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Reinforcing the Transparency of Online Platforms, an Essential Pillar for Information to Remain a Public Good

The recent developments highlighting the need for greater online platform transparency have prompted many businesses to consider implementing this measure into their respective structures. However, one must remember that without appropriate measures to ensure the same, such measures may do more harm than good. For instance, by implementing strict measures against fake profiles on social media platforms, the social media giants may unintentionally stifle the free speech rights of their customers.
Transparency of online platforms is an idea whose time has come. It’s a subject we need to talk more about in the error of the internet.

The operation of online platforms now more than ever touch on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights like the right to information and freedom of expression.
If online platforms have to reveal significant information about their operations to regulators and to the public, they are more likely to conform to public values and expectations. Transparency should be an essential part of a comprehensive regulatory system for online platforms.

We may all agree that without online platforms, social, political, environmental and ethical ills would have minimal visibility. Increased visibility of issues has shifted the balance of power from the hands of a few to the masses. On the other hand, the same platforms have been used to spread disinformation. Transparency of online platforms is therefore critical to counter the rise of disinformation, misinformation and online hate speech.
Information and communication technologies facilitate the flow of information between governments and the public. In this regard, it is essential to work towards improved access to information and communication technologies and broadband networks in order to bridge the digital divide and to recognize the contribution of international cooperation in this regard.

We reaffirm that, in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need strong institutions at all levels that are effective, transparent, accountable and democratic. We recognize the crucial role played by the right of access to information; Access to Information is a bridge to sustainable development.

Strengthening coordination between national digital coordinators and governments will increase the coherence and ability of authorities to monitor, calibrate and enforce measures. There should be a framework for establishing such cooperation in crisis situations, establishing crisis protocols and appropriate control mechanisms between platforms and authorities.

For information to remain a public good, it is time to enforce real and legally binding transparency of the online service providers that structure the global information and communication space in the 21st century and beyond. It is crucial that we move from self-regulation to public regulation for transparency requirements of digital platforms, while making sure to protect freedom of expression, access to information and not stifle innovation.

But most importantly, transparency should be adopted according to the rule-of-law standards as understood for democratic societies. It is not a duty of only online platforms, it must be an obligation of governments as well. However, legally enforced transparency is not a silver bullet that will fix all the issues surrounding online platforms, but is a necessary condition to develop a more balanced equilibrium of power between the private platforms and democratic societies.

AFIC therefore recommends that:

1. There is an absolute and urgent need to access the same level of transparency and accountability all around the world for online platforms in order to solve many online content moderation and disinformation issues.

2. Whether at regional or national level, transparency regulation model should be carefully crafted to prevent abusive regulator coercion of platforms, or coercion by political actors working for the political ends of the regulator itself, or by the political party that happens to be in government.

3.The regulator should be prohibited from reaching into the activities of the platforms to direct or dictate a political outcome or to gather intelligence to be used to favor some political actors over others.

4. It is important to harmonize transparency requirements and to prevent politically motivated abuse of national regulations. Regional democratic institutions like the European Union, African Union can play a significant role. These institutions also have the capacity to face global online platforms and allow for better checks and balances.

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