Law in the Internet Society

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Internet and its effects on freedom of speech

-- By JayTongkak - 11 Oct 2019

Though, the right to the freedom of speech is recognized and endorsed in the law of many countries throughout world, many issues still arise out of content posted on the Internet. Given the speech can be controversial and people start to realize their right to freedom of speech more and more, the focus on freedom of speech has been increasing significantly, especially in this digital age. I would like to think that the Internet plays a big part in that, both positively and negatively.

The Involvement of the Internet on the Freedom of Speech

Advantages of the Internet

Prior to the Internet era, ways to communicate between people were (1) verbal communications such as; in-person talk, phone calls, and (2) document-based communications such as; letter, fax. Therefore, the communication circle was very limited. The discussion could only include limited amount of people with limited amount of range, with a much slower pace of dissemination. The Internet has changed that completely. Nowadays, we can talk to a person or a group of people or even the whole world within a second or less. I can Skype with my family from a faraway country. The conference call system makes it easier for people to conduct a meeting without having to travel and meet in person. Social medias are also a platform for people to voice their opinion and get the responses in real-time. News can also travel fast.

Given the benefits of the Internet, its popularity rose as quick as its speed and the Internet is now part of almost everybody’s daily life. In the political aspect, social medias have been a platform for the citizens, activists, political parties, or any person to publish their opinion, whether it is supporting or criticizing the government. Without the Internet, some people’s opinion may not have been heard at all. Once a story goes on the Internet, it is there. In many cases in developing country such as Thailand which is my hometown, people without access to the Internet cannot be heard by the outside world and may be silenced by the Thai government via inhumane methods. On the contrary, with the Internet, the affected party or government may not act recklessly against the publisher because there are people watching. As for the government, they can publish the public news faster and also promote their party or their propaganda via social medias. The Internet significantly helps spreading the voice and inherently supporting the Freedom of Speech.

Disadvantages of the Internet

Every coin has two sides. With the benefits of the Internet that we are enjoying, comes the cons of the Internet on the freedom of speech. Once a person publishes a post, article, blog, or any content on the Internet, a whole world can generally access that content, including the government, which makes it easier for the government to take action against the person. With technology, it is easier for the government to identify the person digitally (e.g. from the I.P. address, online database of the citizen) than physically. There have been several attempts of the government to get data from business operators as well, which could give huge chilling effects on freedom of speech.

While for US law, freedom of speech is generally recognized under the First Amendment and the cases brought to the Court are generally on hate speeches. I would like to take this change to give an example on Thailand since, in my opinion, freedom of speech is almost nonexistence due to the Lèse-majesté law. A person is prohibited from defaming, insulting or threatening the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent or they will be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years according to Section 112 of the Thai Penal Code. This law has been the root of many political issues in Thailand. It silences the public entirely. Saying one bad thing about the royal family, even if the statement is true, you can go to jail for a long time. What is worse is that the Court endorses this law and usually send a person to jail because they do not want to go against the royal family as well. Given the background, although Thailand has access to social medias, unlike China, the citizen may not fully enjoy the right to freedom of speech. There has been many cases in which the government has arrested a person for posting Lèse-majesté content as the content is easily access by the government as well thanks to the Internet. This chilling effect has been covering the freedom of speech in Thailand for decades. Apart from Thailand, there have also been several politic cases (e.g. Facebook bans Myanmar activists account, Social Medias Censorship) where the right to freedom of speech is breached.


Freedom of speech is often controversial. Internet is an open space for the voices to be heard. Though, it can be a double-edged sword since the Internet also empowers and weaponizes the government to penalize those posting content against them, despite the facts that the right to freedom of speech is recognized and endorsed in the law. Therefore, the Internet both inherently promotes and limits the Freedom of Speech at the same time.

Given that the right to freedom of speech is rather vague and open to interpretation and the Internet is a free space involving various stakeholders, the solution should be contributed by every party. For example, the Court or the legislators may come up with a new law to further defines the scope of the right and exceptions to the right. The government should also develop a guideline on prohibited content and allow third-party intervention to ensure that its procedures are in accordance with the international standards. The tech companies should issue a clear guideline or reasons when censoring or banning content on their platform. The users should also be cautious when posting content online to ensure that the rights of others is not breached by the content. As the technology advances, it is important to establish a society where we are controlling the Internet to create a free and welcoming environment, not the other way around where the Internet leads the way freely.

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Revision 2r2 - 12 Nov 2019 - 20:32:44 - JayTongkak
Revision 1r1 - 11 Oct 2019 - 19:54:46 - JayTongkak
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