The state can regulate political disinformation without limiting freedom of expression (Dissertation defense: LL.M Christopher Phiri, 30.11.2023, law)
Political disinformation, or disinformation relating to matters of public interest, has become a hot topic for discussion in recent years. In his dissertation, LL.M Christopher Phiri studied how it is possible for the state to regulate political disinformation while maintaining freedom of expression.
Political disinformation, understood broadly as disinformation relating to matters of public interest (such as disinformation about political elections, political candidates, the conduct of public affairs by government officials, pandemics, climate change and the like), has been a major talking point at least since 2016. In the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election, public interest in the topic has exploded around the globe. Policymakers and academics alike have been arguing and haggling about how to regulate this phenomenon in the fast-evolving online communication environment whilst upholding freedom of expression, a highly-prized freedom that is generally seen as an essential feature of democracy.
More often than not, emerging regulatory measures have been greeted with severe criticism. Many commentators believe that measures aimed at regulating online political disinformation in particular threaten freedom of expression and thus democracy itself.
In his dissertation, LL.M Christopher Phiri took to investigating if the state can nonetheless regulate the phenomenon of political disinformation without undermining freedom of expression. And if so, how?
In confronting these pressing policy questions, Phiri went back to the drawing board. He began by conceptualising freedom in general and freedom of expression in particular.
“Freedom of expression, adequately understood, does not only involve acts of expression. It also includes freedom of thought and freedom to receive information, whether in the form of facts, opinions or ideas,” explains Phiri.
This in turn enabled him to establish whether at all the law protects as part of freedom of expression the act of communicating political disinformation.
“Freedom of expression, properly understood, does not include a right to communicate political disinformation. This is so primarily because, despite being a form of expression, the act of communicating political disinformation, whether offline or online, is a direct attempt at undermining freedom of expression itself, particularly freedom to receive information or the right of the public to be properly informed,” Phiri says.
Phiri explored these questions in the light of relevant analytical and normative insights garnered from the field of political philosophy, As the main case of study, he used the human rights system of the Council of Europe. He discovered that the law within the legal framework of the Council of Europe does not in any way prevent the state from regulating the phenomenon of political disinformation.
“The state can and, indeed, has a duty to regulate the phenomenon of political disinformation in a holistic manner and without necessarily taking away from freedom of expression, in particular by providing for a suitable combination of correction and sanction mechanisms,” Phiri states.
Given its philosophical underpinnings and holistic approach to the problem under consideration, the dissertation promises to be useful to all jurisdictions that embrace democracy.
LL.M Christopher Phiri defends the dissertation in Law titled Political Disinformation and Freedom of Expression: Demystifying the Net Conundrum at the University of Turku on 30 November 2023 at 11.15 (University of Turku, Calonia, Cal2102, Caloniankuja 3, Turku).
The audience can participate in the defence by remote access.
Opponent: Professor Giovanni De Gregorio (Catholic University of Portugal, Lisbon, Portugal)
Custos: Professor Janne Salminen (University of Turku)
Doctoral Dissertation at UTUPub: https://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-29-9528-8