[IRP] Blogpost: Is-facebook-a-human-right? Egypt-and-Tunisia-transform-social-media.

Lisa Horner LisaH
Tue Feb 8 18:31:51 EET 2011

Hi Mike

This is a great post.  The private companies that host expression and association online are crucial actors in making sure that our rights are protected and fulfilled.  Just as the offline media have special protections but also responsibilities that stem from the central role they play in supporting free expression, so should online media.  What's tricky for me though is the question of how we balance the need for the Internet environment to be innovative and flexible, with the need to regulate to ensure that rights are protected by private intermediaries.  Would facebook and google have developed in the first place if they were under threat from human rights lawsuits?  Do we say that once a platform develops a critical mass of users/has a certain degree of influence, they have greater responsibilities?  Would it be possible to define that threshold?  I think we need to do a lot more thinking about corporate social responsibility from a human rights framework.  John Ruggie's "protect, respect, fulfill" framework is useful...(companies have responsibilities to make sure they're not violating rights), but it's rendered fairly toothless when it's the governments themselves are committing rights violations via social media..

On another note, I'd personally be wary about asking whether facebook itself (or social media more broadly) is a human right.  Expression and association are the rights, no matter where and how we exercise them.  People taking a human rights-legal perspective often push back when we start talking about tools and instruments as rights, rather than as tools or spaces for exercising fundamental rights...and I find that these arguments distract from the fact that we're all fundamentally in agreement with each other about the basic points around expression and the role of the private sector online.  For me, human rights are those things that make us human...without them, we're being denied key aspects of our humanity.  I wouldn't say facebook is part of what makes me human, but I would say that the ability to communicate and assemble are.  

The most useful analogy I've heard is the notion of a public space or street.  Streets are public places and facilities that we all have a right to use.  I can exercise my right to peaceful assembly there, but there do have to be regulations about what is and is not permitted there so that we can all enjoy it and use it.  I think of internet spaces in the same way.  But I guess what you're saying is that they're privately owned spaces, that are becoming crucial for exercising rights.  I guess the offline analogy would be a shopping mall...I may want to protest there because that's where most people are going to be.  But the owners of the mall have the right to monitor my movements and move me on, as it's a private space.  As long as there are also public places I can use, I guess I don't have a real problem with that.  So we need public rivals of facebook...or rather preferably open source, community owned spaces.  I'm interested in the new FOSS facebook alternative Diaspora...I hope it takes off!

Sorry for the rushed and delayed response....

All the best,

-----Original Message-----
From: irp-bounces at lists.internetrightsandprinciples.org [mailto:irp-bounces at lists.internetrightsandprinciples.org] On Behalf Of Michael Gurstein
Sent: 04 February 2011 19:20
To: IRP; governance at lists.cpsr.org
Subject: [IRP] Blogpost: Is-facebook-a-human-right? Egypt-and-Tunisia-transform-social-media.


Something a bit provocative from my blog.

Comments/critique sincerely welcomed...



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