Federal Council wants broad discussion on regulation of communications platforms
Bern, 17.11.2021 - The need to protect the population from hate speech and disinformation on the internet requires a broad discussion in all countries, including Switzerland. During its meeting on 17 November 2021, the Federal Council has instructed DETEC to present a discussion paper on whether and how communication platforms could be regulated by the end of 2022 with a view to strengthening user rights and dealing with non-transparent business practices. The discussion paper follows on from a report by OFCOM on the opportunities and risks posed by Facebook, YouTube and Google.
Communication platforms such as search engines (e.g. Google), social network platforms (e.g. Facebook) and multimedia platforms (e.g. YouTube) are used by large sections of the population in Switzerland and are playing an increasingly important role in the formation of opinion. Unlike traditional media, these platforms are not subject to journalistic standards. There is no obligation to ensure that the content is true, for example. Surveys show that people in Switzerland fear that they are being exposed to increasing amounts of fake news on social networks and video portals.
Unlike in the EU and the USA, to date there are no plans in Switzerland for platform operators (intermediaries) to introduce specific legal regulations on hate speech, misinformation, non-transparency and user rights. Various studies commissioned by OFCOM have concluded that the population is entitled to effective protection against illegal hate speech and disinformation, and that the rights of users must also be better protected. Against this background, a broad discussion is needed in Switzerland on the role played by intermediaries in society and on their governance.
Positive and negative influence of platforms
On the one hand, the new platforms offer opportunities for a further democratisation of public communication. They make it easier for individuals, organisations and groups to participate directly in public discourse, to contribute their points of view and to express criticism publicly. This increases the diversity of publicly available information and opinions.
On the other hand, the openness of the platforms also has various negative effects. For example, they provide an easy way to spread illegal and harmful content such as hate speech and misinformation. Just as problematic is the fact that the intermediaries can delete content according to their own non-transparent rules.
Users have no rights or only insufficient ones in the case of the platforms; for example, they cannot defend themselves against the latters' decisions and do not know on what basis they can see which content.
The rise of internet platforms has meant falling advertising revenues and dwindling audience revenues for the traditional media. Sooner or later, this has a detrimental impact on the quality of journalistic media products. It is already apparent that news media coverage is focusing on fewer and fewer topics and geographical areas.
In other European countries, owing to the prominent role of communication platforms in society and their considerable potential for harm, there is a growing conviction that duties of due diligence must be imposed on intermediaries. The EU and the US are thus currently drawing up legal frameworks to regulate the activities of intermediaries.
Against this backdrop, by the end of 2022 DETEC is to report to the Federal Council on whether and how communication platforms could be regulated.
Address for enquiries
Federal Office of Communications OFCOM
+41 58 460 55 50, email@example.com
The Federal Council
General Secretariat of the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications; General Secretariat DETEC
Federal Office of Communications