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“Harmful content risk assessment” workshop

Amina Izmirlić

During the 11th and 12th of April, Dalio Sijah from UG “Zašto ne” took part in “Harmful content risk assessment” workshop in Mozilla’s office in Berlin, which was organized to discuss what responsible, effective, and sustainable responses to harmful online content may look like, and find collaborative solutions that protect both rights and safety.

As a central question, participants discussed methods and data to estimate the risks of online content leading to violence and other impacts harmful to our societies, and the need to develop practical risk assessment frameworks, which could lead to much needed evidence-based policymaking in this area.

Governments and platform companies are under great pressure to introduce new laws and policies to curb the impact of ‘harmful content’. Driven by public outrage caused recently by the livestreaming of the Christchurch terrorist attack, or some years earlier by the wide dissemination of violent ISIS propaganda videos, policymakers and CEOs are asked to do more about this problem, which sadly often gets translated to ‘remove more content’. As a result, the existing content regulation efforts are mostly reactive, piecemeal, and are not based on sufficient understanding of the root causes and vulnerabilities, nor do they give much consideration to how their purported impact on the national, regional, and global security will even be measured.

Without broader and deeper consideration of all impacts, from the security, human rights, and the internet ecosystem perspectives, and the risks and limitations associated with technology and ethics behind the proposed solutions, these laws may inflict yet more damage and lead to more radicalization and polarization, and further decrease of trust in democratic institutions.

What is referred to as ‘harmful content’?

Different types of content (and also conduct) under many labels – harassment, hate speech, mis-/disinformation, terrorist propaganda – are linked to a long list of harms/negative impacts – from individual level, psychological impacts, like depression, eating disorders, suicide, to harms to democracy such as election manipulation, decrease of trust in government and media, to public safety and security harms culminating in outbreaks of inter-communal violence or terrorism. Our safety, health and wellbeing, our institutions and values are under a threat – as targets or as collateral damage, as intended and unintended consequence of strategic malicious acts and dynamics of collective action.

Why Mozilla is concerned about this?

Mozilla Manifesto describes this problem as “power of the internet used to magnify divisiveness, incite violence, promote hatred, and intentionally manipulate fact and reality”.

In the Addendum to the Mozilla Manifesto, Mozilla sets out the following aspirations for the human experience of the internet:

  1. We are committed to an internet that includes all the peoples of the earth — where a person’s demographic characteristics do not determine their online access, opportunities, or quality of experience.
  2. We are committed to an internet that promotes civil discourse, human dignity, and individual expression.
  3. We are committed to an internet that elevates critical thinking, reasoned argument, shared knowledge, and verifiable facts.
  4. We are committed to an internet that catalyzes collaboration among diverse communities working together for the common good.