PACS news/September 7, 2021

Program on Democracy and the Internet Launches New Content Policy & Society Lab (CPSL)

The new project identifies solutions to the main challenges of moderating content online while respecting fundamental human rights.

Julie Owono & Dr. Niousha Roshani

Palo Alto, CA – Harmful content circulates widely on the internet, exploiting policy and technical vulnerabilities on every platform. The global nature of these platforms requires a multi-stakeholder approach to content moderation in order to provide adequate responses to challenges posed by differences in culture, language, and communities. The newly launched Content Policy & Society Lab (CPSL) will prototype a model for multi stakeholder approaches to content policy and governance issues, bringing together representatives of civil society, private companies, and governments to identify and implement solutions to the main challenges of moderating content online while respecting fundamental human rights. 

Headed by Executive Director of Internet Sans Frontières, Julie Owono, and technology, business and human rights expert Dr. Niousha Roshani, this new cross-disciplinary platform for research, collaboration and policy design will be housed within Stanford University’s Program on Democracy and the Internet (PDI), part of the Cyber Policy Center (CPC) and the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS).

“Automated content moderation systems and blunt government takedown orders both pose threats to human rights of online expression and association”, said Julie Owono, Executive Director of the CPSL. “Responses that are sensitive/adapted to local context are necessary to ensure that the values of one country or of a given platform do not determine the rules for online expression worldwide.”   

CPSL responds to this challenge, and to many others, by creating a space where companies, governments, civil society organizations, and content moderators can tap into their collective knowledge to craft solutions to widely recognized problems.

“With an international network composed of mini-hubs and pop-up initiatives hosted by academic institutions and local non-profit organizations, CPSL’s multi-stakeholder approach and broad geographic focus will provide a unique setting for cross-cultural dialogue and policy innovation for content moderation that respects fundamental human rights”, added Dr Niousha Roshani, Deputy Director of the CPSL.  

Among the Content Policy and Society Lab’s first goals is to create a space for different stakeholders to exchange information and collaborate. The CPSL will host a workshop series, featuring corporate, civil society, and government actors who will present case studies of content policy and governance challenges they faced, and the solutions they explored. 

The first workshop scheduled to take place in October 2021 will be a roundtable discussion on the moderation of content involving dangerous organizations.  Participants will include representatives from the private sector and governments, as well as non-governmental organizations working to tackle dangerous content online.

“We are thrilled to have Julie Owono and Niousha Roshani join us at Stanford,” said Nate Persily, Co-director of the Stanford Program on Democracy and the Internet and the Stanford Cyber Policy Center. “They are uniquely positioned to lead an international, multi stakeholder effort to grapple with the most difficult problems facing social media and content moderation around the world.”

The Content Policy and Social Lab is an initiative of the Program on Democracy and the Internet at the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, and the Cyber Policy Center based at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, the university’s hub for the study of international affairs.