Is UNESCO seeking to regulate all internet content?

We came across a post on X claiming that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is seeking to regulate all internet content.

The post links to an article by The Expose – a UK-based website that projects itself as an alternative to the “lying mainstream media”- alleging that the United Nations (UN) has been “quietly granted full regulatory control over the Internet, allowing the unelected organization to censor or punish anybody who threatens to disrupt the globalist agenda”.

The article references a report published by UNESCO titled “Guidelines for the Governance of Digital Platforms: Safeguarding freedom of expression and access to information through a multistakeholder approach” seemingly as proof that the UN aims to regulate all content on the internet. The guidelines, which were published digitally on 6 November 2023, highlight the steps UNESCO seeks to take to protect the online community from false information and hate speech.

Subsequently, the article merely reproduces the press release by UNESCO unveiling the guidelines without giving any further justification or evidence of its stance that the UN has been given control over all internet content.

Additionally, the article also contains a screenshot of an X post by Audrey Azoulay, Director-General, UNESCO, on the need to regulate digital platforms “without delay” to combat the spread of false information and hate speech. Without additional context, it may lead to the conclusion that UNESCO is taking steps towards regulating the digital information space directly.

“Guidelines for the Governance of Digital Platforms”

According to UNESCO, the “Guidelines for the Governance of Digital Platforms”, which was first discussed at UNESCO’s “Internet of Trust” conference in February 2023, aims to protect users from disinformation and hate speech, so as to protect “freedom of expression, access to information, and diverse cultural content”.

The guidelines highlight the responsibilities of digital platforms to respect human rights, as well as the roles of major actors including the state, intergovernmental organisations, civil society, as well as the media, to build an “open, safe and secure environment for digital platform users and non-users”. Some of the recommendations include promoting media and information literacy to strengthen positive engagement with digital platforms and promoting meaningful access to the internet.

Rather than adopting full regulatory control of the internet, the UNESCO guidelines aim to create a template for all member states to help protect their citizens from the dangers of disinformation and hate speech. The guidelines are meant more as a helpful resource for policymakers and other relevant stakeholders as opposed to legally binding obligations.

To support the adoption of these guidelines, UNESCO will help member states to transpose this framework into their own laws and regulations, and the organisation will also be hosting the first World Conference of Regulators in mid-2024.

Therefore, the guidelines do not grant UNESCO, or the UN, authority to regulate all internet content. Rather, it seeks to recommend a comprehensive framework for all relevant stakeholders, both state and non-state actors, that the checks and balances in place to tackle disinformation and hate speech online are in line with international human rights law.

Hence, the claim made by The Expose is false, and UNESCO, and by extension the UN, is not looking to regulate all internet content.

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