Global digital communication platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, are a significant concern to democracies worldwide. In addition to encouraging echo-chambers, they have been accused of enabling others to undermine political agency, manipulate public opinion and intensify polarisation. From Brazil to Britain, there have been widespread reports of disinformation campaigns, ‘dark ads’, voter profiling, digital astroturfing, ‘bots’ impersonating human behaviour, and foreign interference in national politics. The use of behavioural insights to influence voters is hardly new, but global digital platforms allow these insights to be applied transnationally, automatically and with greater precision than ever before. At the same time, global communication networks greatly benefit democracies by enhancing political engagement and facilitating collective action. Countering global data flows also harms the data economy and limits the potential humanitarian and governance benefits of ‘global good data’, such as mapping the spread of diseases and examining how people react to disasters. The challenge, then, is to find ways to prevent global digital platforms from undermining democracies and self-determination, and to do so in a way that is “democratically informed”, while otherwise allowing them to operate globally. This discussion will build on a growing literature on the regulation of global digital platforms by thinking about the global structure of this regulatory challenge (including the role played by international law in producing this structure), and how the dynamic relationship between states and digital platforms creates tensions and trade-offs for democracies and platforms alike. Private regulation, prompted and informed by the interests of certain states, may prove to be a quick and efficient way to address some of the more egregious threats, but it may also present other challenges for democracies (and for self-determination) as a handful of relatively opaque and unaccountable private actors, together with a few dominant democracies, undertake the task of shaping a ‘global democratic space’.
Bio: Andrew Sanger is a University Lecturer in International Law at the University of Cambridge, as well as a Fellow of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law and of Corpus Christi College. His research explores structural questions of international law and global governance, with a current focus on the role, regulation and responsibility of global private actors. He is also interested in the interaction between international law and other legal/normative systems; the law of immunity; the impact of digital technologies and big data on democracy and global governance; and the ways in which international law exacerbates and/or responds to human vulnerability, disenfranchisement and inequality.
The PIL Discussion Group hosts a weekly speaker event and light lunch and is a key focal point for PIL@Oxford. Topics involve contemporary and challenging issues in international law. Speakers include distinguished international law practitioners, academics, and legal advisers from around the world.
The group typically meets each Thursday during Oxford terms in The Old Library, All Souls College, with lunch commencing at 12:30. The speaker will commence at 12:45 and speak for about forty minutes, allowing about twenty five minutes for questions and discussion. The meeting should conclude before 2:00. Practitioners, academics and students from within and outside the University of Oxford are all welcome. No RSVP is necessary. Join the PIL Email List to receive information about the PIL Discussion Group meetings, as well as other PIL@Oxford news.
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Convenors of the Oxford Public International Law Discussion Group are: Eirini Fasia and Hannes Jöbstl.
The discussion group's meetings are part of the programme of the British Branch of the International Law Association and are supported by the Law Faculty and Oxford University Press.