The Borderless Enjoyment of Freedom of Expression
Module 2: Digital Rights
One particular strength of freedom of expression online presents is that the right is able to be enjoyed regardless of physical borders. People are able to speak, share ideas, coordinate and mobilise across the globe on a significant and unprecedented scale.
The internet as a tool for change: the case of Myanmar and the Milk Tea Alliance
Following the 2021 coup d’état that led to a military regime taking control of Myanmar’s government, activists in Taipei, Bangkok, Melbourne and Hong Kong heeded a call by pro-democracy campaigners in Myanmar and took to the street carrying #MilkTeaAlliance signs.(1) The Milk Tea Alliance online movement for democracy and human rights first emerged in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand, and is an allusion to a shared love for variations of milk tea in those countries, and the hashtag was used to protest online attacks from Chinese nationalists.(2)
Before the internet, this would have been next to impossible. The borderless nature of the internet can lead to international pressure being put on states for rights violations, global campaigns being developed and supported, and a rigorous exchange of ideas being fostered.
However, the internet also gives rise to particular challenges. Through the internet, the ability to publish immediately and reach an expansive audience can create difficulties from a legal perspective, such as establishing the true identity of an online speaker, establishing founding jurisdiction for a legal claim, or achieving accountability for wrongdoing that has spread rapidly online, such as the non-consensual dissemination of intimate images.
Moreover, once content has been published online it can often be very difficult to remove it. In the 2021 case of T.V. Today Network Limited vs The Cognate & Ors(3) the New Delhi High Court ordered the deletion of an infographic that had been shared on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and that was determined to be defamatory. This particular order was worded broadly, and the defendants were also ordered to block related posts on “other social media or any other website on the internet, in print or electronically or other media”.(4) However, the viral nature of social media raises questions about the effectiveness of such remedies, particularly where they are broadly worded. The deletion of a tweet on Twitter does not necessarily remove it from all platforms, as there are other ways in which the content may have been distributed that are not addressed by the deletion (such as retweets in which persons added a comment of their own),(5) and third parties responsible for such posts may not be party to the litigation and thus not bound to remove content they have disseminated. This is a particular challenge to finding effective remedies to claims of defamation, hate speech, or the right to be forgotten.