Freedom of Expression Online

Freedom of Expression Online

The resources on this Module focus on some of the complex issues related to the digital exercise of freedom of expression. Internet, social media, search engines have largely transformed expression, information, communication. The selected readings highlight the mismatch between practices and the law trying to catch up with the advances of the technology, while seeking to make sense of the normative cacophony.

10 items found, showing 1 - 10

Internet Governance

Author: Susan Benesch
Media Type Icon

“Private social media companies regulate much more speech than any government does, and their platforms are being used to bring about serious harm. Yet companies govern largely on their own, and in secret. To correct this, advocates have proposed that companies follow international human-rights law. That law–by far the world’s best-known rules for governing speech–could improve regulation itself, and would also allow for better transparency and oversight on behalf of billions of people who use social media. This paper argues that for this to work, the law must first be interpreted to clarify how (and whether) each of its provisions are suited to this new purpose. For example, the law provides that speech may be restricted to protect national security, as one of only five permissible bases for limiting speech. Governments, for which international law was written, may regulate on that basis, but not private companies which have no national security to protect. To fill some of the gap, the paper explains and interprets the most relevant provisions of international human-rights law–Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which pertain to freedom of expression–for use by social media companies, in novel detail.”

Benesch, Susan. “But Facebook’s Not a Country: How to Interpret Human Rights Law for Social Media Companies.” Yale Journal on Regulation Online Bulletin 38 (2020): 86-111.

Author: Jack M. Balkin
Media Type Icon

Balkin argues that the conception of free speech which characterized the 20th century is inadequate to protect free speech and expression in the 21st century due to the transition from a dualistic model of speech regulation with two players to a pluralist model of speech regulation with multiple players. In this essay, he frames free speech as operationalizing as a triangle, with States and the European Union at one end, internet-infrastructure companies at another, and different kinds of speakers at the third end. He analyses the three problems which this triangle creates: 1) new-school speech regulation which produces collateral censorship and digital prior restraint, 2) the absence of due process and transparency in the manner in which privatized bureaucracies govern end-users, resulting in abuse and arbitrariness, and 3) the vulnerability of end-users to digital surveillance and manipulation. He discusses the ways in which States should or should not regulate the digital ecosystem in order to align with the values of freedom of speech and proposes reforms which can be implemented by Governments in consonance with the Constitutional guarantees of free speech and the press as long as they are properly-designed. These reforms are: 1) structural regulation with the aims of promoting competition and preventing discrimination by basic internet services and payment systems, 2) guaranteeing curatorial due process, and 3) the treatment of social media companies as information fiduciaries towards their end-users, who are responsible for upholding duties of trustworthiness and good faith.

Balkin, Jack M. “Free Speech is a Triangle.” Columbia Law Review 118, no. 7 (2018): 2011-2056.

Author: UN, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
Media Type Icon

“This report examines the international standards and principles applicable to the protection of freedom of opinion and expression during elections in the digital age. In the 2014 report to the Human Rights Council, the previous mandate holder examined the State’s obligations to respect and ensure freedom of expression in electoral contexts. This report reviews the nature and scope of these obligations in light of advances in technology and their impact on elections. Advances in information and communications technology have been critical to facilitating access to information and the free flow of ideas during elections. However, State and non-State actors have also exploited these advances to interfere with democratic participation and access to information during election periods, and to undermine the integrity of electoral processes. This report focuses on four such interferences: network shutdowns, efforts to combat the perceived spread of “fake news” and online disinformation, Direct Denial of Service (“DDoS”) attacks and interference with voters’ records and data.”

UN, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. Freedom of Expression and Elections in the Digital Age. Research Paper 1/2019. June 2019.

Author: ARTICLE 19
Media Type Icon

ARTICLE 19 submitted a response to the UN Special Rapporteur on free expression’s call for comments on the role of the private sector in the digital age. In their submission, ARTICLE 19 addressed the following issues: 1) The categories of actors in the digital sector whose activities implicate the freedom of opinion and expression; 2) The main legal issues raised for freedom of opinion and expression within the digital sector; 3) The conceptual and normative work already in place to develop corporate responsibility and human rights frameworks in these spaces, including governmental, inter-governmental, civil society, corporate and multi-stakeholder efforts; and 3) they also provide country specific information (Brazil).

