HRC38: Oral statement to Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression


ARTICLE 19 delivered the following oral statement in response to the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, which called on states and social media companies to do more to protect freedom of expression online in relation to content regulation.

Mr. President,

When States seek the removal from the Internet of user-generated content, whether through legal or extra-legal pressure on the business enterprises that own online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Google, it is censorship.

As the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression identifies, such removals often occur outside of legal frameworks, with executive agencies or private companies determining the legality of content, rather than courts. Deputising censorship, in particular where States’ laws do not comply with international human rights law, raises serious freedom of expression concerns. Even in the digital age, archaic laws on blasphemy, sedition, and criminal defamation, must be repealed, and ill-defined restrictions on “terrorist content”, “extremism”, and “incitement”, require reform.

We agree that business enterprises adopt a “human rights by default” approach to user-generated content, premised on the Ruggie Principles. Where terms of service more accurately reflect international human rights standards, respecting users’ rights to anonymity and due process, business enterprises may more consistently resist government requests that breach those standards.

Comprehensive transparency, from States and business enterprises, as recommended in the report, is essential.

In a side event on Thursday, ARTICLE 19 will launch its policy: “side stepping rights: regulating speech by contract”. It proposes, to address the issue of remedies, that social media companies establish self-regulatory mechanisms modelled on independent and effective press councils.

In Mexico, we have recorded the killing of 40 journalists in just 6 years – all targeted for their work – constituting a “widespread attack on the roots of democratic life” and the public’s right to know. It is a legal and moral imperative that the government act to make ending impunity a national priority, and dedicate the resources necessary to achieve this. As a federal judge has ruled, FEADLE’s failure to investigate the government’s use of Pegasus surveillance software against human rights defenders and journalists requires an independent investigation, including into PGR’s own involvement. We echo the Special Rapporteur’s that the public advertising law be reformed to cease public resources being used to manipulate press coverage.