In a letter to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called for an end to hate speech and stressed that what happened on January 8 in Brasilia was the culmination of an operation that used lies as ammunition. Hence, he advocated the regulation of digital platforms to address the dissemination of lies and misinformation in the virtual environment.
The Workers' Party leader also said that it was necessary to combat the concentration of the digital market by democratizing the Internet and promoting the autonomy of developing countries in this area.
In response to an invitation from the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, Lula sent the letter, which was read on Wednesday (22), in Paris, at the opening of the Internet for Trust conference. With the event, Unesco proposes the discussion of global guidelines to regulate digital platforms, improve the reliability of information and protect freedom of expression and human rights.
We need a balance. On the one hand, we need to ensure the exercise of individual freedom of expression, which is a fundamental human right. On the other hand, we need to ensure a collective right: the right of society to receive reliable information, not lies and misinformation. We also cannot allow the integrity of our democracies to be affected by the decisions of a few actors who currently control the platforms, wrote Lula.
The coordinator of Alana Institute's Children and Consumption program, Maria Mello, who participated in the discussions at the UNESCO event in Paris, pointed out that the whole world has been debating and advancing on platform regulation and that a communication effort is necessary to show that we are not talking about censorship. She compared the measures already taken regarding tobacco consumption in Brazil, where the product continues to be produced and sold, but based on parameters that ensure greater safety to the population.
Children are affected by problems ranging from the collection and processing of their personal data with the aim of behavioral modulation, advertising targeting, which is illegal in our country, to the addiction that the engagement-based business model generates, through the consumption of misinformative and hateful content, among many other risks, said Mello.
Because they are hypervulnerable, children should have special protection wherever they are, including on the Internet. All sectors of society, including digital platforms, must assume their duty of care towards children and adolescents on the Internet, she added.
In his letter to Unesco, Lula said that the Jan. 8 attacks on the headquarters of the three branches of government were the result of a campaign managed, organized, and disseminated through various digital platforms and messaging applications.
What happened that day was the culmination of a campaign, started much earlier, that used lies and misinformation as ammunition. And it had democracy and the credibility of Brazilian institutions as targets.
Lula said it was the same method that had already generated acts of violence elsewhere in the world; this has to stop.
For Lula, the regulation of platforms has to be done in a transparent way, and with social participation, to ensure its efficiency, and be coordinated multilaterally at the international level, involving governments, experts, and civil society. The regulation should guarantee the exercise of individual and collective rights.
Lula also said that digital platforms have defined the way people communicate, relate to each other, and consume products and services. For the president, the Internet has brought extraordinary results to the global economy and societies, helping to promote and spread knowledge, facilitating trade, increasing productivity, and expanding the supply of services and the circulation of information.
In another measure, the president says that the digital environment has brought about the concentration of market and power in the hands of a few companies and countries. It has also brought risks to democracy. Risks to the civilized coexistence between people. Risks to public health. The dissemination of misinformation during the pandemic contributed to thousands of deaths. Hate speeches make victims every day. And the most affected are the most vulnerable sectors of our societies.
President Lula also stressed that it was necessary to reduce the digital divide and promote the autonomy of developing countries in this area. For the president, the benefits gained from the development of the Internet and digital platforms are distributed disproportionately among people of different income levels, widening social inequality.
We need to guarantee access to the Internet for all, and to promote the education and skills necessary for an active and conscious insertion of our citizens into the digital world. Developing countries must be able to act in a sovereign manner in the modern data economy, as agents and not just as data exporters or passive consumers of content, he wrote.
Unesco representatives stated that digital platforms have been used as vectors of disinformation, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and other content potentially harmful to democracy and human rights. Thousands of representatives from governments, regulatory bodies, digital companies, universities, and civil society are participating in person or remotely in this meeting at Unesco headquarters in Paris.
We cannot allow the integrity of our democracies to be affected by the decisions of a few players who today control the platforms, Lula also underlined.
At the opening of the forum, Unesco's Director General Audrey Azoulay argued that the great dangers of the Internet today (disinformation and the rise of hate speech) were not an anomaly or a momentary accident but a consequence of the economic model of the major platforms. We need guidelines, remarked the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and we need them now.
Also participating in the conference were Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Secretary-General Christophe Deloire and Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, a Nobel Prize laureate who called for an end to impunity on the Internet. Otherwise, she warned, the digital sphere will continue to reward the exploitation of lies and fears.
We are in a very different world, where freedom of expression is used to crush freedom of expression, she argued.
(with input from Agência Brasil and UNESCO sources)