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Forcing Facebook on Foreign Dictators: A Violation of International Law?


Steven R. Swanson


Hamline University - School of Law

March 1, 2012

Tennessee Law Review, Vol. 79, No. 4, 2012

Abstract:     
The advent of new technology brings new challenges to international law. The Internet is now the world’s primary information source, and websites like Facebook and Twitter have become crucial communication means. During the Arab Spring of 2011, activists used the Internet and social media sites to support their actions against existing oppressive regimes. In response, those governments required Internet service providers to interrupt Internet access, closing down social media communication.

The United States has the will and apparently the technology to restore the Internet in countries where the government has blocked connectivity. Contemporary international law supports a human right to Internet access. After all, people have a right to access information and a freedom to associate and assemble; these norms create a right of access to the Internet, including social media sites.

The issue presented by another nation’s reintroduction of Internet access is whether international law norms prohibiting use of force or intervention are violated. The absolute use of force prohibition found in United Nations Charter Article 2(4) and customary international law only applies to a significant military attack or act of physical violence. Reestablishment of the Internet would require no such actions, making that prohibition inapplicable.

Forcing the Internet on an unwilling country would not violate international norms against foreign intervention. An illegal intervention occurs when one state attempts to coerce another state to change policies within its sovereign domain to reflect the first state’s interests. The reintroduction of the Internet and social media sites cannot be seen as an act of coercion because the outside state is simply providing neutral access to information and communication. In addition, the creation of human rights laws has lessened the exclusive competence of a nation to determine how its inhabitants should be treated. Internet access is a protected international right, which the international community has an interest in upholding. An action to reestablish that basic right does not violate international law; instead, it furthers the peoples’ fundamental self-determination entitlement.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 40

Keywords: Internet, Human Rights, International Law, Intervention

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Date posted: January 23, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Swanson, Steven R., Forcing Facebook on Foreign Dictators: A Violation of International Law? (March 1, 2012). Tennessee Law Review, Vol. 79, No. 4, 2012. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2205370

Contact Information

Steven R. Swanson (Contact Author)
Hamline University - School of Law ( email )
1536 Hewitt Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104-1237
United States
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