Article 19.Freedom of expression and the private sector in the digital age. London: Article 19, 2016. https://www.article19.org/data/files/medialibrary/38294/FOE-and-the-private-sector-in-the-digital-age-A19-response-to-UNSR-call-Feb-2016.pdf

Author: Oxford Kashmir Forum, Prof. David Kaye
Media Type Icon

This lecture is the sixth to be delivered in a series of lectures which are part of the Oxford Kashmir Forum’s online course on ‘International Human Rights Law and Kashmir: Prospects and Challenges’. In this lecture, Prof. David Kaye discusses the ways in which the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under International Human Rights Law as well as the obligations it imposes on States. In particular, Prof. Kaye emphasizes on the role such laws play in our online lives as well as discusses the nature of the function of the actors who animate the space of internet governance. Recognizing issues of speech and expression as some of the most direct as well as salient issues of law and public policy globally, he provokes his listener to think more deeply about what those issues are as well as who should determine answers to those issues in a democratic world.   

Oxford Kashmir Forum (Prof. David Kaye). “Freedom of Speech and Expression.” 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5YB7y-WWvM.

Author: ARTICLE 19
Media Type Icon

"In this policy, ARTICLE 19 examines the obligations of telecommunications (telcos) and Internet service providers (ISPs) to protect and respect human rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression, and to remedy violations of these rights."

Article 19. ARTICLE 19's Getting connected: Freedom of expression, telcos and ISPs. London: Article 19, 2017. https://www.article19.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Final-Getting-Connected-2.pdf

Author: Séverine Arsène
Media Type Icon

This article explores the apparently ambivalent foundations of the notion of cybersovereignty as seen from China, through some of the most recent Chinese academic literature on global Internet governance. It shows that the sampled authors conceive of the current Internet order as an anarchic or disorderly space where global hegemons reproduce their domination over the world in the digital age. In the rather dichotomous world that this portrays, most of the authors concentrate their attention on the position and strategy of the United States, with a view to underlining the contradictions in American discourse through the PRISM scandal or the status of ICANN. In this context, most scholars studied here see the current situation, where Internet governance is increasingly debated, as an opportunity to rebalance the global Internet order and advance the strategic interests of China through the establishment of an intergovernmental Internet governance framework in the long term, and through active participation in the current status quo in the short term.

Arsène, Séverine. “Global Internet Governance in Chinese Academic Literature: Rebalancing a Hegemonic World Order?” China Perspectives 2016/2 (2016): 25-36.

Author: Séverine Arsène
Media Type Icon

This article aims at documenting the implementation of the Domain Name System in China, in coordination and in tension with the global Domain Name System since the end of the 1980s with the Chinese country-code top-level domain “.cn,” and more recently with the creation of Chinese-language domain names such as “.中国” and “.中文网.” It puts into perspective the notion of “digital sovereignty” by analysing the role of the DNS in the “localisation” of online content as part of the censorship system. It further shows that although Chinese representatives have always been very critical of the existing architecture and management of the DNS on the global stage, their attitude has evolved from de facto, bottom-up participation and protection of their interests to a more confident and assertive behaviour, as the growth of the Chinese Internet has put them in a more dominant position.

Arsène, Séverine. “Internet Domain Names in China: Articulating Local Control with Global Connectivity” China Perspectives 2015/4 (2015): 25-34.

Author: Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Agnès Callamard
Media Type Icon

In this segment of the MOOC created by Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Agnès Callamard focuses interviews  Mishi Choudhary on India's Internet Ecosystem

Author: Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Agnès Callamard
Media Type Icon

In this segment of the MOOC created by Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Agnès Callamard focuses interviews  Mishi Choudhary on the Repeal of Section 66A