Social media and human rights (Chapter 6)

Korff, Douwe and Brown, Ian (2011) Social media and human rights (Chapter 6). In: Human rights and a changing media landscape. Council of Europe Publishing, Strasbourg Cedex, pp. 175-206. ISBN 9789287171986


This chapter focuses on the human rights issues raised by the use of online social media for political activism. Blogs, video and social networking sites have become a key forum for political debate and organisation – so much so that they have provoked counter-responses from some repressive states.
Section one of this chapter describes these counter-measures. Some states have adopted Internet blocking, filtering or takedown procedures or Internet surveillance (including compulsory data retention), or even shut down national networks, in attempts to restrain users’ freedoms. And in many otherwise democratic countries, the use of measures such as blocking and monitoring still leaves much to be desired in terms of human rights.
Section two examines the legal issues raised by such countermeasures, and suggests how human rights protections could be improved. We describe the body of principles that aims to orient legislation in Council of Europe member states. Its sources include the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and associated case law – developed primarily for the offline world; other conventions and resolutions, including the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime; and an emerging body of Internet governance principles.
Our conclusions indicate three areas that require solutions: a weakness in the European Court of Human Rights’ doctrine of discretion for individual states; the need to bolster the role of private sector intermediaries with requirements for them to defend their users’ Internet freedoms; and the demands of the rule of law. We propose solutions as a basis for further discussion of what are undoubtedly serious challenges.

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