In usual tradition, the UN Secretary General (UN SG) opened the Member State Debate at last week’s UN General Assembly. His speech was a sombre assessment of global challenges the current order is not tackling – “we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction”, he said, and added, “our world is in peril — and paralysed”.
His call to action focussed on developing collective solutions and strengthening international solidarity. He acknowledged the potential benefits of new technologies in addressing the ongoing crises and supporting the SDGs, including responding to disease, connecting people and expanding opportunities.
However, the UN SG noted these benefits can be offset by the risks technology raises in the absence of “guardrails”. He notably sounded the alarm on the harms brought about by social media platforms, condemning the hate speech, misinformation and the abuse these platforms proliferate.
“Social media platforms based on a business model that monetises outrage, anger and negativity are causing untold damage to communities and societies.”
In what is a first for the UN SG, he proposed introducing regulation and putting in place an architecture that can begin tackling this at a global level. Striking the right balance between public governance and safeguarding individual freedoms will be challenging. Even more challenging will be to develop norms that work across jurisdictions, given not only the varying levels of digital readiness, but also the will to uphold the same values.
“Our data is being bought and sold to influence behaviour. We need regulatory frameworks to change this.”
What are the upcoming processes that will propose solutions to the UN SG’s call?
- UNESCO are launching a new initiative called Information for Democracy, that will focus on platform regulation, to protect freedom of expression and to promote information as a public good. In early 2023, UNESCO will convene governments, companies and the civil society to discuss what elements regulatory frameworks should address in a way that ensures information works for democracy.
- In preparation for the Summit of the Future, the UN SG has tasked the Office of the Envoy on Technology to develop a Global Digital Compact. It will form the first collective agreement on digital policy and seeks to be a reference document to help navigate digital change. The Tech Envoy will consult with Member States, private sector and the civil society to secure broad ownership and promote sustained cross-stakeholder dialogue.
The pace at which technology advances is yet to be matched by an accelerated pace in coordination, across stakeholder groups and across geographies. The upcoming UN-led processes provide an opportunity to shape the norms that will guide international practices. It will be critical to jointly design frameworks that will be fit for purpose, keep up with change and work for all.
For more information on the UN’s consultations ahead of the Summit of the Future, and how that impacts your business, or to contribute your views to the Global Digital Compact on developing norms and practices that work internationally, please contact Gordon Mackay at email@example.com or Luminita Tuchel at firstname.lastname@example.org.