Columbia Global Freedom of Expression seeks to contribute to the development of an integrated and progressive jurisprudence and understanding on freedom of expression and information around the world.  It maintains an extensive database of international case law. This is its newsletter dealing with recent developments  in the field.

Community Highlights and Recent News

● India’s Draft Telecommunication Bill empowers the government to impose internet shutdowns, AccessNow states in its press release and joins other organizations in signing a letter that demands revocation of the Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022. The letter stresses the Bill “would allow government officials to arbitrarily impose network disruptions at their discretion, without any meaningful safeguards, limitations, or remedies to ensure transparency, accountability, and redress.” AccessNow and the #KeepItOn coalition – a network of organizations with a mission to end internet shutdowns – have recorded 106 internet shutdowns in India in 2021 alone. They argue the Bill would only invite more digital rights violations and preserve impunity.

● Tunisia: Decree-Law No. 54 puts freedom of the press in jeopardy, argues Social Media Exchange (SMEX) in a statement published on IFEX. Tunisia’s Decree-Law on Combating IT and Telecom Crimes, or Decree 54, was issued on September 17, 2022. It consists of 83 articles: many impose sentences of up to six years in prison and fines of up to $20,000. Among the crimes targeted is “fabricating or disseminating fake news and rumors.” Human rights advocates have criticized Decree 54 strongly, raising fears the law will bring a crackdown on freedom of expression in the country. They have also argued Degree 54 violates the right to personal data protection and the right of journalists to protect their sources. The law additionally puts asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation for the crimes mentioned in its articles.

● The World Justice Project index paints a picture of the global rule of law in crisis, reports the JURIST. The World Justice Project (WJP) has just released the 2022 edition of the Rule of Law Index. The WJP’s data shows that for the fifth consecutive year, a decline in the rule of law has taken place worldwide, as “85 out of 140 countries, accounting for 61 percent and 4.4 billion people,” score low. The most significant decline concerned fundamental rights, which the Rule of Law Index Co-Director Alicia Evangelides explains by the rise of authoritarianism and repression of freedom of expression and association. To learn more, you can explore the Index data here.

We are taking a break next week, but will return the week of November 7th!

Decisions this Week

TV Today Network Limited v. News Laundry Media Private Limited
Decision Date: July 29, 2022
The Delhi High Court held that the right to comment on content created on social media or on television channels was a facet of the right to free speech and expression guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. A media company operating a number of television news channels sought an injunction preventing a rival online news company from broadcasting material it believed was copyrighted and defamatory. The rival news company argued its broadcasts were covered by the defences of fair use and truth. The Court held that as the determination of the nature of the rival company’s content was a factual one, it could only be determined in a full trial, and so refused the application for an interim injunction.

The Netherlands
Van Haga v. YouTube
Decision Date: August 18, 2021
A Dutch Court, in preliminary relief proceedings, held that YouTube – owned by Google – was not obliged to repost a video it had removed because it violated its Covid-19 policy against medical misinformation. After a video of a Dutch Member of Parliament speaking about the national Covid-19 measures was removed by YouTube the politician unsuccessfully requested that YouTube repost it with a correction. The Court held that Google had not acted unreasonably by removing the video as it was following international, regional and national guidance on addressing medical misinformation, and that, as the right to freedom of expression is not absolute, the removal of the video was a legitimate limitation of the politician’s right.

Over the next few weeks we will be adding all the decisions of the Oversight Board into the database, many of which are discussed in our recent publication The Decisions of the Oversight Board from the Perspective of International Human Rights Law.

Oversight Board
Oversight Board Case of Tigray Communication Affairs Bureau
Decision Date: October 4, 2022
The Oversight Board upheld Meta’s decision to remove a Facebook post that threatened violence during the conflict in Ethiopia. The content was posted on the official page of the Tigray Regional State’s Communication Affairs Bureau and was viewed more than 300,000 times. The post discussed the losses suffered by federal forces, encouraged the national army to “turn its gun” toward Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s group, and warned government forces that they would die if they refused to surrender. After being reported by users and identified by Meta’s automated systems, the content was assessed by two Amharic-speaking reviewers who initially determined that the post did not contravene Meta’s policies. However, through the Integrity Product Operations Centre for Ethiopia, the company found the content violated Meta’s Violence and Incitement policy and removed it two days later. Subsequently, Meta referred the case to the Board.

Oversight Board Case of Alleged Crimes in Raya Kobo
Decision Date: December 14, 2021
The Oversight Board upheld Meta’s original decision to remove a post alleging the involvement of ethnic Tigrayan civilians in atrocities in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Meta initially applied the Hate Speech Community Standard to remove the post from Facebook but restored it after the Board selected the case. The Board found Meta’s explanation for restoration lacked detail and deemed it incorrect. The Board determined that the content violated the prohibition on unverified rumors under the Violence and Incitement Community Standard.

Oversight Board Case of Shared Al Jazeera post
Decision Date: September 14, 2021
The Oversight Board agreed that Facebook (now Meta) was correct to reverse its original decision to remove content on Facebook that shared a news post about a threat of violence from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian group Hamas. The company had initially removed the content under the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations Community Standard and restored it after the Board selected this case for review. The Board concluded that removing the content did not reduce offline harm and restricted freedom of expression on an issue of public interest.

Oversight Board Case of Öcalan’s Isolation
Decision Date: July 8, 2021
The Oversight Board overturned Facebook´s (now Meta) original decision to remove an Instagram post encouraging people to discuss the solitary confinement of Abdullah Öcalan, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). When the user appealed the company’s decision and the Board selected the case for review, Facebook found that a piece of internal guidance on the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy was “inadvertently not transferred” to a new review system and therefore decided to restore the content. While analyzing the company’s original decision, the Board found that the content should never have been removed. It determined that the user did not advocate violence but sought to highlight human rights concerns about Öcalan’s prolonged solitary confinement. Thus, the Board concluded that the post was unlikely to result in harm, and its removal was not necessary or proportionate under international human rights standards.

Oversight Board Case of Former President Trump’s Suspension
Decision Date: May 5, 2021
The Oversight Board upheld Facebook’s decision to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content on Facebook and Instagram. On January 6, 2021, during the counting of the 2020 U.S. presidential electoral votes, a mob forcibly entered the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Five people died, and many were injured during the violence. During these events, then-President Donald Trump posted two pieces of content: a video on Facebook and Instagram, followed by a written statement on Facebook. Facebook found the content violated its content policies and thus decided to remove them and suspend his account for 24 hours.

The Board employed the three-part analysis to determine Facebook’s decision to impose restrictions on freedom of expression by restricting Mr. Trump’s access to the accounts. However, the Board also made policy recommendations for Facebook to implement in developing clear, necessary, and proportionate policies that promote public safety and respect freedom of expression.

hing Freedom of Expression Without Frontiers

This section of the newsletter features teaching materials focused on global freedom of expression which are newly uploaded on Freedom of Expression Without Frontiers.

Online Antisemitism: A Toolkit for Civil Society
As the online space becomes increasingly centre-stage in the fight against antisemitism, this guide from ISD and B’nai B’rith International, in partnership with UNESCO, aims to build capacity among civil society to tackle this growing threat. Recognising the enormous capacity for positive action that the digital space offers, this practical and action-oriented resource aims to consolidate knowledge and provide a wide range of policy and community avenues for action. The guide provides an overview of the online antisemitism threat landscape, a summary of existing policy responses on an international and national level across a range of European contexts, and a broad set of recommendations for civil society engagement with governments, platforms and wider communities to address this challenge.

Post Scriptum

● “U.S. ‘Stop the Steal’ Messages Reverberate to Brazil, and Back,” by Benjamin T. Decker and Adi Cohen in Tech Policy Press, explores how efforts to discredit the election system through misinformation and propaganda strengthen ties between President Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters in Brazil and their U.S. allies. The authors argue that Bolsonaro actively exploits alternative social media platforms, and “increasingly, content that originates in Brazil is incorporated back into the effort by right wing actors in the U.S. to discredit the American election system.” That leads Decker and Cohen to envision the following scenario: any “proof” of election fraud in Brazil might play into the hands of U.S. conspiracy theorists during the upcoming midterm elections.

This newsletter is reproduced with the permission of Global Freedom of Expression.  For an archive of previous newsletters, see here.