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No, new online governance guidelines don’t give the United Nations ‘full regulatory control’ over internet

IN SHORT: The People’s Voice website claims that a Unesco document titled Guidelines for the Governance of Digital Platforms is a “bill” that gives the United Nations powers to regulate all internet content. But it’s not – it just provides guidelines. Any laws that come out of it would have to be passed by individual countries.

The United Nations (UN), the global organisation of 193 countries, has been given the power to regulate the internet.

That’s the claim by the People’s Voice, a known disinformation website that spreads false conspiracy theories.

“UN Quietly Granted Powers To Regulate ALL Internet Content,” reads the headline of an article published on the site on 10 November 2023.

The blurb reads: “The United Nations has been quietly granted full regulatory control over the Internet, allowing the unelected organization to censor or punish anybody who threatens to disrupt the globalist agenda.”

The article claims that this control is contained in a “bill” produced by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco, titled Guidelines for the Governance of Digital Platforms. In legal language, a bill is a draft version of a law or act.

The claim has since spread across social media, including in South Africa.  And the article has been published on several other false information websites. It also appears on YouTube.

But is there any truth to this?

False claim about UN regulating internet content

Promoting freedom of expression, real information

Unesco’s Guidelines for the Governance of Digital Platforms were released on 6 November. The document is a set of guidelines. It is not a legal bill that grants Unesco any power over the internet. If any laws come out of the guidelines, they would have to be passed by individual governments – not the UN.

The guidelines outline the “duties, responsibilities and roles for States, digital platforms, intergovernmental organizations, civil society, media, academia, the technical community and other stakeholders” to foster freedom of expression online, while also protecting users from “dis- and misinformation, hate speech, and conspiracy theories”.

They weren’t produced by Unesco alone.

“The Guidelines were produced through a multi-stakeholder consultation that gathered more than 10,000 comments from 134 countries,” Unesco says. “These global-scale consultations fostered inclusive participation, ensuring a diversity of voices to be heard, including those from groups in situations of marginalization and vulnerability.”

Unesco’s new guidelines don’t give the UN “Powers To Regulate ALL Internet Content”. This is misinformation published on a platform known to circulate falsehoods.

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