An Open Letter to the Executive Yuan: Defending freedom of speech is the weapon against disinformation.

Bill to require platform operators to remove disinformation in a short period of time (i.e., within 24 hours). This incident has aroused great concern and controversy in society. Although the Executive Yuan held press conferences to clarify relevant information on 2018/12/11 and 2018/12/13 respectively, and pointed out that the Executive Yuan will "firmly defend freedom of speech" and will not propose any amendment to the Digital Communication Bill that has not passed the third reading by the Legislative Yuan, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights does not believe that the relevant disputes and risks has been resolved and disappeared completely.

Therefore, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights proposes the following three suggestions for how the government may handle disinformation in the future.

1. In the future, if the Legislative Yuan conducts relevant review and consulting, the Executive Yuan should strictly adhere to its firm position on defending freedom of speech.

The Executive Yuan has repeatedly mentioned "the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability" (hereinafter referred to as "the Principles") and stated that the Executive Yuan is currently proposing a draft of the Digital Communication Bill pending in the Legislative Yuan in accordance with the spirit of the Principles. The Taiwan Association for Human Rights, as one of the signatories to the Principles, would like to recognize the Executive Yuan's positive attitudes and willingness to cite the views of the civil society in the draft legislation on many public occasions.

However, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights also believes that if the Digital Communication Bill or any law amendment regarding disinformation is to be completed in the spirit of the Principles, the Executive Yuan should actively “demonstate” to the people their position to defend the Principles in the future review by the Legislative Yuan. The Executive Yuan has repeatedly and publicly declared that it will "respect" the outcome of the review on the bill by the Legislative Yuan, but we must still remind the Executive Yuan that respecting the outcome of the review will not make the Executive Yuan lose the possibility of publicly defending its own value in the legislative process.

Therefore, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights appeals to the Executive Yuan that it should adhere to the commitments of the people made over the past few days in the process of legislation or any law amendment regarding disinformation, and demonstrate its position to adhere to the Manila Principles for Intermediary Liability in a positive and open manner.

2. The Executive Yuan should first communicate openly and fully with the outside world to avoid causing chilling effects.

Although the draft law amendments regarding disinformation published by the Executive Yuan on 2018/12/13 did not contain the original disputed Digital Communication Bill, the seven amendments announced have not been through any external consultation. Although freedom of speech may be restricted, heavy punishment may result in the chilling effect and fail to stop disinformation, instead it may prohibit the opposite voice to counterbalance such disinformation. All these effects may not be known without full discussion with the civil society.

During the period, the Executive Yuan repeatedly claimed that even after the law amendments, the illegality of the speech will still be ultimately decided by the court, but this statement does not exempt the Executive Yuan from the responsibility of full communication in the process of making this proposal. The Executive Yuan's proposal for the law amendment did not seek external opinions. The will of the administrative agency alone could make the people involved in the risk of litigation. Presumably, this has led to uneasy feelings about the freedom of speech in the civil society after the news was exposed.

Disinformation is a complex and important issue that involves multi-stakeholders. Yet, the Internet is the most important tool for people to accept information and express themselves. As a member of the civil society, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights hopes that the government and enterprises can be engaged in the discussion to learn from the opinions of multiple parties, and each assumes relative obligations on the premise of respecting and safeguarding the freedom of speech of the people.

3. The Executive Yuan should reasonably define the responsibilities of the enterprises regarding disinformation, but should prevent them from restricting the users’ freedom of speech in the excuse of fulfilling enterprise responsibilities.

Although the Executive Yuan obviously has made the above-mentioned mistakes, we also recognize that the platform operators must bear the responsibility regarding disinformation as mentioned by the Executive Yuan on December 13th.

In the past few years, various types of networking platform providers have provided information circulation services that are very convenient for Internet users all over the world. However, the services provided by such enterprises have become the most convenient tools for the distribution of disinformation. The problem of disinformation is of course not only caused by the service providers, but the profit model of such providers affects the possibility of users coming in contact with various messages, thus indisputably intervening in user's judgment on the information at hand.

Internet platform operators should therefore take on certain responsibilities in the issue of disinformation. For example, they have the responsibility to let users know why they are exposed to the information at hand, and have the responsibility to prove that they have tried to identify the differences between online robots and real people. It is their responsibility to prove that the platforms will review ads that may contain disinformation and disclose how they manage the speeches on their platforms. It is their responsibility to acquire a clear consent from users when collecting user data, and it is also their responsibility to empower users to use relevant tools that will help them resist the distribution of disinformation.

The delineation of the scope of corporate responsibility may inadvertently violate the freedom of speech of the people if not taken seriously. Although there have not been many formal discussions in Taiwan so far, it is never too late to open discussions now. The Taiwan Association for Human Rights therefore appeals to the Executive Yuan to initiate social discussions on corporate responsibility and to reasonably define corporate responsibility in a manner that guarantees freedom of speech, so as to avoid the regret of impairment to the freedom of speech by companies that strive to fulfill their responsibilities. As people of this country, this is also the most sincere voice of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

Finally, regarding the responsibility of the government, enterprises, and people in dealing with disinformation, the United Nations, the European Union, and the international community have developed frameworks based on human rights protection over the past 2 years, which may serve as valuable reference. The Taiwan Association for Human Rights also appeals to the Executive Yuan that Taiwan must adhere to the protection of the people's freedom of speech in order to ensure its legitimacy in resisting various difficulties despite its special diplomatic conditions.


Taiwan Association for Human Rights

Chairman: Weng, Kuo-Yen