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Social Media Needs Guidance - UN Official

FILE: Images of social media platforms "Twitter," "YouTube," and "Facebook." Taken March 15, 2019.
FILE: Images of social media platforms "Twitter," "YouTube," and "Facebook." Taken March 15, 2019.

The international community, not individual businessmen like Twitter chief Elon Musk, should determine how to make social media a force for good, the outgoing head of the UN Human Rights Council said Thursday.

Federico Villegas, an Argentinian ambassador who has served as president of the United Nations' top rights body this year, insisted it is vital that the council provide guidance on the rights implications of new technologies and social media use.

"Who is going to navigate the grey line between social media as a tool for good and a tool for the bad?" Villegas asked during a meeting with reporters in Geneva.

The ambassador, who will address the 47-member council one last time as president on Friday when it meets to elect his successor for 2023, compared social media to nuclear energy.

"Nuclear energy is amazing for energy and peaceful use," he said, "but you can also get an atom bomb."

Social media meanwhile provides "empowerment of people for accessing information, for expressing themselves, but also hate speech, cyber-bullying," he said.

It is important to determine where the grey line goes and how to ensure we end up on the right side of it, he said.

"Who will decide this? Elon Musk?" Villegas asked, pointing to the new Twitter boss's recent decision to kick rapper Kanye West -- now known as Ye -- off the platform "for incitement to violence" over a posted picture showing a swastika interlaced with a Star of David.

The outgoing council president stressed that he had not followed the details of that case and did not take a position on whether expelling West from Twitter was the right decision.

But, he asked, should "it be up to a private businessman to decide what is dangerous for inciting violence and hate?"

He pointed to how a Belgian journalist helped spread propaganda over Mille Collines radio inciting to hatred and violence in the lead-up to the Rwanda genocide.

The station urged ethnic Hutus to kill rival Tutsi "cockroaches" during the 1994 slaughter in which 800,000 people were killed.

"What if this person had a Twitter account in '93? Elon Musk will have cancelled or not?" Villegas asked.

There was a need, he said, for the international community, through its highest human rights body, to together decide how best to grapple with such issues.