Reinterpreting free speech guarantees for the digital era

7 Dec 2021 15:45h - 16:45h

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Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, but it comes with risks, such as disinformation, hate speech, child pornography, and incitement to terrorism. Our understanding of the nature and implications of international guarantees of freedom of expression has sometimes proved inadequate to protect rights and manage these risks.

Advances in digital communication technology have raised many questions concerning freedom of speech, mainly in the context of the regulation of social media, abuse of the internet, digital violence, and human behaviour on digital platforms, to name but a few. These issues were the main focus of today’s panel.

One of the speakers stated that even in democracies, what we witness online in digital spaces shows that communication is not always free, because a large number of individuals are being singled out. If we want true free expression, we need to ensure that every segment of the population has equal access to public debate and digital spaces under the same terms. France was used as an example of a country where citizens are said to exercise self-censorship.

The majority of panellists stated that freedom of speech is under threat in most countries. Hate speech is another of the major challenges. The attendees agreed that a discussion should be held on whether a higher standard is required to sustain freedom of expression as a democratic element and how to control hate speech, particularly in the digital realm.

Journalists from Mexico stressed the need for journalistic freedom in Latin America, as well as the numerous challenges the region faces, including viral violence against journalists. Colombia was also given as an example of a recent mix of street protests and online protests. Feminist collectives and groups in Mexico and throughout Latin America were given as an excellent example of how internet protests can be effective when fighting femicide and advocating for rights.

By Boris Begovic

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