UNESCO advocates Internet Universality and international human rights standards at the Internet Freedom Conference in Vienna

“UNESCO’s initiative to develop Internet Universality indicators will contribute to measure Internet development and enhance an enabling environment to promote Internet freedom” was the key message delivered by UNESCO representative Xianhong Hu at the Internet Freedom Conference 2017 in Vienna, Austria, on 13 October 2017. The conference was co-organised by the Austrian Chairmanship of the OSCE, the Czech Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers and the Council of Europe.

This year, hundreds of stakeholders were brought together to engage in critical conversations about the nature and scope of the responsibilities of internet intermediaries, their relationship with states and other non-state actors, including traditional media actors and civil society organisations, in order to foster the adoption and implementation of corresponding policies consonant with international standards.

“Elaborating appropriate Internet Universality indicators aims to enrich the stakeholders’ capacity to assess key Internet development and foster evidence-based dialogue around policy change in relation to global human rights standards including promoting freedom of expression and privacy online and offline,” stressed Xianhong Hu while presenting UNESCO’s ongoing project to define Internet Universality indicators. Based on a global consultation process, the project allows all interested stakeholders – from Member States, international organizations, technical community, private sector, civil society and NGOs, Internet and legal experts, political scientists, journalists and media experts to students and civil society groups – to submit their contribution through UNESCO’s consultation portal:

Talking more specifically about the role of Internet intermediaries in protecting online freedom, Ms Hu pointed out that the issue of Internet intermediaries crosscuts all dimensions of the Internet universality framework, which UNESCO advocates for promoting an Internet based on rights, openness, accessibility and multi-stakeholder participation.

Ms Hu also shared some related findings from UNESCO’s recent publications, including “Fostering Freedom Online: the role of Internet intermediaries”, “Countering online hate speech”, “Protecting Journalism Sources in the Digital Age” and “Youth and Violent Extremism on Social Media: Mapping the research”. She said that UNESCO studies show that “no definitive evidence has been found on a direct link between the specificities of social media and violent radicalization outcomes on youth”. She then highlighted that youth radicalization leading to violent extremism should be understood as a complex process in which the social media are not separated from other communication platforms and offline factors. She concluded her presentation by saying that “international standards linked to freedom of expression should always be preserved as default when applying countering extremism measures and restrictive measures should always be applied exceptionally”.

These UNESCO publications can be downloaded on UNESCO’s webpage: