companies’ Decisions to Block President Trump’s Accounts

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh, co-founder/CEO of ProudCity and co-host of the podcast, The Government We Need. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.

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