New digital technologies, in particular the internet, have provided new opportunities for freedom of expression, but have also given authoritarian regimes new tools to silence free voices and track down dissent. In democratic countries, new challenges have emerged, including but not limited to: web governance, takedown orders, filters and intimidation, security and surveillance, privacy, copyrights, and media rights online. As internet penetration and access to the internet via mobile phone are increasing worldwide, it is interesting to see how digital inclusion has created a new space for the exchange of ideas. In particular, the emergence of social media has drastically reshaped the ways in which we are able to share and receive information. It has also triggered further debate on free expression to include issues around hate speech, blasphemy, obscenity and online abuse.

This session will look at challenges related to free speech online. We will address restrictions to freedom of expression from technological challenges (filters, surveillance techniques, blocking access to websites) to the introduction of new laws that curb digital freedom. We will also cover the increasing trend of takedown requests, the phenomenon of privatisation of censorship as well as threats, intimidation and violence against citizen journalists and bloggers. Through detailed case studies, participants will have the opportunity to explore the various implications of online censorship for media freedom. Case studies will include examples from countries such as Azerbaijan, Turkey, Belarus, India and Brazil.

The small-group session will involve short debates on issues discussed during the presentation and questions time. Each group (ideally 5-6 people/group, 10 max) will be given a different topic that will reflect online free speech challenges/dilemma that come up in the daily practice of journalism and blogging. Participants will be asked to debate over the practical and/or theoretical issues in small group, and then present their findings to other participants.


melody patryMelody Patry is senior advocacy officer at Index on Censorship. Melody provides research and analysis for Index’s policy formulation and advocates to protect freedom of expression both online and off. She has particular expertise on the issues of online censorship and looks at the use of information and digital technologies to promote debates in society. In 2013 and 2014, Melody went on missions to Azerbaijan and Brazil to research threats to media and digital freedom. Previously, she worked as a political adviser for the EU European External Action Service and most recently, as a writer and documentary filmmaker supporting human rights NGOs in Egypt.



Belarus: Pulling the plug. Policy paper on digital challenges to freedom of expression in Belarus: http://www.indexoncensorship.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/IDX_Belarus_ENG_WebRes.pdf

Ergodan’s threat to shut down social media is warning for media in Turkey: http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/03/erdogans-threat-to-shut-down-social-media-is-warning-for-media-freedom-in-turkey/