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    Module 5: Trends in Censorship by Private Actors

    It is now well established that “the same rights that people have offline must be protected online”.(1) However, in addition to increasing trends in censorship by states, increasing trends in censorship by non-state actors are threatening and infringing an array of rights, most notably the right to freedom of expression. Litigators and activists must now contend with not only state abuses of human rights, but also violations of digital rights by private actors.

    According to the 2011 Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression (UNSR), the “framework of international human rights law remains relevant today and equally applicable to new communication technologies such as the Internet.” This is particularly true for freedom of expression, as the UNSR explains: the “[i]nternet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.” With the rise in the use of the internet, there has also been a rise in new actors who have begun wielding significant power. Unfortunately, the use of this power is often opaque and problematic. Social media platforms and multinational online companies are, to a large extent, in control of the facilitation of people’s enjoyment of their human right online. Like many state actors, non-state actors are not always acting in accordance with the basic and fundamental principles of international human rights law.

    This module grapples with some of the long-term threats to freedom of expression from non-state actors, as well as emergent threats. Alongside providing a brief overview of relevant topics, it provides practical guidance on how to ensure that fundamental rights and freedoms are respected, protected and promoted online.


    1. UN Human Rights Council, ‘The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet’ A/HRC/RES/20/8 (16 July 2012) (accessible at  See further UN Human Rights Council ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association’ A/HRC/41/41 (17 May 2019) (“2019 Special Rapporteur Report”) (accessible at Back