Freedom of Expression

Freedom of Expression Icon

Everyone should be able to seek, receive, and impart information freely  on the internet without censorship or other interference.

What does this look like in a democracy?

The internet is a space for robust public debate where all people, regardless of religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socio-economic class, can freely express their views, including dissenting opinions on policies, procedures, and/or public figures. Internet users should be able to debate any subject online without undue interference, illegal surveillance, or fear of retribution.

Warning signs of an undemocratic internet:

  • Arbitrary blocking or filtering of content, such as the blocking of specific news media websites so that citizens cannot access relevant information.
  • Abuse of defamation or intellectual property laws to stifle expression.
  • Imposition of intermediary liability without adequate safe-harbour protections.
  • Regulatory bodies and the judiciary request internet intermediaries such as internet service providers (ISPs), web hosting providers, website administrators, or social media platforms remove content without legal justification.
  • Political actors disrupt democratic dialogue by flooding online spaces with disinformation, trolls, bots, or harassing language.
  • Online violence, whether perpetrated by individuals or organizations causes politically-active citizens to self-censor or withdraw completely from public debate for fear of repercussions.

 

Selected Sources from International Frameworks:

  • United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”2;
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 19: “(1) Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference; (2) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice; (3) The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others, (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.” 3
  • United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 38, 2018: “The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice.”