IGF 2021 WS #276 Reinterpreting Free Speech Guarantees for the Digital Era

Time
Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 (15:15 UTC) - Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 (16:45 UTC)
Room
Conference Room 1+2

Organizer 1: Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Organizer 2: Civil Society, Intergovernmental Organization

Speaker 1: Toby Mendel, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: David Kaye, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Agnès Callamard, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Format

Panel - Auditorium - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

Digital policy and human rights frameworks: What is the relationship between digital policy and development and the established international frameworks for civil and political rights as set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and further interpretation of these in the online context provided by various resolutions of the Human Rights Council? How do policy makers and other stakeholders effectively connect these global instruments and interpretations to national contexts? What is the role of different local, national, regional and international stakeholders in achieving digital inclusion that meets the requirements of users in all communities?

Digital policy and human rights frameworks are constantly evolving through interpretation and reinterpretation. Our organisation has been involved in the evolution of that work in collaboration with Special Rapporteurs and other actors. However, that process needs to adapt more quickly to the digital space. Continuous and rapid advances in digital communications technology, including the ubiquity of social media and ease of establishing a website, have significantly expanded the possibilities for people all over the world to exercise meaningfully their right to freedom of expression. However, this explosive growth has been accompanied by similarly rapid and dynamic expressive risks, including disinformation, hate speech, child pornography and incitement to terrorism, as well as new threats to freedom of expression itself, including from corporate actions. Our understanding of the nature and implications of international guarantees of freedom of expression, largely developed in an offline world, have sometimes proven inadequate to protect rights and manage these risks in the new environment. This panel session will explore challenges relating to the progressive development of international guarantees of freedom of expression arising from the digital transformation of communications. It will focus on both how the very way international law is progressively interpreted and develops needs to change, such as to better integrate key digital players, and how the our understanding of the substantive implications of freedom of expression needs to develop in a few key areas, such as hate speech and disinformation.

SDGs

16.10

Targets: SDG 16.10 focuses on ensuring public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms, while the indicators under it include a very specific focus on freedom of expression (which embraces the right to access information). Our session directly advances this SDG Target by promoting the progressive development of international guarantees of freedom of expression so that they remain relevant and appropriate taking into account digital communications. This is essential to the medium- and long-term relevance of these guarantees, as well as to ensuring appropriate protection for freedom of expression and protection against the harms that can potentially flow from digital expressive activity.

Description:

Continuous and rapid advances in digital communications technology, including the ubiquity of social media and ease of establishing a website, have significantly expanded the possibilities for people all over the world to exercise meaningfully their right to freedom of expression. However, this explosive growth has been accompanied by similarly rapid and dynamic expressive risks, including disinformation, hate speech, child pornography and incitement to terrorism, as well as new threats to freedom of expression itself, including from corporate actions. Our understanding of the nature and implications of international guarantees of freedom of expression, largely developed in an offline world, have sometimes proven inadequate to protect rights and manage these risks in the new environment. This panel session will explore challenges relating to the progressive development of international guarantees of freedom of expression arising from the digital transformation of communications. It will focus on both how the very way international law is progressively interpreted and develops needs to change, such as to better integrate key digital players, and how the our understanding of the substantive implications of freedom of expression needs to develop in a few key areas, such as hate speech and disinformation.

Expected Outcomes

The main outcome of this session will be to explore concrete ideas for how different actors can contribute to the progressive development of international law on freedom of expression so that it more adequately addresses needs in the context of modern and evolving digital communications. The panel discussion should generate concrete ideas and suggestions which can feed into processes that ultimately influence policymaking by governments and corporate actors and enhance advocacy efforts on the part of civil society. As an immediate, concrete outcome, the discussion will feed into a research report on the evolution of international guarantees of freedom of expression in the digital era that is currently being undertaken by the Centre for Law and Democracy.

CLD has now moved entirely to an interactive model for all panel discussions it hosts, with no speechmaking by panellists. To achieve this, we rely on effective moderators and clear instructions to panellists. This includes limiting introductory comments to no more than five minutes, keeping all comments brief – no more than two to three minutes – and encouraging direct interaction between panellists, and between panellists and other participants, much like a discussion in a coffee shop. To ensure strong participant engagement, the moderator will make it clear at the very beginning – both orally and via the chat feature – that this is an interactive discussion and that members of the audience are free to interject at any time. The moderator will also pause the debate periodically to reach out to members of the audience to encourage them to ask questions or make comments. And the moderator will remain attentive to audience interest at all times. Finally, the moderator will stimulate interactive discussion by posing questions that can be answered either by panellists or members of the audience. Managing on-site and online panellists and other participants is challenging and requires skill on the part of the moderator. To achieve this, we will select a very experienced and accomplished moderator. The precise practicalities of this will depend to some extent on the nature of the technological interface being used. But the moderator will make full use of all of the interactive possibilities that are available.

Online Participation

 

Usage of IGF Official Tool.