Recommendation CM/Rec(2012)4 - Council of Europe

Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on the Protection of Human Rights with Regard to Social Networking Services
Document type
Policy Document

In this document, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers highlights the public service value of social media and social networking sites, as well as their potential to pose a threat to human rights. According to the Committee, social networking sites inadequately protect children and young people from harmful content and lack privacy-friendly default settings. These social networking sites may provide a shelter to discriminatory practices by their weak/non-existent legal and procedural safeguards surrounding processes that lead to exclusion of users and due to the lack of transparency about personal data processing. Consequently, the Committee recommends that Council of Europe member states implement strategies for protecting human rights on social networking sites in accordance with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom and the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data. In furtherance of this goal, the Committee outlines some general actions that member states can take, and also encourages public authorities and private sector actors to follow such action. These measures include raising user awareness of online human rights issues, promoting an environment that fosters free expression, increasing transparency about data collection and processing, and implementing self- and co-regulatory mechanisms to achieve these objectives.

The Committee lists some specific actions that states should take with respect to user rights, such as informing users about the default settings of their profiles and their rights to limit third party access to their contacts and information. Users should also be able to “opt in” to greater third-party access, to control how their personal information is published, to move and delete their data as well as withdraw consent to their personal data being processed, and to control their online identity (including through the use of pseudonymous profiles).

The Committee also recommends actions states should take with respect to protecting children from harmful content and behavior, such as responding to cyberbullying complaints, creating mechanisms for reporting inappropriate content, and cooperating with law enforcement authorities. It does not impose any specific legal obligations or liability on social networking sites for hosting harmful content, and notes that states should “refrai[n] from the general blocking and filtering of offensive or harmful content in a way that would hamper its access by users.” (Paragraph 11)

Finally, the Committee provides a list of actions states should take to protect user privacy and promote awareness of social networking sites’ data collection and processing methods.

The summary of this document is part of the report produced on the Stanford Law School Intermediary Liability and Human Rights Policy Practicum and is based on the work of Miguel Morachimo. The full report “The ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ and Blocking Orders under the American Convention: Emerging Issues in Intermediary Liability and Human Rights”, can be accessed here.

Topic, claim, or defense
Child Protection (Includes Child Pornography)
Privacy or Data Protection
Freedom of Expression
Document type
Policy Document
Type of service provider
Host (Including Social Networks)