International Grand Committee on Disinformation

Our Mission

Lighthouse Robert Wiedemann

Forging international alliances to combat the spread of online disinformation, hate speech, and electoral interference

The rapid, unregulated expansion of social media is causing lasting harm to the world’s societies and democracies. So long as the technology giants who own these platforms are permitted to put profits ahead of people, malevolent actors will continue to be able to use social media to spread disinformation, spew hate, and disrupt elections.

Similar online harms are permitted to perpetuate for the very same reason. Knowing this, hate groups and extremist governments routinely utilize social media platforms to intimidate minorities and incite violence. Foreign agents and domestic provocateurs use the platforms to deepen divisions, promote hate, and suppress voter turnout in nations around the world. All the while, the foundation of democracy continues to crumble.

As the global COVID-19 death toll rises to previously unfathomable levels, dangerous online disinformation spreads even faster than the virus itself. Due to the unchecked business practices of digital media platforms, public health disinformation is amplified by algorithms designed to maximize only viewer engagement and ad sales. Changing those algorithms to promote less provocative “real news” would save undoubtedly lives — but cut into profits.

“This is a pivotal moment. If we don’t address the weaknesses of the internet as it exists today, we will face insurmountable obstacles for the future of our democracy.” — David Cicilline (IGC ex-officio member and U.S. House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman)

On social media platforms, routine violence to our institutions and our people exists alongside consumer fraud, child exploitation, and other outrages because social media companies choose not to step in and stop them from spreading. The platforms have the capacity and technological know-how to prevent or mitigate the impact of these harms, but their business models — from which they have reaped untold profits — argue against imposing and enforcing basic standards of truth and decency. This must change. Some of Big’ Tech’s unprecedented profits should be used to protect social media users and the societies in which they live.

Therefore, in the absence of action by the companies themselves to fix their flawed and negligently managed products, the IGC believes it is the governments of the world that must act to save democracy. And given the global reach of these companies and their products, government leaders across the globe must act in concert to bring — and maintain — desperately needed change.

It has to happen now.

Our Agenda

Online harmful content and disinformation are complex problems which require political and civic collaboration to combat; left unchecked, these problems will undermine our civic space and democratic institutions. The IGC recognizes the conflicting principles that sometimes apply to the regulation of the internet, including the aim to protect freedom of speech, in accordance with national laws, while, at the same time, countering abusive speech and disinformation.

The Committee believes that global technology firms cannot on their own be responsible in combatting harmful content, hate speech and electoral interference and that self-regulation is insufficient. Technology companies should be fully accountable and answerable to national legislatures and other organs of representative democracy.

The Committee recognizes the initiatives taken by individual countries and non-governmental organizations in this space, but these require more coordination across national boundaries. The internet is global and accordingly it is vital that an internationally collaborative approach is taken with regard to regulation.

The Committee therefore recognizes the need for a dedicated international space which provides such co-ordination of internet regulations and commit to work with governments and relevant multilateral organizations in the establishment of such governance structures.

With these principles in mind, the IGC believes a policy agenda should include:

Competition Regulations and Antitrust Reform

The extreme concentration of digital media market power, and the concurrent race towards centralized control over data, needs to be addressed. In the United States alone, the top six firms represent more than 20% of the S&P 500 — a level of market dominance unseen in almost a century. Antitrust action must be taken, and antitrust statutes should be updated, to prevent undue dominance and associated harms.

Algorithmic Accountability and Data Access

The platforms’ current lack of content curation transparency contributes to ongoing abuses and poses an obstacle to the formation of effective safeguards. Independent oversight is needed — whether from an independent entity or academic researchers — to provide a trusted analysis of the processes and outcomes involved in algorithmic decision-making and content curation.

Content Moderation

Platforms must improve their inadequate existing controls over illegal and harmful online content such as violent extremism, hate speech, and child predation. Companies must establish and rigorously enforce clear, transparent, and precise standards for content moderation while recognizing the critical importance of free expression. A reasonable approach to attaching legal liability to the platforms should also be formulated. For purposes of oversight and transparency, regulators must have access to content that has been removed.

Data Protection

Surveillance-based content curation and attention optimization that promotes sensational, divisive, and often dangerous messages are features of the platforms’ business models that must be reformed. Uniquely personal information — including race, health status, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, sexuality, and other sensitive categories — must be protected from data targeting.

National Security

State-sponsored efforts to interfere in democratic electoral processes and shift public opinion of other countries must be addressed by providing a robust means for early detection and rapid response. The ad hoc entities that serve this purpose today are wholly inadequate; this function should be a permanent capacity for individual governments, as well as regional and intergovernmental bodies.

Public Media and Education

Public revenue should be allocated to address the information market problems exacerbated by Big Tech business practices. Governments should fund digital literacy and independent public service journalism through the taxation levied on companies.

Digital Tax Reform

Globally, Big Tech has avoided at least $100 billion in taxes over the past decade. In 2019, for example, some companies avoided paying taxes altogether, while others paid lower tax rates than typical middle-class families.

Political Advertising

Online political advertising must have transparency requirements that label the origin, sponsorship, funding, and targeting of all such ads. A universal political ad archive available to academic researchers is a necessary first step.

International Cooperation

Governments must coordinate through international policy efforts to promote uniform standards for transparency and human rights.