Harmful content and misinformation is everywhere around us on search engines, social networks and streaming services. The proliferation of written, visual and audio material on the internet has led to important questions on how to reduce and eliminate the spread of harmful information.

As COVID-19 has demonstrated, given how information influences decisions and incites actions, it is now more essential than ever to make progress, both within the industry and in regulatory terms, regarding digital content safety. Stakeholders are increasingly turning to the Application Programming Interface (“API”) economy for solutions to categorize, detect, report and govern content across social networks; to assign responsibility for third-party content through search engines; and to address exposure to harmful content from internet companies.

What is an API?

In the words of this 2020 CapGemini report, APIs are tiny bits of code that allow different systems to interact with each other. They are tools to reduce the financial costs, time and human input required to integrate and connect people, places, systems, data and algorithms, while authenticating them. If APIs are applied correctly, not only can digital services can become faster, more efficient and more cost-effective – but they will also better keep check on the spread of harmful content and miscommunication.

Here are five ways how, as institutions transform, they can rely on the support of the API economy to advance digital content safety:

1. To usher a safer digital transformation

To make services more available to a wider community, they have to digitally transform. To achieve this, according to this 2020 Accenture report, the API economy helps institutions to securely implement system-wide integration in a cost-efficient manner. Imagine a world where Windows not only can “speak” with iOS using a new shared language, but also across legacy versions as well, with minimum capital investment.

One such innovation is “branch management”. Take a recent example of a multinational insurance company: Once APIs connected its legacy systems with modern technology, it became able to provide services to often older-aged customers still using earlier versions of smartphones. Another is on “deployment management”, which ensures that such customers can continue to be seamlessly and securely engaged in the future as well. Passwords are not even required to facilitate!

The API economy is not just the latest iteration of the same old economy in digital terms, and is increasingly what shapes how the economy welcomes a wider and more inclusive audience, while safeguarding their security.

2. To moderate online content

It is inevitable that online content will not only increase in volume, but also become more widespread across a growing amount of platforms. As such, innovation in the API economy can create a moderation model that enhances the efficiency of content-screening with the accuracy of “in-person” checking.

Here, two innovations are of particular relevance. One is organizational administration, where companies can employ machine learning to categorize, detect and respond to online harmful content. Second is on-premise orchestration. Take the example of a large Asian media company: To keep up with new content creation platforms being rolled out in a rapid manner, it invested in its own API ecosystem to create decentralized “extensions” to onboard these platforms and authenticate authorship, rather than integrating them in the old-fashioned hub-and-spokes manner. The end result is that this approach reduced time costs by 35% over a period of two years. As such, APIs can be optimized to help any media and entertainment organization to, while providing more online services, also better ensure the integrity of new content.

3. To reduce online harm to minority communities

Becoming a leader in the API economy means making one’s digital capabilities more accessible, affordable and available with all partners, including those belonging to minority communities, while taking the extra steps required to protect them from online exposure to bullying, abuse and false information.

There are two major barriers to reducing online harm that need to be addressed. The first of which is the digital gap in accessing a proper set of security protocols to all online content network owners, whoever they are. The corresponding innovation is to customize a API marketplace to make it as accessible, adaptable and affordable as possible for a particular minority community to drive up engagement. Take the example of a global NGO fighting against domestic violence towards women: The financial costs required to integrate content regulation software to all its community forums across various platforms has been lowered by 30% due to APIs, while giving the flexibility to customize based on feedback from the target communities.

From a cultural point of view, social and language barriers represent major hurdles. To combat this systemic issue, an environment where minority communities can get access to verified API-based products that best meet their needs can be created.

APIs have a vital role to play in safeguarding many aspects of internet life
APIs have a vital role to play in safeguarding many aspects of internet life
Image: Global Citizen Capital

4. To achieve consensus in regulation

A multistakeholder approach is a necessity to build regulation required for platforms globally, highlighting how to assign responsibility for third-party content across search engines, social networks and other internet companies. Since APIs hold the key to driving collective action using frontier technologies such as AI, machine learning and the internet of things, they naturally play an important role.

An area of innovation most relevant to the post COVID-19 world is how the layered internet ecosystem could most efficiently conform with new national or local laws. First is the API common logic function. Take the example of a news organization operating across multiple jurisdictions: a centralized API “library” has been built so that all these countries can cost-effectively update their standard operating procedures to legally abide to any new laws against online harm. Second is mediation and integration, which allows for any stakeholder within the ecosystem to conduct checks and balances and confirm if new regulations are being followed.

5. To minimize cybersecurity threat

Focusing on cybersecurity is important because the spread of hate and misinformation, and the undermining of safety and civility, need to be eliminated. The sheer increasing volume of online data being created makes it difficult to fact-check, and policies cannot be put in place fast enough to keep up with the ever-changing ways which harmful information spreads. Zero-tolerance policies and robust takedown practices need to be implemented, according to this 2019 Internet Watch Foundation annual report. A holistic approach is required.

Two key innovations in the API economy can address this. The first is on API security. Take the example of a regional gaming platform operating in five different languages: AI-enhanced API protocols can address and act on any flagged sensitive information in any one language and mirror across the entire ecosystem with 50% increase in speed. The second is on traffic monitoring, and here, in order to maintain a safe cyberspace, the API economy provides a function to monitor statistical information such as the number of requests, response time, HTTP status codes and more, and troubleshoot by detecting anomalous activity.

What is the World Economic Forum doing on cybersecurity

The World Economic Forum's Centre for Cybersecurity is leading the global response to address systemic cybersecurity challenges and improve digital trust. We are an independent and impartial global platform committed to fostering international dialogues and collaboration on cybersecurity in the public and private sectors. We bridge the gap between cybersecurity experts and decision makers at the highest levels to reinforce the importance of cybersecurity as a key strategic priority.

Our community has three key priorities:

Strengthening Global Cooperation - to increase global cooperation between public and private stakeholders to foster a collective response to cybercrime and address key security challenges posed by barriers to cooperation.

Understanding Future Networks and Technology - to identify cybersecurity challenges and opportunities posed by new technologies, and accelerate forward-looking solutions.

Building Cyber Resilience - to develop and amplify scalable solutions to accelerate the adoption of best practices and increase cyber resilience.

Initiatives include building a partnership to address the global cyber enforcement gap through improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public-private collaboration in cybercrime investigations; equipping business decision makers and cybersecurity leaders with the tools necessary to govern cyber risks, protect business assets and investments from the impact of cyber-attacks; and enhancing cyber resilience across key industry sectors such as electricity, aviation and oil & gas. We also promote mission aligned initiatives championed by our partner organizations.

The Forum is also a signatory of the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace which aims to ensure digital peace and security which encourages signatories to protect individuals and infrastructure, to protect intellectual property, to cooperate in defense, and refrain from doing harm.

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In 2021, innovation in the API economy can and will continue to tackle the spread of harmful content online. This is a necessity to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Accelerating growth of digital services will present stability risks if regulation and supervision does not keep pace.

At the Forum, the Advancing Global Digital Content Safety project supports all stakeholders, including leaders from the Global Innovators Community, to tackle the spread of harmful content online and to explore solutions to advance industry and regulatory progress in the area of digital content safety. In addition, the UpLink Community leads a global movement to accelerate grassroots innovation, and to scale systemic change and technology adoption, towards pressing issues such as safety and security of the digital community.

By embracing the API economy and all it offers, the public and private sectors can now strike the right balance between enabling innovation and inclusion, while addressing challenges and risks to digital content safety.