Law in the Internet Society

Internet and its effects on freedom of speech

-- By JayTongkak - 11 Oct 2019

Given that amount of data transmitted over the internet nowadays, we have access to information all over the world with a single touch of our fingertips. News, rumors, updates, travel photos, personal feelings are being shared and updated on a real-time basis. A post can go 'viral' within seconds, with the power of the internet. In some circumstances, the internet can be helpful. People can be heard widely and quickly. With the internet becoming more and more accessible, anyone can posts almost anything. I can go online and learn about news from all over the world even faster than turning on a television or reading it from traditional physical newspaper. This begs the questions as to whether the popularity of the Internet promotes and supports the freedom of speech, or does the internet do the opposite and limits what people say online.

The Involvement of the Internet on the Freedom of Speech

From a regulatory perspective, in the USA, a free speech is protected under the First Amendment, which also covers free speech on the internet. Therefore, people are generally entitle to speak freely, whether it is offline or online. People in the US tend to have more freedom of speech than most of the world. As the US has not issued many regulations over content on the internet, popularity of the internet does not negatively affect the freedom of speech, but rather promotes it more as people can enjoy their rights under the First Amendment. This results in people being more open on the Internet in the US and the Internet becomes the biggest platform for everyone to voice their opinions. Even the public sector can enjoy the liberty of freedom speech on the internet and promote their party or their propaganda.

Not all type of content, however, is allowed on the Internet. There are some limitations of content we can put out on the Internet such as prohibitions on child pornography, copyright infringing content, fake news, etc. In some countries, the government may come up with content regulation specific to their country. China, which has been known as one of the most strict on its surveillance and content screening also recently came up with additional content regulation.

In addition, the First Amendment only protects the freedom of speech from government censorship such as federal, state, public schools, police, but not include private individuals or organizations. Therefore, those private actors may limit the freedom of speech further than the First Amendment allows. In practice, the scope of what content we can post on the internet is also often decided by the tech companies, owning social medias. The terms and conditions and discretion of each tech companies vary and can sometimes be controversial. For examples, Facebook was criticized about its approach to political speech content screening, Facebook bans Myanmar activists account, Social Medias Censorship.) Twitch has also been criticized for its unequal bans on content creator on its real-time streaming platform, for example, a streamer was recently ban for vomiting online. These companies act as a monitoring entity to ensure that their platform is in compliance with the laws and terms and conditions.

To say the least, the Internet could introduce more challenging issues to freedom of speech online as a result of its open but monitored nature.


Freedom of speech on the Internet can often be controversial. One might argue that the Internet should be a free space, without any boundaries or regulation, as supported strongly in the EFF's Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. While to some extent, content regulations can be useful against criminal content. Those aforementioned content regulations could potentially give "chilling effect" over the content on the Internet. There is also a study on chilling effects under several scenarios including online surveillance showing negative impacts of such activities. The Internet allowing information to be spread and received throughout the world could potentially expose the users to more government enforcement. A clear example would be talking verbally and in-person with one of your friends about criticizing the government may not result in any negative legal enforcements. On the other hand, discussing the same topic and conversation online could distract more engagement and government may also be knocking your door because the conversation becomes more public and accessible.

This draft is a more coherent essay. It can be made better in a few ways:

  • "The Internet" is not a synonym for "Facebook or WeChat or Twitter" or some other data-mining social media "service." As I tried to explain in class, "the Internet" is a collection of pipes and switches enabling a condition of universal interconnection through a network of digital devices that the underlying design of the network of networks treat as inherently equal. It is good to write about "the Internet" without fundamentally misidentifying what you are writing about.

  • Trying to decide whether something is A or B—whether these technical arrangements for universal interconnection are for free expression or against free expression,for example—is a false inquiry. One might say that the answer is certain to be "both." One might equally say that the inquiry should be "how does X alter what we mean by free expression?" Or. given that the real subject is current geopolitics, "how can societies that deny the value of free expression and those that exalt it operate their networks without mutual hostility?"

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r5 - 06 Feb 2020 - 15:27:39 - EbenMoglen
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM