To regulate or not to regulate: the question is how?

By Yery M. Garcia (TAI communications officer)


Summary by Yery Menendez (TAI) based on the interview of Eszter Filippinyi (TAI) with Gustavo Gómez and Guilherme Canela in October 2023


The rapid expansion of the internet and social media has led to a passionate debate about whether or not it is necessary to regulate online communication platforms. While some defend the need to have certain parameters that establish a safe and healthy way of communicating, others reject state and corporate interference, in the name of freedom of expression.

The regulation of online platforms can be difficult to implement properly, especially in a constantly changing digital environment such as the case of Latin America. Furthermore, finding the right balance between protecting the rights of users of these platforms, the limits on the power of gatekeepers of a few corporations, and freedom of expression is a constant challenge.

Eszter Filippinyi, Deputy Director of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative(a collaboration of philanthropic organizations) spoke with Gustavo Gómez, Executive Director of Observacom, and with Guilherme Canela, Head of the Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists Section at UNESCO about the challenges of regulating online communication platforms.

Eszter began by asking Gustavo about his point of view on regulating or not regulating online platforms.

Gustavo: In Latin America, we face the dilemma of choosing between authoritarian regulation by governments or letting large platforms have absolute control. We believe that we must look for an alternative, a middle path. We do not want either state or private censorship. We must build a Latin American perspective in this debate and adopt a proactive position to prevent problems instead of reacting to them.

We believe that it is very necessary, possible and less risky to promote an approach to regulating the processes that large platforms use to moderate and eliminate content, and not so much the approach of regulating that content (which is the main effort of the legislative initiatives in the region). This includes the protection of user rights and transparency in the rules established by these companies. This would be a breakthrough in the region and the world, as it would empower users and protect their fundamental rights, including freedom of expression. Furthermore, it is a perspective that already has an important consensus among the different stakeholders.

Eszter: Guilherme, can you elaborate on the role of digital platforms in the fight against disinformation?

Guilherme: At UNESCO, we believe that fighting disinformation and misinformation and promoting freedom of expression is imperative. Digital platforms play a crucial role, but it is essential that they operate transparently and respect international human rights standards.

There is no single solution to address this challenge and we must consider the particularities of each region. As Gustavo mentioned, it is crucial for Latin America to develop its own perspective in this global debate and adopt a proactive attitude.

UNESCO promotes the adoption of guides and guidelines to address these problems. We focus on supporting civil society and implementing a strategy to regulate the procedures that large platforms use to moderate content. This includes ensuring transparency, the right to appeal and accountability. These are essential to protect freedom of expression and user rights in a constantly evolving digital world.

In other words, the global guidelines seek to establish a balance between protecting freedom of expression and mitigating risks in the digital environment. We recognize that information is a global public good and therefore must be protected and promoted through global collective action. This involves qualifying demand, empowering supply, and working in the transmission chain, including the governance of technology companies.

I want to highlight the importance of collaboration and continuous dialogue in this process. The global guidelines are a step in the right direction, but their implementation will require the participation of multiple actors, including governments, technology companies, civil society, academics, and citizens.

Eszter: Working with multiple stakeholders can be complicated, as each brings different perspectives. Gustavo, how do you perceive this process and its implementation in the region?

Gustavo: I think that these UNESCO guidelines will be very welcome in Latin America. Despite possible difficulties in implementation, we will have a solid reference to evaluate what governments and other stakeholders are already doing in the region. These guidelines are valuable both as a reference and for their content, as they align with the concerns and needs, we have been raising regarding the need to "regulate the process". These guidelines are not a panacea, but they can be a useful tool to reduce the harm caused by misinformation and to limit the power of large companies that set unchecked rules.

Furthermore, it is important to highlight that these proposals do not seek to restrict freedom of expression, but rather to protect and promote it. Regulations can sometimes seem threatening, but in this case, they are necessary to ensure that there is more freedom of expression and not less. UNESCO's approach is based on transparency and accountability, rather than government censorship.

Technology and artificial intelligence present new challenges, but we must not abandon the efforts we have already made. We must consolidate the foundations on which we agree, such as these UNESCO guidelines and other related agendas.

Eszter: I understand that these guidelines have the potential to be a valuable tool in the region and to contribute to the protection of freedom of expression. Guilherme, can you briefly explain what the role of states is according to these guidelines?

Guilherme: The guidelines that we promote seek to establish a governance system that complies with international human rights standards and that defines what states should not regulate and what they should regulate. For example, states should not carry out internet shutdowns, as this is not authorized by the international human rights system. They should also not intervene in specific cases of content, such as publications on social networks. For example, it is essential to protect criticism of public officials, which is protected by freedom of expression. Content regulation must be carried out by a judge, following due legal process.

Eszter: You mentioned that the guidelines also address the institutional development of an independent governance system. Could you explain what this institutional system should be like?

Guilherme: The institutional system must be independent, that is, it must not be subject to political influences or corporate interests. It must ensure transparency and accountability. Even when it comes to self-regulation, it is important that it is transparent and subject to control. The guidelines document details the characteristics that this system should have and is essential to ensure equitable and fair regulation.

Eszter: You also mentioned that it is crucial to empower users. Could you elaborate on how this can be achieved and what are the governance characteristics of the curation and moderation processes?

Guilherme: Empowering users involves ensuring they can make informed and conscious decisions. This does not mean imposing restrictions on their searches but ensuring that they have the right conditions to do so. The guidelines propose establishing rules and features that allow users to make informed and safe decisions. Regarding the governance of the curation and moderation processes, it is important that they are carried out in local languages and not only in English, and that there is transparency in the process. Arbitrary censorship must be avoided, and decisions must be aligned with international human rights standards.

Eszter: Gustavo, you mentioned the importance of accompanying the process in Latin America. What plans do you have to advance this agenda in the region?

Gustavo: We are working in collaboration with 10 digital rights organizations to promote a proactive campaign that focuses on process regulation in the region. We aim to embed this agenda in the Latin American debate, and we are open to collaboration with organizations, donors, and foundations that share our objectives. We are also exploring forms of dialogue with the UNESCO process, as we see many similarities and synergies between our initiatives.

Eszter: With so many elections scheduled in Latin America in 2024, this process is very relevant. How do you plan to address challenges related to misinformation and manipulation in electoral processes?

Gustavo: Indeed, next year will be crucial (and not only in Latin America) with 81 elections scheduled around the world. We are working to collaborate with independent regulators,

civil society, and academia in the region to address the challenges. We believe it is essential to increase access to information and promote informed decision-making among voters. We are open to building alliances and collaborating with actors from various sectors to achieve these objectives.

Well-designed regulation can improve online security, protect user privacy, and promote a more equitable and transparent digital environment. It can also foster consumer confidence and investment in technology.

In conclusion, the question of whether or not to regulate online communication platforms is complex and multifaceted. The key is to find a balanced approach that combines the necessary data and privacy protection with the preservation of freedom of expression and fair competition.


If you want to know more about the topic please visit:

Institutional contact: Gustavo Gómez, Executive Director of OBSERVACOM

Phone: +598 99660373;

Emails: [email protected] and [email protected]

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