Yesterday at
the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam post-graduate/professional training Current
issues in Internet Law
I referred to the lecture I delivered this spring for
the Dutch IT & Law Association on fake news (report Anne de Hingh). Because, it is one of these
legally very interesting topics, for one since the problem is clear but the
solution is not. The latter was “dealt with” yesterday:

from across the world sign declaration on the ‘Principles of the Law Governing
the Internet’

enough, this headline from the website of the UK Parliament is actually a sort
of fake news. The declaration is not as general as “The Law governing the
internet”, but specifically aims at addressing the topic of fake news. In doing
so some issues of a more general nature are addressed (such as the power of
platforms and the responsibility that comes with such power).

The declaration
was the outcome of a session of the “
International Grand Committee’ on
Disinformation and ‘Fake News”, and concerns “
principles of transparency, accountability
and the protection of representative democracy in regard to the internet
Admittedly, there is
reference in the declaration to “
create a system of global internet governance that can
serve to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of generations to come.”

initiative should be applauded, for it takes serious steps towards resolving an
issue crucial to our democratic society. To fight the phenomenon at its roots
(people making money with fake news, governments using fake news to influence politics)
is hardly possible. However, to involve as much countries as possible as well as tech
companies, such joint effort could get us somewhere.

quoting the interesting principles, it is noteworthy that one of the central
players of this debate was represented but not by the man in charge, viz. Mark
Zuckerberg. This annoyed
those present
: “
Zuck’s no-show, a repeat offence as
concerns the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee who chaired
today’s hearing, led to frustrated MPs putting out an empty chair for the tech


We the undersigned:—
Members of the national Parliaments of: the Argentine Republic; the Kingdom of
Belgium; the Federative Republic of Brazil; Canada; the French Republic;
Ireland; the Republic of Latvia; the Republic of Singapore; and the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


Noting that:— the
world in which the traditional institutions of democratic government operate is
changing at an unprecedented pace; it is an urgent and critical priority for
legislatures and governments to ensure that the fundamental rights and safeguards
of their citizens are not violated or undermined by the unchecked march of
technology; the democratic world order is suffering a crisis of trust from the
growth of disinformation, the proliferation of online aggression and hate
speech, concerted attacks on our common democratic values of tolerance and
respect for the views of others, and the widespread misuse of data belonging to
citizens to enable these attempts to sabotage open and democratic processes,
including elections.

Affirming that:—
representative democracy is too important and too hard-won to be left
undefended from online harms, in particular aggressive campaigns of
disinformation launched from one country against citizens in another, and the
co-ordinated activity of fake accounts using data-targeting methods to try
manipulate the information that people see on social media.

Believing that:—
it is incumbent on us to create a system of global internet governance that can
serve to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of generations to come,
based on established codes of conduct for agencies working for nation states,
and govern the major international tech platforms which have created the
systems that serve online content to billions of users around the world.

In the interests of transparency, accountability and the protection of
representative democracy we hereby declare and endorse the following

The internet is global and law relating to it must derive from globally agreed

The deliberate spreading of disinformation and division is a credible threat to
the continuation and growth of democracy and a civilising global dialogue;

Global technology firms must recognise their great power and demonstrate their
readiness to accept their great responsibility as holders of influence;

Social Media companies should be held liable if they fail to comply with a
judicial, statutory or regulatory order to remove harmful and misleading
content from their platforms, and should be regulated to ensure they comply
with this requirement;

Technology companies must demonstrate their accountability to users by making
themselves fully answerable to national legislatures and other organs of
representative democracy.


P.S. the
slide I used was this Dutch cartoon I faked that seemed to be a conversation
between Menno Weij and me in which he ordered me to leave SOLV (for being troublesome, reply “that is not a valid ground”, “You see, there you go again” :-)).
Six months
later I am still at SOLV, naturally, but for real Menno leaves as of January 1.