Placing Human Rights at the Centre of Regulatory Frameworks and Legislation on Online Harm

18 January 2022

Online platforms and social media have become an integral part of the daily lives of millions of individuals worldwide. Concerns about the dissemination of illegal content via these platforms and disinformation and misinformation on social media have prompted states and international organizations to seek to strengthen the regulation of online content.

The respect of human rights by technology companies, such as online platforms and social media companies is therefore crucial for leveraging and fostering a rights-respecting technology ecosystem.

Against this backdrop, our new Working Paper Regulatory Approaches to Online Harms and Human Rights: Three Case Studies discusses how to best place human rights – particularly the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) – at the centre of regulatory frameworks and legislation on online harms.

Written by our Senior Research Fellow Dr Ana Beduschi and aimed at policy-makers and all those working on the regulation of online harms, it examines their regulation in three jurisdictions – Brazil, the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK).

‘Many countries are currently developing new regulations for online harm. Our analysis precisely aims at supporting them in this endeavour’ underlines Felix Kirchmeier, Manager of Policy Studies at the Geneva Academy.

A Focus on the Right to Freedom of Expression Online

Via the three case studies, the author evaluates how different legislative proposals take human rights considerations into account – particularly the corporate responsibility to respect human rights embedded in the three pillars of the UNGPs – with a focus on the right to freedom of expression online.

‘In this paper, I investigate whether these legislative proposals in Brazil, the EU and in the UK put forward substantive or procedural rules, or both, and the key challenges and opportunities for each of these approaches. I also discuss whether there are potential reverse negative impacts for the protection of freedom of expression online’ explains Dr Beduschi.

No ‘One Size Fits All’ Approach for Online Harms Regulation

The analysis of the three case studies shows that legislative measures laying down substantive and process-oriented obligations for online platforms might support legal certainty. Nonetheless, paradoxically, depending on how these legal obligations are set, they may lead to potential violations of the very rights that they seek to protect.

‘Many challenges still lie ahead. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for online harms regulation. Still, there is a crucial need for legislative proposals to consider the effects they may have on the protection and respect of human rights’ underlines Dr Beduschi

Our Research on Disruptive Technologies and Rights-Based Resilience

This paper is part of our research on disruptive technologies and rights-based resilience – funded by the Geneva Science-Policy Interface and carried out in partnership with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights B-Tech Project.

It will serve as a background paper for an online workshop in February 2022 that will address regulatory approaches to digital technologies and the UNGPs.

Prior outputs of the project include guidance on incorporating the protection and respect for human rights in the regulation of artificial intelligence as well as a paper that proposes solid and feasible pathways to ensure that artificial intelligence (AI) does not infringe upon human rights.


Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt present his annual report and reports on his missions to China and Greece at the 31st regular session of the Human Rights Council. 7 March 2016 News

New Expert Pool Will Strengthen the Capacity of Human Rights Mechanisms to Incorporate IHL into Their Work

29 September 2022

As part of this new IHL-EP, the Geneva Academy requested to intervene as a third party in the proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights concerning the case of Ukraine v. Russia (X).

Read more

Donbass, destruction before a building News

Our Experts and Resources on Ukraine

31 October 2022

Discover our resources and what our experts say about the situation in Ukraine, with regular updates to include new events, articles and comments!

Read more

A Blackwater Security Company MD-530F helicopter aids in securing the site of a car bomb explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, on December 4, 2004, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM Event

Private Military Companies and the Future of Conflict

7 December 2022, 14:00-15:30

This panel discussion – co-organized with ICoCA – will consider the growing importance of PMCs and the role ICoCA might play in promoting human rights observance and strengthening accountability of these actors in armed conflicts.

Read more

Dessin montrant des busness men de dos avec des portes containers dans le fond Event

Entreprises et Corruption: Comment Redistribuer les Profits Mal Acquis?

29 November 2022, 19:00-21:00

Cet événement vise à discuter, sur la base d'un cas porté devant la justice suisse, des moyens à disposition pour redistribuer les profits mal acquis par des entreprises suite à des faits de corruption auprès des populations affectées.

Read more

An aerial view of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), which have appeared following latest attacks by M23 rebels and other armed groups in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Short Course

International Refugee Law

1 March - 18 April 2023

This online short course analyses the main international and regional norms governing the international protection of refugees. It notably examines the sources of international refugee law, including the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and their interaction with human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Read more

Prison visit by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Haiti Short Course

The Implementation of International Human Rights Law

15 December - 17 January 2023

This online short course aims at presenting the institutions and procedures in charge of the implementation of international human rights law.

Read more

A session of the UN Human Rights Committtee at Palais Wilson Project

Implementing International Humanitarian Law Through Human Rights Mechanisms

Completed in April 2019

This project examined how IHL could be more systematically, appropriately and correctly dealt with by the human rights mechanisms emanating from the UN Charter, as well as from universal and regional treaties.

Read more

Panel Discussion: Project

Treaty Body Members’ Platform

Started in January 2014

The Treaty Body Members’ Platform connects experts in UN treaty bodies with each other as well as with Geneva-based practitioners, academics and diplomats to share expertise, exchange views on topical questions and develop synergies.

Read more

Cover of the publication Publication

Implementing the Treaty Body Review 2020 – Where do we stand

published on August 2022

Felix Kirchmeier, Domenico Zipoli

Read more