Key takeaway from 53rd Human Rights Council, panel on freedom of expression urges incorporation of digital literacy in national educational programs

The 53rd session of the Human Rights Council addressed the impact of digital technologies on human rights, emphasising issues such as disinformation, connectivity, e-health, and algorithmic biases, with a particular focus on the role of digital, media, and information literacy in promoting and safeguarding freedom of opinion and expression in the digital realm.

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The 53rd regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) addressed several aspects in which digital technologies might affect the enjoyment and promotion of human rights, bringing to light topics of disinformation and misinformation, connectivity and digital divide, and e-health and algorithmic biases.

In particular, the panel discussion on 3 July centred around ‘the role of digital, media, and information literacy (DMIL) in the promotion and enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression’. In the increasingly digitalised world, the DMIL is the first step to ensure the protection and observation of human rights in the digital space; coupled with meaningful access to the internet, DMIL especially allows disadvantaged people to claim their rights to freedom of expression in a meaningful and safe manner.

Key points from the panel discussions include:

  • The digital divide remains a primary concern: 2.7 billion people (90% of which are from developing countries) have never used the internet; among the 5.3 billion people that have used the internet, many don’t enjoy meaningful and regular access.
  • While individuals are entitled to seek, receive and impart information, the propagation of misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech online renders the protection of such human rights in the digital space challenging. There must be mechanisms in place for reporting violations of the rights to freedom of expression and opinion online.
  • DMIL can empower users to enjoy the right to freedom of expression by enabling them to differentiate between hate speech, misinformation, and disinformation and building resilience against the latter. Online safety and the promotion of DMIL should be an integral part of national educational programs at all levels.
  • The best anecdote to mis/disinformation remains the state’s provision of factual and timely information, the presence of free, independent and pluralistic media, and the companies’ fulfilment of their human rights due diligence.
  • In global negotiations and discussions with regard to this topic, the Global South actors must be duly represented to express their views and specific challenges.

More recommendations could be found in the Special Rapporteur’s report on ‘Sustainable development and freedom of expression: why voice matters (A/HRC/53/25)‘.