The Institute (whose website can be accessed here) argues that there must be an online infrastructure developed so that social media and other digital platforms can play a key role in balancing and protecting rights such as freedom of expression, prevention of online crime, and protection of intellectual property. In researching these issues, the Institute aims to raise awareness of the importance of upholding the rule of law online and developing a digital legal system. It is made up of 21 members of global academics and scholars who are split into four working groups: (1) platform liability; (2) free speech issues and internet regulation; (3) IP issues in AI and blockchain; and (4) gender equality online, search engine and algorithmic bias.
Platforms are increasingly being scrutinised for their role in either “under-blocking”, i.e. hosting harmful content on their sites, or “over-blocking”, using algorithms to unnecessarily block user-generated content. The Institute addresses these two extremes of regulating online content in its publication of the “Aequitas Principles on Online Due Process” (the “Principles”), which can be accessed here. The Principles offer the Institute’s guidance about what key standards and processes it believes should be included in all platform regulatory frameworks to ensure legal doctrines are being consistently applied in the digital world. For example, the Principles suggest that if a platform is removing user-generated content, it should give proper prior notification to the parties involved and provide clear information about how it is making these decisions. On the other end of the spectrum, if a platform is removing content that has been flagged as illegal, it should ensure that there is an appropriate legal basis for the content to be deemed as such, and that where the content is causing immediate harm, it should be removed quickly.
The Institute calls for the development of standardised procedures that all platforms should follow when moderating content, making disclosures, publishing transparency reports, or carrying out other activities that affect the public. It will be interesting to see how key online platforms react to the launch of The Digital Scholarship Institute and their Principles on Online Due Process. In addition, it remains to be seen how government bodies will engage with its proposals, especially given the recent publication of the Draft Online Harms Bill in the UK (see here), tied with the fact that members of the Institute have argued against precision-less government regulation in this area (see here).