Canadian Journal of Law and Technology


Fake news, misinformation, extremism, social media manipulation, 2016 election


Nearly a decade after the first Twitter and Facebook revolutions, the early narratives pointing to social media as a great agent of democratization1 have given way to a more nuanced understanding of the impact of the Internet on our political discourse. While there is no question that Internet access provides tremendous expressive benefits, scholars are increasingly questioning whether this information diet is ultimately healthy for society. An analogy to sugars, fats and salts has emerged, where just as an appetite for rich foods served our species well when resources were scarce, but have become a liability in an age of plenty, our natural curiosity and hunger for new ideas has led to problems in an online world teeming with misinformation and extremism. The potential for mischief was illustrated in stark terms in 2016, when well documented campaigns of foreign interference, including social media manipulation, impacted both the Brexit referendum and the United States presidential race. In response to these, and other high profile cases of the Internet being used as a vector to distribute manipulative content, many countries around the world are re-examining their approach to regulating online speech, as well as their specific posture on electrion speech. However, while there is no question that the Internet has created a raft of new regulatory challenges, it is important not to lose sight of the foundational importance of freedom of expression to an effective democracy. Solutions which attempt to address the challenges posed by online speech, but which do this by undermining core freedom of expression principles, are ultimately destined to be counter-productive. Any victory against forces that threaten our democracy will be hollow if it comes at the cost of the human rights principles which undergird our democratic system.