Internet Myth 3: You Can Say What You Want Online

Internet - cfamedia

Last week, we discussed the regulation of what people can do, on the internet and how international law appears, not to apply on the internet.

This week, our discussion continues, on the common internet myths that need to be debunked.

-As discussed by Emily Laidlaw


The Internet is, free for all space, where hate speech, defamation and other forms of abuse, can be expressed, without limits, or, consequences.

If a person posts something abusive on a social networking site, for example, this is protected expression and there are no avenues, through the law, to restrain that behavior.


Many things limit what you can say online, including laws, norms, community standards, advocacy, AI and the market.

All of these different modalities of regulations form the system of governance of online expression.

Human rights law, protects the right to freedom of expression, as integral, to a thriving democracy, to our sense of autonomy and search, for the truth.

The right, however, comes with a sense of responsibilities, such as, not to infringe upon the rights of others, to their reputation, or, privacy, for national security.

The idea of speech, as a right and responsibility, infiltrates all the different layers, in the system of governance online.

Criminal and civil laws, prohibit certain forms of speech, that are seen as, particularly, harmful to society, such as, incitement to hatred, promotion of genocide, defamation, or, terrorist speech.

A particular challenge, online is that the offenders are, often, difficult to track down, whether because, they are located, out of the jurisdiction, or, post anonymously.

Traditional command and control laws can, thus, be less effective, in restraining illegal speech.

On some sites, the community of users, regulate speech, through informal social norms, such as, rules of moderators.

Civil society and communities, regulate speech, by advocating for platforms, to remove certain content.


The internet is not a free speech paradise, where anything can be posted, without consequence, rather, online speech is, regulated, through a complex system of governance, including laws, norms, community standards and advocacy.

The question is not, whether you can say anything you want online – you cannot – but rather, how to design the system, managing free expression, to be more effective and sensitive, to human rights principles.

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