Opinio Juris: Freedom of Expression and Its Slow Demise: The Case of Online Hate Speech (and Its Moderation/Regulation)


Dr. Natalie Alkiviadou is a Senior Research Fellow at Justitia (Denmark) working on the Future of Free Speech Project

Four point two billion people are active social media users. This has given voice to previously marginalized groups. At the same time, however, extremism, hatred and abuse have become part and parcel of this reality. This has led to enhanced pressure on platforms from users, civil society organizations, advertisers and, importantly, from governments.

In May, France passed legislation compelling social media companies to remove ‘manifestly illicit’ hate speech within 24 hours. Companies which do not comply with this requirement would face fines of up to 1.25 million Euros. In June 2020, France’s Constitutional Council ruled that this law limited the freedom of expression in an unnecessary, inappropriate and disproportional manner. This law can be seen as a legislative precedent set by Germany and its 2017 Network Enforcement Act, which also imposes a legal obligation on social media companies to remove illegal content, including  insult, incitement and religious defamation within 24 hours and at risk of a fine of up to 50 million Euros. Two reports issued by Justitia demonstrate how this precedent has spilled over in more than twenty States, including ones with a poor track record when it comes to democracy and the rule of law.

Read the full op-ed here.


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