UNESCO boss calls for stricter regulation of social media

PARIS (AP) — The head of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Agency on Wednesday called for a global dialogue to find ways to regulate social media companies and limit their role in spreading misinformation around the world .

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, addressed a gathering of lawmakers, journalists and civil society from around the world to discuss ways to regulate social media platforms like Twitter and others to make the internet a safer, fact-based space .

The two-day conference in Paris aims to formulate policies that would help regulators, governments and companies manage content that undermines democracy and human rights, while supporting freedom of expression and promoting access to accurate and reliable information.

The global dialogue should provide the legal tools and principles of accountability and responsibility for social media companies to contribute to the “public good,” Azoulay said in an interview with The Associated Press on the sidelines of the conference. She added, “It would limit the risks that we see today, that we live today, disinformation (and) conspiracy theories spreading faster than the truth.”

The European Union passed landmark law last year that will force big tech companies like Google and Facebook parent Meta to tighten their platforms’ surveillance to protect European users from hate speech, disinformation and harmful content.

The Digital Services Act is one of the top three pieces of EU legislation targeting the technology industry.

In the United States, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission have filed major antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook, though Congress remains politically divided over efforts to combat online disinformation, competition, privacy and more.

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Filipino journalist and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa told attendees at the Paris conference that legislation that would prevent social media companies from “spreading misinformation on their platforms” was long overdue.

Ressa is a longtime critic of social media platforms, which she says have “put democracy at risk” and prevented societies from solving problems like climate change and the rise of authoritarianism around the world.

Through “the insidious manipulation of people on the scale that is happening now, (they) have changed our values ​​and it has led to cascading failure,” Ressa said in an interview with the AP on Wednesday.

“If you don’t have common facts, how do we deal with climate change?” Resa said. “If everything can be discussed, if trust is destroyed, there is no meaningful exchange.”

She added: “Just a reminder, democracy is not just about speeches. It’s about listening. It’s about finding compromises that are impossible in today’s world of technology.”


Nicholas Garriga in Paris contributed

Ian Phillips, The Associated Press