Module 2: Introduction to Digital Rights
Digital rights are human rights in the digital realm. The term ‘digital rights’ speaks to questions about how the same rights that are fundamental to all humans — such as freedom of expression, privacy, and access to information — are exercised and protected in the era of the internet, social media, and technology.
There is a tension between human rights and freedoms and the rise in restrictions of access to online spaces, which is continuing with increased political polarisation and the growing powers of non-state actors. While many countries have made progress in regulating the digital sphere, including passing data protection laws to protect privacy online, some regulations, such as laws criminalising hate speech and fake news, for example, are abused in order to silence and stifle criticism and freedom of expression online. Protecting and developing online spaces where human rights can be respected and promoted requires effective responses to oppressive regulations and innovative solutions.
Understanding digital rights is crucial to being able to protect fundamental human rights in any domain, as very little of our lives today is immune from the forces of technology and the internet, which have reshaped how humans communicate, participate in public life, and behave. The COVID-19 pandemic has only enhanced our dependence on the digital realm and has exposed some of the emerging challenges in this regard, such as misinformation and online gender-based violence. Digital rights are the rights that apply in these spaces, including the particular nuances which come with the application of human rights online. This module seeks to provide an overview of digital rights and the trends affecting freedom of expression online in Africa.