The UN’s Blueprint for the Internet Could End Up Breaking It

Sabhanaz Rashid Diya is the founding Board Director at Tech Global Institute. August 30, 2019: The logo of the UNESCO on the main building in Paris, France. Shutterstock In the Fall of ’22, UNESCO — the United Nations’ cultural, education, and sciences arm — embarked on a bold mission: to fix the Internet. At first glance, it may seem unusual for an organization more known for its mandate to preserve heritage sites and promote education, to take a central role in defining one of the most contentious intellectual and political debates of our time. Then again, the Internet, particularly social media platforms, is as much culture as it is science, and there have been longstanding demands for an international content governance framework. UNESCO’s intervention posed to be a promising first step and was cautiously welcomed, in principle, by a wide range of stakeholders. Nine months later, things have dramatically changed. Grassroots civil society, human rights, and progressive advocacy groups in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are concerned that UNESCO’s Guidelines for Regulating Digital Platforms could seriously impugn democratic movements around the world. In an open letter to UNESCO, over 50 Asian civil society and rights organizations expressed their fear that the proposal would legitimize all national regulations, which would further enable authoritarian regimes to weaponize and fragment the Internet. Rather than focusing on high-level principles that would form the basis of any regulatory framework, the Guidelines put the onus of defending freedom of expression and combating online harms on national regulatory systems. In fact,…The UN’s Blueprint for the Internet Could End Up Breaking It