The Sunday Show: The Bad News on Internet Freedom

Justin Hendrix / Sep 26, 2021

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We’ve got a three part jumbo show today. First, we’ll dive in to the results of the annual Freedom on the Net report from Freedom House. Then, we’re going to look at one place where internet freedoms are at risk- Canada, where a new proposal to regulate online harms looms. And then, we’re going to talk about the complexity of generating policies for content management on social media- and how a well-crafted multi-stakeholder approach can help. I think you will hear connections between each discussion.

First up is a Allie Funk, Senior Research Analyst for Technology and Democracy, an expert on human rights in the digital age, with a particular focus on free expression, privacy, surveillance, and censorship. She’s one of the co-authors, with Adrian Shahbaz, of this the Freedom on the Net report from Freedom House, a nonprofit think thank that advances democratic ideas. The report assesses internet freedom in 70 countries, accounting for 88 percent of the world’s internet users. The report covers developments between June 2020 and May 2021- and it’s not a pretty picture.

Next, we look to Canada, where the Department of Canadian Heritage has proposed a new legal framework to deal with “harmful” content. The framework would establish new regulatory entities with broad authority over speech and information shared on platforms like Twitter or Facebook. To learn more about this proposal, I spoke to Michael Geist, Professor of Law and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa and Daphne Keller, who directs the Program on Platform Regulation at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center. Michael and Daphne told me why Canadians should be deeply concerned about this new proposal. One note- you’ll hear us refer to the upcoming election in Canada- that election took place on September 20th. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won a third term but his Liberals once again fell short of a majority in the House of Commons, and will form a minority government in coalition with other parties. Here’s Michael and Daphne.

Finally, we speak with Chris Riley, senior fellow of internet governance at R Street Institute, a D.C. think tank that advocates for free markets. With coauthor David Morar, Chris recently set out to explore what a properly designed “multi-stakeholder” process to explore “problems at the intersection of harm arising from online content moderation, free expression, and online management policies and practices” would look like, with funding from the Knight Foundation. In a new report Applying Multi-Stakeholder Internet Governance to Online Content Management, detail the process they arrived at and its prospects for driving “sustainable progress in online trust” that is the result of “constructive discussions in the open.” I spoke to Chris about the process, and his views on regulation in this space generally.


Justin Hendrix
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & ...