We appeal to the leaders of the digital platforms and social networks who have acquired wealth and power online to commit to a decisive transformation that favors reliability of information and platform accountability based on democratic principles. We ask you, Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Jack Dorsey, Jeff Bezos, Brad Smith and others, to take all necessary measures, regardless of the cost to your companies in the short term, to guarantee the right to reliable information, a constituent of the freedom of opinion and expression. We are seeking this systemic change from the leaders of digital companies wherever their headquarters are, but we are counting on you to set an example.
You are sometimes rendered dizzy by your power and the phenomena you cause. The digital platforms have had very positive effects on horizontal communication. But the information chaos – attributable to the absence of obligations – threatens democratic life, civil harmony, the survival of news media and everyone’s basic ability to distinguish true from false or to withdraw from the echo chambers surrounding them. Algorithms hierarchize content according to the platforms’ interests and even unintentionally favor sponsored content. Thanks to surveillance methods, private information becomes accessible. Conversely, news media that try to serve the public interest by revealing information are being undermined.
If there were still any need, the Covid-19 global epidemic has confirmed the importance of the right to information – meaning reliable information. The “disinfodemic” is one of the symptoms of the information chaos. Without a public debate based on “factual truths,” we cannot effectively address global and local challenges that include public health crises, armed conflicts, terrorism, corruption, discrimination, human rights violations, global warming, the decline in biodiversity and organized crime. As we said in the preamble to the International Declaration on Information and Democracy, which we drafted in the fall of 2018, “knowledge is necessary for human beings to develop their biological, psychological, social, political and economic capacities.”
In our declaration, we wrote that the global information and communication space “should preserve and strengthen our ability to address challenges of the present time, to anticipate our common destiny and to help us shape global sustainable development which takes into account the rights and interests of future generations.” This space for debate is a common good of humankind. It is the reason why 36 countries have signed the International Partnership for Information and Democracy that was launched on the sidelines of the last UN General Assembly on the basis of our declaration.
As a result of our initiative, these democratic governments urge you to respect “the principles of transparency [and] accountability (...) to foster access to reliable information and to counter the dissemination of false or manipulative information intended to deceive audiences.” They also ask you to “uphold the responsibilities incumbent on [you] according, among others, to the UN principles on business and human rights ahead of the design of new programs, software and connected devices.”
To ensure that your companies respect and promote the “common good,” to respect the necessary due diligence, you must base your actions on collaborative initiatives founded on principles. We invite you to promote reliable news and information sources in search engine algorithms in a structural manner, for example, by implementing the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI), a self-regulatory project launched by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in which 120 media outlets, unions, rights organizations, consumer groups and digital platforms have collaborated.
We invite you to work with the Information and Democracy Forum that was created in November 2019 by 11 organizations, think tanks and research centers in nine countries in order to implement the Partnership. The purpose of this independent entity is to bring together jurists, IT researchers and civil society representatives to produce recommendations for regulation and self-regulation, starting from the dilemmas posed by paradigm change in the public space. We invite you to cooperate with this civil society-led organization in order to work together to emerge from this crisis and avoid all the others that could follow.
You have managed to put unprecedented measures in place in order to combat rumors and disinformation about the coronavirus, sometimes contrary to well-entrenched practices. We salute your efforts. But the projects you have launched or supported will not suffice because they aim to rein in phenomena when it is the entire framework that needs rethinking. We are calling on you to take a huge step, in order to contribute to the implementation of a global framework that will enable public debate that is open, tolerant and as honest as possible.
- Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of RSF, co-chair of the Commission
- Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, co-chair of the Commission
- Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for digital journalism
- Teng Biao, academic lawyer and human rights activist
- Nighat Dad, founder of the Digital Rights Foundation
- Can Dündar, former editor in chief of Cumhuriyet
- Mireille Delmas-Marty, emeritus professor at Collège de France
- Francis Fukuyama, professor at Stanford University
- Ulrik Haagerup, founder of the Constructive institute
- Hauwa Ibrahim, laureate of the Sakharov Prize
- Antoine Petit, chairman and CEO of of the CNRS
- Navi Pillay, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
- Maria Ressa, journalist, CEO of Rappler
- Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize laureate in Economic Sciences
- Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Prize laureate in Economic Sciences
- Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Prize laureate in Literature
- Aidan White, founder of the Ethical Journalism Network
- Mikhail Zygar, journalist, author