The Biden administration on Thursday released the “Declaration for the Future of the Internet,” an international agreement with 50 other countries to curb online “disinformation” and “harassment” while attacking the agenda of “authoritarian” governments.
The document came only days after Elon Musk announced a deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion in order to ensure the site becomes a platform for free speech.
It detailed plans for “reclaiming the promise of the Internet,” with administration officials saying the declaration is an effort to curb the use of the Internet to spread “disinformation” by countries such as Russia and China, the New York Post reported.
The document notably makes no mention of domestic U.S. internet issues, such as politically motivated tech companies censoring news stories and online surveillance.
“Access to the open internet is limited by some authoritarian governments and online platforms and digital tools are increasingly used to repress freedom of expression and deny other human rights and fundamental freedoms,” states the three-page declaration.
It goes on to say that with “state-sponsored or condoned malicious behavior” on the rise – including the “spread of disinformation and cybercrimes” – the security of critical infrastructure is in danger along with public and private assets.
“At the same time, countries have erected firewalls and taken other technical measures, such as internet shutdowns, to restrict access to journalism, information, and services, in ways that are contrary to international human rights commitments and obligations.”
It blamed “online platforms” for enabling an increase in the “spread of illegal or harmful content that can threaten the safety of individuals and contribute to radicalization and violence.”
“Online platforms have enabled an increase in the disinformation and foreign malign activity is used to sow division and conflict between individuals or groups in society, undermining respect for and protection of human rights and democratic institutions,” the document said.
The 50-nation endorsed document is not binding and includes vague wording, lacking specific remedies for issues such as “disinformation.”
But it does recommend that governments foster greater access to diverse content.
“Exposure to diverse content online should contribute to pluralistic public discourse, foster greater social and digital inclusion within society, bolster resilience to disinformation and misinformation, and increase participation in democratic processes.”
The document called for a “free” and “open” internet without “censorship” but issued a broad condemnation of “harassment” and “intimidation” online and urges signatories to “to make the internet a safe and secure place for everyone, particularly women, children, and young people.”
The signatory countries reaffirmed their “commitment that actions taken by governments, authorities, and digital services including online platforms to reduce illegal and harmful content and activities online be consistent with international human rights law, including the right to freedom of expression while encouraging diversity of opinion, and pluralism without fear of censorship, harassment, or intimidation.”
The document was signed by many longtime U.S. allies such as Israel, France, Japan and the UK. But absent were many of the world’s poorer nations and emerging democracies.