Initially hailed as tools for strengthening human rights and democracy, the internet and social media are increasingly blamed for driving democracy’s decline around the world. Tech companies like Google and Facebook have become goliath monopolies, collecting vast amounts of information about users while controlling global information flows with inadequate transparency about policies affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy. As social media has become a prime source of news and information, political elites have become more savvy at exploiting digital platforms and social networks to spread misinformation and manipulate public opinion.
These challenges have raised new debates about if and how to control the internet and how to hold companies accountable. In Europe, lawmakers are implementing tougher regulations to control the spread of “fake news” and hate speech on social media platforms, and pushing for laws requiring companies to censor “terrorist” content. But is censoring the internet the answer? What types of policies and practices should companies be expected to implement and uphold? Can companies be trusted to regulate themselves?
CMDS presents a discussion with Rebecca MacKinnon, director of Ranking Digital Rights, about approaches holding internet companies accountable to the public interest and the need for greater transparency from companies about the policies and practices affecting users’ human rights. Ranking Digital Rights produces a Corporate Accountability Index that ranks the world’s most powerful internet, mobile and telecommunications companies on their disclosed policies and practices affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy.
The discussion will be moderated by Andrew Byrne, Financial Times correspondent for Hungary, Romania and the western Balkans.
Rebecca MacKinnon is director of the Ranking Digital Rights project. She is the author of Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle For Internet Freedom (2012) and co-founder of the citizen media network Global Voices Online. MacKinnon serves on the Board of Directors of the Committee to Protect Journalists and was a founding board member of the Global Network Initiative. In 2013 she was a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and affiliate at the Annenberg School for Communication’s Center for Global Communication Studies. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, MacKinnon worked as a journalist for CNN based in China and Japan for a total of 12 years. She has held fellowships at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press and Publicy Policy and Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Open Society Fellowship, and Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, and was an Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre. MacKinnon received her AB magna cum laude from Harvard University and was a Fulbright scholar in Taiwan in 1991-92. She lives in Washington DC.
Andrew Byrne is the Financial Times correspondent for Hungary, Romania and the western Balkans since 2014. Prior to this he worked in the FT’s Brussels Bureau and was a policy analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels and the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) in Rome.