March 13, 2019 - Institute Fellow Richard Whitt Collaborates on Transatlantic Content Moderation Working Group

Institute Fellow Richard Whitt has been busy, on both sides of the Atlantic.  This past week, in Austin, Texas, he led a SXSW session entitled “Want to Fix the Web?  Equip the Users.” On March 4th, he led a workshop at Georgetown Law on his GLIAnet Project to build a more trustworthy and accountable Web.

And the prior weekend, Whitt was at historic Ditchley Park, outside London, to participate in the inaugural session of the Transatlantic High-Level Working Group on Content Moderation and Freedom of Expression.  Organized and directed by former FCC Commissioner Susan Ness, Distinguished Fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, the Working Group includes European and North American members with backgrounds in government, civil society, and industry.

Meeting from February 28th to March 3rd, the Working Group engaged in four days of intense dialogue centered on establishing best practices and recommendations to assist governments, tech companies and civil society in addressing illegal and harmful online content.  The key challenge, all participants acknowledged, is to protect the core principle of freedom of expression, even as governments and industries strive to reduce hate speech and disinformation.

The Working Group aims to ensure that policymakers in this space fully consider transatlantic perspectives, freedom of expression, and the due process of law.  Whitt contributed to the conversation as a strategic advisor, emphasizing the need to utilize systems thinking and design approaches that support functionally-robust analyses and solutions.

Key areas of agreement among the participants included:

  • Freedom of expression is a core value that needs protection by governments, the public, and industry.

  • Problems should be addressed in the most specific and concrete fashion, with an evidence-based approach to both problem definition and applied solutions.

  • Transparency by both governments and industry is an important enabler, to more accurately assess the necessity and character of government response.

  • Approaches should consider rights and obligations of all parties in the ecosystem — governments and users as well as platforms — and be sensitive to capacity differences among the players in all three groups. For example, over-regulation can have the unintended consequence of reducing opportunities for smaller players who have fewer resources to comply.

The Working Group will have a second meeting in May 2019, where it will focus on disinformation and on finding shared conclusions and recommendations. In the upcoming months it will present its discussions and preliminary findings, as well as receive feedback from stakeholders, at various round table meetings and other events in Europe and the US.

You read more about the Transatlantic Working Group project here.