The concept of human rights has gone through a major shift. At the writing of the Constitution, rights were something the state could not take away from you. Today, rights are considered something that the state guarantees you. Personally, I prefer the newer interpretation as it better fits with the abundance and connection of the Information Age. However, the law of the land in the US is still predicated on the older interpretation. This means that, legally, our “right to free speech” is not constitutionally protected on the Internet, including platforms like Facebook and Twitter censoring or banning our posts. That being said, I want to acknowledge the importance of the Internet and social media in how we communicate. Digital platforms ARE how we speak now, and we all deserve rights as digital citizens. The path I see toward obtaining these rights is for the United Nations (UN) to recognize large digital communication platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Tumblr as digital countries with a new type of virtual sovereignty. Just as the UN has a list of human rights for physical countries, the UN can create a list of rights for digital citizens in digital countries. While these digital countries will have to comply with additional legislation within the borders of physical countries, some rights, determined by the UN, must be guaranteed everywhere. The physical countries of the UN can leverage collective economic and legislative power to incentivize digital countries to enforce these rights. One example of a digital right would be clear, consistent, and full disclosure of community rules and guidelines on each platform so digital citizens can know what to expect when they join a platform. Digital rights can include digital citizen protections around data privacy, creator compensation, and balanced content algorithms to prevent the spread of disinformation through echo chambers. Even democratic provisions could be required like voting rights, referendums, and multi-branch governing.
I strongly feel this needs to be a global conversation and that even though many of these platforms are based in the US, our culture and laws should not be forced on the entire world. However, these conversations are going to require representation that lives in this century and can have comprehensive discourse about the world online. That brings us back to my platform, as most every issue does, but I see the concept of digital countries as an important step of how we move forward as a society. As a freshman House Representative, I certainly don’t see myself being an ambassador of the US in the UN to talk about digital countries, citizens, and rights; however, I hope I can at least bring some modern influence to the Capitol.