Topic 1: Addressing Social Media’s Legal Responsibility to Protect the Right to Free Information
Intertwined with the right to free information is censorship and free speech. Freedom of speech and access to information has been an integral part of democratic countries and social media sites provide an important means for individuals to exercise that freedom. As part of freedom of speech, social media users are also exposed to the wealth of information present on the platform. However, this wealth of information is not always holistically wealthy due to the fact that sites also have the freedom to regulate what is allowed and not allowed to be posted through internal regulation and based on their own policy to which individuals agree to when signing up for the, usually free, service.
There are two main sides to this argument which include those arguing that the social media sites are not doing enough to regulate violent and false information, while others argue that the platforms should be a place where information should flow free and that there is unfair banning and restriction of access to potentially valuable speech. However, these are not the only attitudes present and it is also valuable to note that many may take a stance that falls in between these two extremes.
The recent big legal scandal involving a social media platform that comes to mind is Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Facebook was under fire from the Congress of the United States from which many questions arose, a few relevant ones including: if Facebook should be more regulated by the government, if it did not do enough to stop hate speech that incited violence in Myanmar, and many more.
At the other end of the spectrum are the censored and government regulated social media platforms such as VK in Russia. With censorship comes the issue of privacy, although privacy has also been an issue wrangled with by the likes of Facebook as seen with the scandal of Cambridge Analytica. Thus, the right to free information is then closely intertwined with subjects such as freedom of speech and privacy.
Topics to Consider:
- Regulation of social media by the government
- Attitudes surrounding social media’s responsibility to protect right to free information
- Legality of social media companies involving themselves in protecting right to free information
- What is the difference between freedom of speech and information versus freedom from consequences?
UN Commentary on Government Policy for the Internet: https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/government-policy-internet-must-be-rights-based-and-user-centred
NYT Article on Mark Zuckerberg’s Journey to Congress: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/12/technology/mark-zuckerberg-testimony.html
Topic 2: The Question of Whether International Sanctions are both Effective and Ethical
Before the nuclear arms race initiated after the Second World War, international disputes were often settled with military confrontation or territorial advances. With the proliferation of nuclear weapons amongst world superpowers and their allies, armed conflict has become less frequent, and the international community has been forced to find new ways to hold nations accountable for their actions. One of these methods is the implementation of economic sanctions, which attempt to target the power structure of a particular nation with the hopes of discouraging bad behaviour. Economic measures allow a nation or an international collective to maintain order without resorting to direct violence. Despite this advantage, the efficacy and morality of sanctions has long been debated.
However, critics have argued that sanctions rarely effectively target the right people within a country, and that they usually only end up hurting the population at large, who are effectively innocent bystanders. For example, North Korea has faced sanctions from the United Nations as well as a myriad of unilateral sanctions from countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan. Resolution 1718 from the United Nations Security Council was imposed in order to punish North Korea for executing nuclear weapons tests. However, the economic damage from these measures have failed to prevent further tests and have kept the majority of the DPRK population living in poverty. While the United Nations bears a responsibility to hold nations accountable, it is questionable that sanctions are capable of doing this while also protecting human rights. In fact, the UN sanctions against Iraq in 1990 did irreparable damage to the Iraqi economy, leading indirectly to the deaths of up to 5 million people.
The United Nations is responsible for upholding a delicate balance between punishment and human rights. With the history of sanctions in mind, it is unclear whether economic sanctions are an effective way of holding world leaders to account.
Questions to Consider
Does the ability of sanctions to punish national leaders justify the effects on a nation’s population?
Is there a difference between United Nations and unilateral sanctions?
How can the United Nations ensure that sanctions punish the intended target(s)?
What other actions can the international community take aside from sanctions?
Global Policy Forum, Sanctions Against North Korea
Council on Foreign Relations, What to Know About Sanctions on North Korea
Human Rights Watch, US Economic Sanctions Harm Iranians’ Right to Health
Farrokh Habibzadeh, Economic sanction, a weapon of mass destruction
Brian O’Toole, Sanctions are effective- if used correctly