Late last month, the World Economic Forum (WEF) called for a “global framework to regulate harm online.”
A new report by the WEF examined various “issues” and potential “solutions” when it comes to improving “online safety.” The organization noted that “Digital platforms used by billions of people around the world are being misused to cause harm and endanger people” and that “Urgent areas of concern, including child exploitation, highlight fundamental deficiencies in the current digital media ecosystem.”
“The pandemic highlighted the importance of online safety, as many aspects of our lives, including work, education, and entertainment became fully virtual,” the WEF claimed. “With more than 4.7 billion internet users globally, decisions about what content people should be able to create, see, and share online had (and continues to have) significant implications for people across the world.”
The new report, titled, “Advancing Digital Safety: A Framework to Align Global Action,” defines three “fundamental issues” which need to be “addressed:”
- How should the safety of digital platforms be assessed?
- What is the responsibility of the private and public sectors in governing safety online?
- How can industry‑wide progress be measured?
“While many parts of the world are now moving along a recovery path out of the COVID-19 pandemic, some major barriers remain to emerge from this crisis with safer societies online and offline,” the WEF continued. “By analyzing the following three urgent areas of harm we can start to better understand the interaction between goals of privacy, free expression, innovation, profitability, responsibility, and safety.”
The problems referenced by the WEF include “health misinformation,” arguing that “One main challenge to online safety is the proliferation of health misinformation, particularly when it comes to vaccines.”
“Child exploitation and abuse” is another area of focus.
“Other troubling activity online has soared during the pandemic: reports showed a jump in consumption and distribution of child sexual exploitation and abuse material (CSEAM) across the web,” the WEF stated. “With one in three children exposed to sexual content online, it is the largest risk kids face when using the web.”
Finally, the WEF discussed “violent extremism and terrorism,” arguing that “The pandemic exposed deep-seated social and political divides which reached a breaking point in 2021 as seen in acts of terrorism, violence, and extremism globally.”
“In the US, the 6th January Capitol Insurrection led to a deeper look at how groups like QAnon were able to organize online and necessitated a better understanding of the relationship between social platforms and extremist activity,” the WEF added.
“In collaboration with over 50 experts across government, civil society, academia, and business, the World Economic Forum has developed a user-centric framework, outlined in the new report with minimum harm thresholds, auditable recommendation systems, appropriate use of personal details, and adequate complaint protocols to create a safety baseline for use of digital products and services,” the WEF concluded in their announcement. “While this is a starting point to guide better governance of decisions on digital platforms impacting user safety, more deliberate coordination between the public and private sector is needed — today, the launch of the newly formed Global Coalition for Digital Safety aims to accomplish this very goal.”
The WEF is based in Switzerland and is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) “committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.”