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    Protecting the Rights of Others Online

    Module 1: Digital Rights and Emerging Challenges

    In relation to online speech, the ECtHR has stated that the risk of harm posed by online content to the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and freedoms, particularly the right to respect for private life, is higher than the risk posed by the press.(1) The ECtHR has therefore recognised the importance of the Internet in the exercise of freedom of expression, but it has also established that liability for defamation or other unlawful speech must, in principle, be retained and constitute an effective remedy for violations of the right to reputation among other rights.(2) However, the Court may also take into account other factors that reduce the impact of online content on the interests protected by Article 10.(3)

    The nature of the Internet is a factor to be considered when ruling on the level of seriousness in order for an attack on personal reputation to fall within the scope of Article 8.(4) The amplifying effect of the Internet was considered in a case concerning an individual accused of antisemitism. The impugned speech was published on an association’s website, and the association had been ordered to remove the article in question. The Court noted, in particular, that the potential impact of the antisemitism allegation was considerable and was not limited to the usual readership of the publication in which it had been published. Using a search engine allowed access to the article on a worldwide basis. The publication therefore had a considerable impact on the reputation and rights of the individual concerned.(5)

    Consistent with the position of the UNHRC, set out in its 2016 resolution,(6) the ECtHR considers that the general principles applicable to offline publications also apply online. Examples of this include where private or personal information is published on the Internet, such as a person’s name or a description of them, the need to preserve confidentiality in this regard can no longer constitute an overriding requirement, in that this information has ceased to be confidential and is in the public domain. In such cases, the Article 8 rights fall to be considered.(7)

    In a finding that a webmaster’s criminal conviction for public insult against a mayor in respect of comments published on the Internet site of an association chaired by him had been excessive, it was noted in particular that the comments in question related to expression by the representative body of an association, which was conveying the claims made by its members on a subject of general interest in the context of challenging a municipal policy.(8) In the context of animal and environmental protection which is undeniably in the public interest, the ECtHR has held that it had been proportionate to issue an injunction which prevented an animal rights organisation from publishing on the Internet a poster campaign featuring photos of concentration camp inmates alongside pictures of animals reared in intensive farming conditions.(9)

    Footnotes

    1. Delfi AS v. Estonia [GC], § 133; Editorial Board of Pravoye Delo and Shtekel v. Ukraine, § 63. Back
    2. Delfi AS v. Estonia [GC], § 110 Back
    3. Kozan v. Turkey, no. 16695/19, § 51, 1 March 2022. Back
    4. Arnarson v. Iceland, no. 58781/13, § 37, 13 June 2017. Back
    5. Cicad v. Switzerland, no. 17676/09, § …, 7 June 2016 Back
    6. UNHRC, ‘Resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet’, (2016) at para. 1 (accessible at https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/845728?ln=en). Back
    7. Aleksey Ovchinnikov v. Russia, no. 24061/04, §49-50, 16 December 2010. Back
    8. Renaud v. France, no. 13290/07, § 40, 25 February 2010. Back
    9. PETA Deutschland v. Germany, no. 43481/09, 8 November 2012. Back