In the modern technologically advanced world, internet freedom is vital as it shapes how we interact not only locally but also across international borders, societal behaviors, and regulatory precincts to govern these interactions. While it results to positives such as mobilized social action and globalization, it can also lead to negatives such as cyberattacks (cyber-bullying, cyber-racism) and violation of human rights to privacy.
Internet Freedom and Social Action
Internet freedom especially in the modern world is an integral facet of information technology as it promotes freedom of expression. This is because, through use of different social media platforms such as Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok among others, users can easily and conveniently through mobile devices, convey their thoughts on different local and global issues. Also, it helps in creating online collaboration among users which largely helps in supporting positive courses. For example, in 2008, Oscar Morales, a Columbian engineer, led an online demonstration against terrorism which convened over 12 million people from over 190 cities across the world to protest FARC rebels in the country. This demonstration represented one of the largest demonstrations convened online through platforms such as Facebook. In following weeks after the demonstrations, FARC saw massive demobilization and dissertations than it had experienced during the military regime.
In another example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was an online-orchestrated movement that sought to end violence, discrimination and racial injustices among minorities and black people. This movement commenced after the brutal murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, USA in the hand of the police (Mir & Zanoni, 2021). This movement garnered worldwide popularity and support across different countries in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Such a positive course was orchestrated online as a result internet freedom enjoyed by users across the world. Internet freedom conjoined with a proper course of action such as demonstration against corruption, climate change and international policies among others, acts as a force multiplier and magnifies the power and potential of other individuals in these platforms. With the End-to-End User Principle, the internet promotes largest and frictionless communication among users. Thus, this principle facilitates open networking fostering instant communication needed in social action events.
Internet freedom especially fostering free communication among different countries is the modern-day globalization. Silva (2013) notes that the internet has promoted free flow of information and communication globally overcoming barriers imposed by traditional media. This flow then creates interconnection between countries and regions through online platforms. For example, with platforms such as X (formerly Twitter), a user can get real-time information of different occurrences around the world. With live streaming advanced features such as Instagram and TikTok, YouTube live, users can get real time commentary on the happenings across different countries. The freedom to share such information strengthens and promotes communicational engagement and relationships among users from different regions. For example, one user can use live streaming while on a vacation in a particular country. Such freedom of sharing will then invite people from different countries, who access this content, to share opinions and views of their own experience and even ignite interest of travelling to these locations. Thus, internet freedom offers free communication and promotes globalization.
While we have established that internet freedom can have massive positives, it is also highly likely to have negatives.
One of the major consequences of internet freedom is cyberattacks such as cyber-racism, cyber-session and sexual harassment and cyber homophobia. Instances of cyber-sexism have bee rampant in online spaces and platforms often bred by the freedom to communicate and share information online.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (2023) records that a 2012 Sexual Harassment Survey recorded that of 17% participants, 4% received inappropriate advances on social media platforms. This includes ‘’creep-shots’ where parties take screenshots of intimate body parts of unsuspecting users. Cyber-racism has also been rampant because of this freedom. For example, during the Covid-19, online racism partook in the form of regarding the virus as ‘ChineseVirus’ among others. In their research on Twitter cyber-racism Eysenbach (2020) note that there were repeated negative sentiments and emotions associated with the Asian race because of the virus. Such online acclamations advance negative effects of cyberbullying and due to lack of proper regulatory laws that could apprehend such online acts, cyber-attacks continue to reign to this day.
Violation of Human Rights to Privacy
Internet freedom has orchestrated massive defense of human rights through online activism such as Black Lives Matter movement. However, this freedom also facilitates violation of human rights to privacy. Silva (2013) notes that each time users use social media platforms, their personal information, identity, and behavior can be monitored. This information is then used by government mechanisms that allow government repression of dissent and abolishing fundamental huma rights such as religious freedom and privacy. The author also notes that such information is used by governments in surveillance intended on repression of network users.
Another perspective of this negative side is that while internet and internet freedom facilitate access and sharing of information, it neglects the scope of growing void of intellectual property that affect realization of human rights. For example, while the internet promotes free flow of information, punitive and monopolistic intellectual property laws inhibit creation and invention where users are restricted to sharing certain content or information. This inhibits development, for example, penal codes on IP inhibit use of certain online content for educational purposes by imposing imprisonment and civil debts. Thus, there exists a string conflict between IP and human rights because of inconsistent rules of international law applicable to information sharing and usage.
Australian Human Rights Commission. (2023). 5 Current issues of ‘’internet censorship’: Bullying, discrimination, harassment and freedom of Expression. Australian Government. https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/5-current-issues-internet-censorship-bullying-discrimination-harassment-and-freedom
Burstein, D, D. (2023). Innovation Agents: Oscar Morales and One Million Voices Against FARC, Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/1836318/innovation-agents-oscar-morales-and-one-million-voices-against-farc
Chen, T. (2021). Black Lives Matter: Power, Perception, and Press. Harvard University. https://carrcenter.hks.harvard.edu/files/cchr/files/21_chen_topol_paper.pdf
Eysenbach, G. (2020). The Resurgence of Cyber Racism During the Covid-19 Pandemic and its Aftereffect: Analysis of Sentiments and Emotions in Tweets, JNIR Public Health and Surveillance, 6(4):e19833.
Mir, R., & Zanonu, P. (2021). Black lives matter: Organization recommits to racial justice, Organization, 28(1), pp. 3 -7.
Silva, A, J, C. (2013). Internet Freedom is not Enough: Towards an Internet Based on Human Rights, International Journal on Human Rights, 18, pp. 17 -31.