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

● Paper Launch: Meta’s Oversight Board Cases. Global Freedom of Expression has published a companion paper to its recent paper on The Decisions of the Oversight Board from the Perspective of International Human Rights Law as part of its Special Collection of Case Law on Freedom of Expression series. The companion paper systematizes all the summaries of the cases from the Oversight Board published before October 31, 2022. The cases are ordered by the relevant Meta’s Community Standard and sub-standard discussed in each decision. At the end of each case summary, there is a link to the database entry of the case which includes a more detailed description of the facts of the case and the Oversight Board’s arguments, a list of references of the international standards and relevant sources cited in the decision, an evaluation of the decision and the link to the original document, among other information.

● Surveillance, censorship and violence: A dangerous path carved out by impunity. IFEX’s free expression round up from Latin America discusses a new joint report (led by Derechos Digitales, ARTICULO19 and R3D Mexico) which found three new cases of Pegasus spyware use and “evidence linking the use of Pegasus with both the Mexican government and the army. The report found that the army illegally surveils civil society actors and journalists investigating or working on human rights violations committed by the military.” In Colombia, a year after the historic ruling in Bedoya Lima v. Colombia from the Inter-American Court of Human Right’s – which declared the Colombian State responsible for the violation of the right to personal integrity, personal liberty, honor and dignity, and freedom of thought and expression of Colombian journalist, Jineth Bedoya – the State has yet to meet its full commitment to implement effective measures for the protection of women journalists.

● Call for Papers: Optimizing for What? Algorithmic Amplification and Society. The Knight First Amendment Institute invites submissions for its spring symposium, “Optimizing for What? Algorithmic Amplification and Society,” to be held at Columbia University on April 27-28, 2023. The symposium will bring technologists together with legal scholars, journalists, sociologists, psychologists, and others to further the understanding of algorithmic amplification and distortion, and to explore possible interventions—whether platforms changing their algorithms and design, or institutions and individuals adapting to algorithm-mediated information propagation. Learn more about the symposium and the submission process here.

Decisions this Week

European Court of Human Rights
Straume v. Latvia
Decision Date: June 2, 2022
The European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled that Latvia had violated the freedom of association by dismissing a trade union representative from her position at a state-owned entity. After the Latvian Air Traffic Controllers Trade Union sent a letter to the state-owned aviation authority raising concerns about employees’ working conditions, the chairperson of the union – who had signed the letter – experienced retribution at her place of employment. The chairperson was eventually dismissed, and she challenged the dismissal and her treatment in the Latvian domestic courts. Three Latvian courts found that her dismissal was lawful. The Court reiterated the protection given to trade union activities and held that the union chairperson’s treatment had been a result of the letter sent in her name. The Court highlighted the harsh repercussions she experienced, and held that the infringement of her freedom of association was not necessary and therefore constituted a violation.

The Case of Communications Suspension and Internet Shutdown During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution
Decision Date: March 24, 2018
The Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court overturned the decision of the first instance administrative court which had levied a EGP 540 million fine against former President Mubarak and both his Prime Minister and Interior Minister for imposing a complete suspension of mobile services on the 28th of January 2011 and a blanket shutdown of internet services from on the same day and until the 2nd of February. The Court held that the shutdown order was consistent with the law and had the legitimate basis of maintaining national security and territorial integrity. The case was brought against former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, former Minister of Interior Habib Al-Adly, and others for ordering the telecommunication operators to shutdown the entirety of mobile services and internet access, without notice, in violation of the Constitution and the law.

United States
Williby v. Zuckerberg  et al.
Decision Date: June 16, 2019
The United States District Court Northern District of California dismissed a First Amendment claim against Facebook. The plaintiff, Harry Williby, claimed Facebook violated his First Amendment rights by blocking his posts concerning its hate speech policy. The Court held that Facebook, as a private entity that provides a forum for speech and does not engage in an activity that the government traditionally and exclusively performs, therefore did not qualify as a state actor subject to First Amendment constraints.

Mezey v. Twitter Inc.
Decision Date: July 19, 2018
The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed a lawsuit against Twitter implementing the three-part test under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 1996. Barry Mezey, a Twitter user, filed a lawsuit against Twitter for suspending his account without providing any reasonable justification. The District Court dismissed the complaint and observed that Twitter was an interactive computer service exercising a publisher’s traditional editorial functions and considered Mezey’s content as the “third party” content. The District Court concluded that the Communications Decency Act protected Twitter’s decision to remove Mezey’s content.

United Kingdom
Murray v. Big Pictures Limited
Decision Date: May 7, 2008
The Court of Appeal of England and Wales unanimously allowed the appeal brought by the Appellant against the High Court’s order and reinstated a claim for breach of privacy in a case wherein the photograph of a celebrity’s child was taken and published without consent. The case arose when a photographer from Big Pictures Limited took the picture of Dr Neil and Joanne Murray’s son, David Murray without their consent. The photograph was subsequently published in several newspapers and magazines. David’s parents initiated proceedings against the photographer and Big Pictures claiming the violation of the right to privacy of their son. The High Court delivered judgment in favour of the Defendant. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and observed that David had a reasonable expectation of privacy since David would not have been photographed if he had not been the son of a famous person. The Court also opined that even quotidian acts of family recreation, in public places, could be adversely affected by intrusive media attention.

Teaching 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.

Addressing Hate Speech: Educational Responses
This paper drafted by Nicole Fournier-Sylvester is part of a collection of discussion papers commissioned and produced by UNESCO and the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG). The paper observes that “the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the pertinence of the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action, generating a wave of hate speech worldwide –further exacerbating intolerance and discrimination towards particular groups and destabilizing societies and political systems. The discussion papers seek to unpack critical issues related to this global challenge and suggest possible responses and recommendations for policymakers.”

Post Scriptum

The Unfortunate Consequences of a Misguided Free Speech Principle
This short essay by Robert Post, Sterling Professor of Law at Yale Law School, will be published in a forthcoming issue of Daedalus on “The Future of Free Speech,” to be edited by Lee Bollinger and Geoff Stone. “The essay makes the ambitious claim that it is misleading to diagnosis the current diseased state of public discussion in the United States in terms of an abstract ‘free speech principle,’” such the marketplace of ideas, speaker autonomy or “the evil of content discrimination.” Post argues that “public discourse is not simply a collection of individual speech acts. It is a social practice that has a function, which is to ensure the political accountability of the state. Under the spell of a free speech principle, many believe that the illness of contemporary public debate can be cured by more speech. But this recommendation confuses symptoms with causes. Our public discourse has become rancid because our politics has become diseased. Our public discourse cannot be healed until our politics is restored. More speech may help this problem, but it also may exacerbate it. We cannot reach a clear diagnosis until we rid ourselves of the confusing fiction of a free speech principle and instead focus sharply on what we want the social practice of public discourse to achieve.

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