Applying International Human Rights Law for Use by Facebook

31 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2020

Date Written: March 5, 2020


In recent years, social media platforms have been beset with hate speech, misinformation, disinformation, incitement of violence, and other content that cause real-world harm. Social media companies, focusing solely on profit-maximization and user-engagement, have been largely asleep at the wheel during outbreaks of violence in countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, and India–all linked in some way to online content. When they began to try to reduce harmful content, they made tweaks: incremental, non-transparent, and often inconsistent changes to their moderation rules. To build a more effective, more consistent system, some international lawyers have suggested that social media companies use international human rights law (IHRL)–especially the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)–as a unified source for content moderation rules. However, IHRL was written and ratified for use by states, not for private companies, and IHRL emerged long before the Internet and social media were widespread. IHRL must therefore be interpreted and adapted for this new purpose. As a first step towards honing and refining its application, this article proposes a framework for the use of IHRL by social media companies.

Keywords: facebook, big tech, iccpr, ihrl, twitter, international human rights law, article 19, hate speech, fake news, misinformation, content moderation

Suggested Citation

Lwin, Michael, Applying International Human Rights Law for Use by Facebook (March 5, 2020). Yale Journal on Regulation, September 14, 2020, Available at SSRN:

Michael Lwin (Contact Author)

Koe Koe Tech ( email )

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