Freedom of Expression and the Internet


Rawpixel / iStock / Thinkstock

We’re allowed to express our opinions on the Internet and social media. We can comment on newspaper articles, react to a video or just say how we feel on social media. But there can be a fine line between freedom of expression and doing something illegal.


Freedom of Expression Has Limits 

Expressing your opinion is a fundamental right protected by our charters of rights and freedoms. The Internet is a powerful tool for expressing opinions to a big audience. With the rise of social media, giving your opinion has never been simpler and faster. 

But be careful! Freedom of expression has its limits on the Internet, as in everyday life. Your right to expression can conflict with other people’s rights to protect their privacy, reputation, image and safety.  

With its wide reach, immediate impact and anonymity, the Internet increases the possibility for harming people. In the virtual world as in the real world, we’re responsible for what we say.

Words that go beyond the limits might lead you right to the courtroom!


When Expression Becomes “Defamation” 

If you damage someone’s reputation, by ridiculing that person or spreading false rumours, for example, you be sued for defamation. A judge could order you to pay compensation to the victim. The judge can also make the Internet user or the site that published the material withdraw it. 

The same can happen if you violate other people’s right to privacy or their right to protect their image, for example, by putting very personal information on social media. 


When Expression Becomes a Crime 

Going beyond the limits of freedom of expression on the Web can sometimes be a crime. For example, these behaviours can become crimes:

  • encouraging hate towards a group of people because of their ethnic origins, sexual orientations, beliefs, etc.
  • threatening to harm or kill someone
  • bullying someone to get that person to do or not to do something
  • harassing to the point that the person fears for his safety
  • distributing intimate photos of a person without permission

These crimes can lead to prison sentences. Also, the law says that the punishment must be harsher if the crime was motivated by hatred based on race, language, religion, gender or age, for example.

So, it’s worth thinking twice before speaking or before clicking on “send”!


Read Also: