To Protect Freedom of Expression, Why Not Steal Victory from the Jaws of Defeat?
51 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2019 Last revised: 5 May 2020
Date Written: August 23, 2019
Global social media platforms are grappling with whether to align their corporate speech codes with international human rights law. Facebook’s June 2019 report that summarized worldwide feedback about its proposed independent oversight board for content moderation noted a split in stakeholder opinions on this topic. The UN’s top expert on freedom of expression as well as many civil society members recommended that Facebook anchor its content moderation in the international human rights law regime. Others expressed concern that this legal regime would not be sufficiently protective of speech and contained inconsistencies that create problems for content moderation.
Those concerns were linked to a recent scholarly call for updates to the United Nations’ international legal regime regarding freedom of expression, particularly with respect to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This Article examines the scholarly call’s analysis to assess whether its conclusions are correct, which would make this body of law less useful for platforms to adopt in content moderation.
This Article finds that the state of international law on freedom of expression is more protective of speech (and more coherent) than the scholars assessed and proposes ways to achieve their laudable goal of promoting broad protections for freedom of expression in international law. The Article concludes that the existing international legal regime on freedom of expression remains a useful resource for content moderation by global platforms.
Keywords: freedom of expression, free speech, content moderation, international human rights law
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation