The UN Global Digital Compact aims to create and inclusive, open, safe and secure digital future for all. | Image: Getty Images

Why the Global Digital Compact’s focus on digital trust and security is key to the future of internet

Agustina Callegari
Project Lead, Global Coalition for Digital Safety, World Economic Forum
Daniel Dobrygowski
Head, Governance and Trust, World Economic Forum

  • The recently published zero draft of the UN Global Digital Compact aims to create and inclusive, open, safe and secure digital future for all.
  • One of the key focuses of the compact is digital trust and safety, which outlines several key commitments and urgent calls to action.
  • Multistakeholder collaboration will be key to setting the future of the internet and other digital technologies, for which online safety is crucial.

The recently unveiled zero draft of the United Nations Global Digital Compact, aimed to create an inclusive, open, safe and secure digital future for all, has brought significant attention to digital trust and safety, among other topics covered, such as digital inclusion, data governance and artificial intelligence (AI).

While this may only sometimes be the focal point for trust and safety experts, delving into the intricacies of this document is crucial for understanding the current and future landscape of online safety.

What is the Global Digital Compact?

Two years ago, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres launched the Global Digital Compact, aiming to address key digital issues in a multilateral way.

This initiative identified critical areas of concern, spanning from the digital divide and inclusion in the digital economy, the governance of data, the application of human rights online, the governance of AI, and strategies for promoting trust and safety, including implementing accountability criteria for misleading content.

The Global Digital Compact forms a crucial component of the broader UN Summit for the Future, scheduled for September 2024. This summit will conclude with the negotiation of an action-oriented Pact for the Future, for which the draft serves as a foundational document for intergovernmental discussions.

Importantly, the process includes consultations with various stakeholders, including civil society and the private sector. While this pact, though governmental, is non-binding, it is a significant step towards addressing pressing digital challenges on a global scale.

Exploring the charter’s digital trust and safety commitments

The zero draft of the Global Digital Compact introduces a section on digital trust and safety (cluster 3). This report section outlines several key commitments and urgent calls to action, each designed to create a safer and more secure online environment.

The focus is on establishing common standards and guidelines to combat harmful content on digital platforms. Facilitating collaboration among national online safety institutions is also emphasized as essential.

By institutionalizing collaboration, stakeholders can exchange best practices and develop a shared understanding of actions to protect privacy, freedom of expression and access to information while mitigating harm.

Furthermore, there is a strong emphasis on prioritizing national online child safety policies. Governments are urged to develop and implement policies in alignment with international human rights law, highlighting the importance of safeguarding vulnerable populations, particularly children.

Regular monitoring and review of digital platform policies on countering child sexual exploitation and abuse are deemed imperative to uphold responsibilities in protecting vulnerable users.

Another critical aspect of the draft is ensuring legal compliance with international standards on privacy, freedom of expression and due process. Laws and regulations concerning technology usage must adhere to these standards, striking a delicate balance between security measures and individual rights.

Additionally, there is a strong focus on developing effective methodologies to measure, track, and counter online violence, particularly against women and girls.

Consultation call on strategies to tackle harmful digital content

In addition, the draft calls to action include multistakeholder consultations to devise strategies to combat harmful content, engage with diverse users, including children and youth, in technology development, and ensure that digital technology companies and developers incorporate diverse perspectives and needs in designing and delivering digital technologies.

Enhancing reporting mechanisms for users and third parties to report potential policy violations, with special provisions for children, is essential to ensure swift action against online misconduct.

By establishing robust reporting mechanisms, stakeholders can effectively address policy violations and enforce accountability in the digital space. Establishing accountability frameworks for industry players is also paramount, defining responsibilities and standards while enabling public scrutiny through auditable reports.

Lastly, social media platforms are urged to provide online safety-related training materials and safeguards to children and youth engaging in these spaces. This initiative aims to foster a culture of digital literacy and resilience among young users, equipping them with the tools to navigate the online world safely.

Linking calls to action with the Global Coalition for Digital Safety

The call to action in the zero draft of the Global Digital Compact resonates strongly with the Global Coalition for Digital Safety goals. The principles underlying the compact also reflect the values expressed in the World Economi Forum’s Digital Trust Initiative and it’s work on governance of the technologies underlying the internet.

This coalition, comprising diverse stakeholders from governments, tech companies, civil society and international organizations, endeavours to tackle online harms and promote digital well-being. The work is rooted in addressing the issue from a human rights standpoint.

In this context, the coalition developed the Global Principles on Digital Safety, which have been shared during the Global Digital Compact process by our members. The principles intended to answer the fundamental question: “How should human rights translate in the digital world?”

They advance digital safety in a rights-respecting way, drive multi-stakeholder alignment, encourage positive behaviours and actions across the digital ecosystem, and inform and enable regulatory, industry, and societal efforts and innovations.

As part of the joint principles, the document emphasizes several vital actions. It underscores the importance of collaboration with diverse stakeholders to build a safe, trusted, and inclusive online environment, ensuring everyone can enjoy their digital rights.

Additionally, the document highlights the necessity of seeking insights from civil society to inform policy-making, understand emerging harms and support inclusive decision-making regarding digital safety.

Evidence-based multistakeholder solutions to advance digital safety

There is also a call to support innovative and evidence-based multistakeholder solutions to assess, address and advance digital safety, thereby preventing harm. Furthermore, efforts to advance transparency regarding approaches and outcomes in enhancing digital safety are encouraged to improve the collective response to digital safety challenges.

Finally, the principles recognize the importance of helping vulnerable and marginalized groups, including children, realize their rights in the digital world, emphasizing the need to safeguard children’s safety and privacy online.

Other outputs of the coalition are also aligned with the call to action of the Global Digital Compact, as they aim to address critical digital safety issues from an action-oriented standpoint. The Typology of Online Harms builds foundational language around harms, which is essential for a global discussion on digital safety.

The risk assessment framework also allows organizations to develop risk assessment frameworks and increase accountability. Lastly, the upcoming metrics and measurements report aims to provide a categorization for thinking about metrics and measurements – one big challenge in the field and also highlighted by the compact.

While member states will likely agree upon the Global Digital Compact, it is an essential process for highlighting the importance of multistakeholder collaboration and the role of the different stakeholders in setting the future of the internet and other digital technologies, for which online safety is crucial.

From the work done at the coalition, we can leverage our collective expertise and resources to continue driving tangible progress, enhancing digital trust and safety worldwide.

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