Module 5: Trends in Censorship by Private Actors
The growing power of private actors within the internet and technology sphere raises new questions with regard to the protection of freedom of expression in the modern age. Private actors have gained the ability to filter and control the flow of information to internet users, raising questions about net neutrality, and complex challenges with regard to enabling access to the internet and to information in developing countries, while maintaining the free and unhindered flow of information.
These powerful actors, along with online news publishers and a host of other internet intermediaries, have also become responsible for hosting huge quantities of information created and posted by regular users, raising questions about how responsibility should be apportioned for illegal or damaging content online. In particular, concerns have been raised that apportioning liability to intermediaries risks creating a digital ecosystem in which freedom of expression is routinely and structurally stymied because of fears of being held liable.
The right to privacy and the protection of personal information has come up against the free flow of information in the issue now known as ‘the right to be forgotten,’ which has begun to be dealt with at length in regional and domestic courts. This issue relates closely to that of the content moderation obligations of private platform providers and search engines, who must make influential decisions on a daily basis as to what content will be allowed and what will be removed, with significant consequences for the right to freedom of expression in the digital age.
As a result, it is vital that mechanisms and processes for greater transparency and accountability over the decisions of these powerful, private actors be put in place in order to ensure alignment with international human rights law and standards on freedom of expression and access to information.