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


Author: ARTICLE 19
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This 2021 Policy Paper published by ARTICLE 19 provides a detailed overview of the potential harms of Biometric technologies, including violations of the fundamental rights of privacy and freedom of expression as well as “data protection, human dignity, non-discrimination, self-determination and the right to access an effective remedy.” Further, abuse of these technologies by law enforcement and other state bodies can result in discrimination from profiling of marginalized and at-risk communities. The Policy Brief provides case studies on the use of facial recognition and emotion recognition technologies, and offers a broad range of recommendations. Based on the gathered evidence, ARTICLE 19 calls for “a moratorium on the development and deployment of all biometric technologies until vital human rights safeguards are in place.” 


ARTICLE 19. When bodies become data: Biometric technologies and freedom of expression. April 2021.

Author: Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
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Africa’s ICT think-tank - the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) - published a report documenting the trends of the last decade in internet freedom in Africa. CIPESA has been releasing its annual State of Internet Freedom in Africa report since 2014; the 2023 publication celebrates the report’s 10th anniversary. Thematically reflecting on the past years of research and advocacy for digital rights in Africa, this special edition offers a clear look at the future. The featured essays discuss “Digital Democracy Vs. [Digital] Authoritarianism,” internet shutdowns, social media content regulation, data governance, online activism, new forms of internet censorship, gender dynamics online, state accountability for digital rights, disinformation, media literacy, and surveillance. “[W]hile the essays in this series largely paint a grim picture of where Africa stands today, not all is doom and gloom,” writes Dr. Wairagala Wakabi, CIPESA’s Executive Director. “Each essay in this report offers suggestions for how these authoritarian roadblocks can be navigated to ensure that the great majority of citizens in Africa can enjoy their online rights and for digital democracy to flourish.”

Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). A Decade of Internet Freedom in Africa: Recounting the Past, Shaping the Future. Kampala: CIPESA, 2023.

Author: OSCE
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“Artificial intelligence (AI) – a broad concept used in policy discussions to refer to many different types of technology – greatly influences and impacts the way people seek, receive, impart and access information and how they exercise their right to freedom of expression in the digital ecosystem. If implemented responsibly, AI can benefit societies, but there is a genuine risk that its deployment by States and private companies, such as internet intermediaries, could have a deteriorating effect on human rights… [This Paper] maps the key challenges to freedom of expression presented by AI across the OSCE region, in light of international and regional standards on human rights and AI. It identifies a number of overarching problems that AI poses to freedom of expression and human rights in general, in particular: (a.) The limited understanding of the implications for freedom of expression caused by AI, in particular machine learning; (b.) Lack of respect for freedom of expression in content moderation and curation; (c.) State and non-State actors circumventing due process and rule of law in AI-powered content moderation; (d.) Lack of transparency regarding the entire process of AI design, deployment and implementation; (e.) Lack of accountability and independent oversight over AI systems; and, (f.) Lack of effective remedies for violation of the right to freedom of expression in relation to AI. This Paper observes that these problems became more pronounced in the first months of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic incentivized States and the private sector to use AI even more, as part of measures introduced in response to the pandemic. A tendency to revert to technocratic solutions, including AI-powered tools, without adequate societal debate or democratic scrutiny was witnessed. Using four specific case studies (“security threats”; “hate speech”; media pluralism and diversity online; and the impact of AI-powered State surveillance on freedom of expression), this Paper shows how these problems manifest themselves. This Paper concludes that there is a need to further raise awareness, and improve understanding, of the impact of AI related to decision-making policies and practices on freedom of expression, next to having a more systematic overview of regional approaches and methodologies in the OSCE region. It provides a number of preliminary recommendations to OSCE participating States and internet intermediaries, to help ensure that freedom of expression and information are better protected when AI is deployed.”

OSCE. “Artificial Intelligence and Freedom of Expression”. 2020.

Author: Teresa Ribeiro
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The document underscores the significant negative impact such technology can have on media freedom within the OSCE region.

"The Representative concluded that the implementation of stringent measures is vital. This includes mandating effective and binding prior authorization of any surveillance on a journalist granted by an independent authority under judicial control. Additionally, such surveillance must be limited in duration and scope, and applicable only to the most severe offenses. Utilizing digital surveillance technology should be carefully justified and integrated into a robust rule-of-law framework, accompanied by a meaningful redress mechanism."

Teresa Ribeiro. 'Communiqué by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media On the Use of Digital Surveillance Technology on Journalists'. 2023.


Author: Gabi Mocatta, Shaneka Saville, Nicholas Payne, Jerry Lai, Lova Jansson, and Kristy Hess
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The report, funded by the Earth Journalism Network at Internews, interrogates the global state of climate and environmental journalism in the context of rapidly spreading mis- and disinformation, jurisdictions repressing media freedom, lack of resources and access to data, and risks that accompany climate reporters and cause self-censorship. The study includes a literature review, methodology outline, and results based on the multi-language survey and semi-structured interviews, totaling 744 survey respondents and 74 journalists interviewed. Half of the respondents said they had experienced verbal threats, almost a third of them had been subjected to legal threats or lawsuits, while another third had received threats from governments – and these are only some of the alarming findings. The report concludes with recommendations for funding organizations, newsrooms, journalists, and further research.  

Gabi Mocatta, Shaneka Saville, Nicholas Payne, Jerry Lai, Lova Jansson, and Kristy Hess. Covering the Planet: Assessing the State of Climate and Environmental Journalism Globally. Internews/Earth Journalism Network, 2024.

Author: Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Dinah PoKemper
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In this segment of the MOOC created by Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Dinah PoKempner talks about surveillance and human rights today.

Author: School of Public Policy at Central European University, David Kaye
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“In this public talk hosted by the Center for Media, Data and Society at the CEU School of Public Policy, UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye discussed global threats to freedom of expression. He was introduced by Sejal Parmar, Assistant Professor at the CEU Department of Legal Studies. The agenda of the talk and themes discussed in his lecture and in the ensuing Q&A spanned the following: global threats to freedom of expression; how to promote protective measures to free speech, hate speech and access to information; protection of whistleblowers; role and liability of intermediaries and social media companies; surveillance; digital security; transparency; the Bernstein case, Apple v. FBI; code speech; different national security measures on freedom of expression, and the UN standard on the issue; Facebook posts as reasons for prosecution for incitement; Article 19; the right to be forgotten; content discrimination in relation to freedom of expression; Article 19 to promote government transparency and access to information; the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Movement and its academic implications; academic freedom; how the Special Rapporteur prioritizes over requests and communications; and, contempt of court in relation to freedom of expression.”

School of Public Policy at Central European University, David Kaye. “David Kaye on the Global Challenges to Freedom of Expression”. 2016.

Author: Barrie Sander
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“Once hailed as beacons of democracy, social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter now find themselves credited with its decay. Amidst a rising global techlash and growing calls for digital constitutionalism, this article develops a typology of the diverse forms of governance enabled by social media platforms and examines the contestability of human rights law in addressing the accountability deficits that characterize the platform economy. The article examines two interrelated forms of social media governance in particular: content moderation, encompassing the practices through which social media companies determine the permissibility and visibility of online content on their platforms; and data surveillance, encompassing the practices through which social media companies process personal data in accordance with their extractivist business models. Recognizing that human rights law is a vocabulary of governance with the potential to both restrain and legitimate particular relations of power within the platform economy, this article critically examines two rival conceptions of human rights law – marketized and structural – that may be relied upon to address the accountability shortfalls that pervade the contemporary social media ecosystem. The article ultimately argues in favour of a more structural conception of human rights law, one characterized by an openness to positive state intervention to safeguard public and collective values such as media pluralism and diversity as well as a systemic lens that strives to take into account imbalances of power in the social media ecosystem and the effects of state and platform practices on the social media environment as a whole.”

Sander, Barrie. “Democratic Disruption in the Age of Social Media: Between Marketized and Structural Conceptions of Human Rights Law.” European Journal of International Law 32, no. 1 (2021): 159-193. 

Author: UN Human Rights Council, David Kaye
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“The present report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, is being submitted to the Human Rights Council pursuant to Council resolution 34/18. In the report the Special Rapporteur registers alarm that some efforts to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic may be failing to meet the standards of legality, necessity and proportionality. The Special Rapporteur highlights five areas of concern, showing that access to information, independent media and other free expression rights are critical to meeting the challenges of pandemic.”

UN Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye. Disease Pandemics and the Freedom of Opinion and Expression. A/HRC/44/49. April 2020.

Author: European Commission
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"The proposed Regulation includes safeguards against political interference in editorial decisions and against surveillance. It puts a focus on the independence and stable funding of public service media as well as on the transparency of media ownership and the allocation of state advertising. "

"The key objectives of the legislative initiative would be to: ensure that media companies can operate in the internal market subject to consistent regulatory standards, including as regards media freedom and pluralism, ▪ ensure that EU citizens have access to a wide and varied media offering both offline and online, ▪ safeguard the editorial independence and independent management of the media, which is a precondition of media freedom and of the integrity of the internal market, ▪ foster undistorted competition between media companies by ensuring a transparent and fair allocation of state resources".


Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL establishing a common framework for media services in the internal market (European Media Freedom Act) and amending Directive 2010/13/EU. 16 September 2022.