APC policy explainer: Platform responsibility and accountability
Author : APC
Focus Area : Any Other
Publication Type: Gender, Human Rights, Information & Communication Technology (ICT), Internet governance, Governance , Security
Publication Date: November, 2020


Platform responsibility and accountability are terms that evolved in the context of the expanding role that social media platforms play in managing, moderating and curating content online and in removing user accounts. Not holding the carriers or hosters of online content liable for the content their users share and create is important to ensure freedom of expression and the free flow of information. This is reflected in the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability. The notion of platform “responsibility and accountability” is not a retreat from this position. What it implies is that even if they are not to be held legally liable for the content they make available, platforms do need to take responsibility and be accountable for their own actions to manipulate, rank, filter, moderate and take down content or user accounts. Platform responsibility and accountability are also necessary for these intermediaries to live up to their responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The problem Social media platforms are used to form opinions, for expression, to associate and organise with others, and to protest. They enable participation in public life, often for people who, without the internet, would not be able to do so. When these platforms remove content or user accounts, it constrains activism and silences dissent. Bias in how content is moderated – or not moderated – can result in, for example, ethnic violence offline. Misogynistic and anti-feminist speech makes online spaces hostile and unsafe for women. Disinformation is moderated in opaque ways, undermining trust in democratic processes. Companies that operate these platforms regulate content in ways that lack clarity and consistency. They often violate rights without accountability or remedy for users. The change we want to see Companies should use international human rights law as the authoritative global standard for ensuring freedom of expression and other rights on their platforms, not the varying laws of states or their own private interests. How APC works on this issue By contributing to policy processes, and raising awareness. We will also engage critically with social media platforms, calling on them to align their terms of service (ToS) and community guidelines with international human rights standards; to be more transparent and consistent in their application of their ToS and community guidelines; to provide users with access to remedy; and to be more responsive to users outside of North America and Europe, as well as those in positions of marginalisation or vulnerability. The idea of a “social media council”, proposed by ARTICLE 19, can facilitate greater transparency and accountability on the part of platforms. This will prevent civil society from having to negotiate with “one platform at a time” and having to sign non-disclosure agreements.