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Internet gatekeepers, human rights and corporate social responsibilities

Laidlaw, Emily (2012) Internet gatekeepers, human rights and corporate social responsibilities. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Access to the Internet and participation in discourse through the medium of the Internet have become integral parts of our democratic life. Facilitation of this democratic potential critically relies on a governance structure supportive of the right to freedom of expression. In western democracies, governance is largely the preserve of the private sphere. This is because of two reasons. First, the communication technologies that enable or disable participation in discourse online are privately-owned. In order to find information, we use search engines. In order to sort through the clutter, we use portals. In order to access the Internet, we need to use Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Thus we inevitably rely on these companies to participate in discourse online and they thereby become gatekeepers to our digital democratic experience. Second, governance of such technologies has been largely left to companies to address through corporate social responsibility (CSR) frameworks such as in-house codes of conduct found in Terms of Service, through the work of bodies such as the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), and industry initiatives such as the Global Network Initiative (GNI). The state has stayed out of it, rigidly retaining the focal point of free speech laws on government. This has fractured the administrative structure of free speech between free speech as a legal concept and as an experienced concept. It is in this fissure that CSR has grown and taken shape. This thesis argues that the CSR frameworks that currently govern the activities of these information gatekeepers are insufficient to provide the standards and compliance mechanisms needed to protect and respect freedom of expression online. Equally, topdown legal controls are too blunt a tool for this tricky arena. What is needed is a framework that embraces the legal and extra-legal dimensions of this dilemma. To that end a new corporate governance model is proposed to help mend the deficiencies identified in the case studies and move forward with a democratic vision for the Internet.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Emily Laidlaw
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > Law
Supervisor: Gearty, Conor and Murray, Andrew D.

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