The Santa Clara Principles

On Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation


The History of the Santa Clara Principles

In May 2018, a coalition of organizations, advocates, and academics came together to create the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability Around Content Moderation in response to growing concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability from internet platforms around how they create and enforce their content moderation policies. The Principles outline minimum standards that tech platforms must meet in order to provide adequate transparency and accountability around their efforts to take down user-generated content or suspend accounts that violate their rules.

The original set of Principles focuses on three key demands—comprehensive numbers detailing a platform’s content moderation efforts, clear notice to impacted users, and a robust appeals process. They are consistent with the work of David Kaye, former UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, who called for a “framework for the moderation of user-generated online content that puts human rights at the very center.” The principles also reflect the recommendations of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which articulate the human rights responsibilities of companies.

When the Principles were first released, there was very little transparency around the scope, scale, and impact of internet platform’s content moderation efforts. As a result, the authors of the Principles called on companies to disclose more data around these moderation efforts via transparency reports. These transparency reports have helped highlight government censorship on platforms, enabled users to make more informed decisions about which products to use and avoid, and empowered advocacy groups to push companies to follow established legal processes when responding to and complying with government demands. Additionally, the authors of the Principles noted that content moderation often occurs in a top-down manner, leaving users with few options for remedy and redress. The “notice” and “appeals” Principles sought to establish robust, transparent, and reliable mechanisms for due process for users.

Since their release, many internet platforms have endorsed and committed to adhering to the Principles. These platforms include Apple, Facebook, GitHub, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, Reddit, Snap, Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube. While some of these platforms have made notable strides in providing more transparency around their content moderation efforts, very few companies have fully met the demands outlined in the Principles. Platforms must do more to meet these baseline expectations of transparency and accountability.

The Santa Clara Principles coalition, a group composed of __ organizations, has launched an updated set of principles in order to further platform transparency and accountability.

While the original 2018 Principles set forth very strong baseline standards with which companies should comply, participation in their creation was limited to just a few groups and individuals, and allies—particularly from Global South countries—raised legitimate concerns and suggestions for their revision. In particular, stakeholders from around the world have emphasized that platforms are investing more resources in providing transparency and due process to users in certain communities and markets. Companies must address this inequity and ensure that all of their users—regardless of where they live—can obtain transparency and accountability from these companies. This is particularly important given that many of the harms that occur as a result of platform content moderation practices occur in communities that platforms have been neglecting.

The content moderation landscape has radically changed over the past few years. Platforms are no longer tackling harmful content and accounts by simply removing them. Today, many services also rely on algorithmic tools to curate content through interventions such as downranking. There is a serious lack of transparency and accountability around how platforms are deploying these interventions and what the resulting impacts on freedom of expression are. Additionally, researchers and advocates have underscored the discriminatory and harmful outcome that can result from paid content online. There is currently also a major lack of transparency around how such content is moderated, and with what impacts. These are additional areas that platforms must commit to shedding light on.

Lastly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many platforms shared that they would increase their reliance on automated tools for content moderation purposes. Some services also announced that they would be suspending their appeals processes, therefore impeding users’ access to due process. Numerous civil society organizations expressed concerns around how these decisions would impact freedom of expression online, underscoring that platforms must be able to maintain a baseline level of transparency and accountability at all times.

Because of these three concerns, the Santa Clara Principles coalition initiated an open call for comments from a broad range of global stakeholders, with the goal of eventually expanding the principles. The coalition engaged in significant public and community outreach via an open comment period and complementary targeted outreach strategy, then reviewed the inputs during a designated period, and finally, drafted a new set of Principles. A series of open consultations and workshops were held to add more details to the original set of principles.