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Dorina BOSITS: Determining Freedom of Expression on the Internet and Introduction to the Facebook Community Guidelines

The Internet has reached a milestone by becoming one of the most significant mass communication tools as individuals in the modern age most frequently use virtual space to seek information and form their opinion.[1] According to a researcher[2], the Internet is considered to represent the last potential savior of human freedom. The legal regulation also emphasizes the special attention on digital media freedom and freedom of expression as it has outgrown and incorporated the traditional media outlets such as the television and the radio.[3] Regardless of the increased importance of the subject matter, the definitions are still often misinterpreted in laws, regulations, and in the everyday life.

Freedom of expression can be delimited by observing synonyms that are normally used interchangeably with this term. Freedom of opinion, free speech, and freedom of thought are frequently presented as full-fledged synonyms even in some legal papers.[4] However, according to Lassányi, expression is the stem concept, and the other definitions are sub-categories within freedom of expression. Thus, speaking, thinking, etc. have to be expressed in a certain manner. Hence, these terms cannot be used completely homogeneously.[5] Freedom of expression describes the direction of the act such as forming an opinion. Whereas freedom of expression serves as a base definition under which different expression types are included.[6]

After clearing the nuanced differences between the above-mentioned terms, one shall define what the term freedom of expression incorporates. The meaning of freedom has itself expanded throughout history and so has altered the right to form an opinion. According to Locke, having an opinion means thinking something without solid and undeniable proof, it is one’s own truth which they believe. Maintaining peace according to him is based on maintaining the diversity of opinions.[7] John Stuart Mill argued that real truth can only become a solid apprehension when it is challenged by other theories, arguments, and opinions. Therefore, having the right to express an opinion is crucial to get closer to the truth.[8] Through the world’s historical development, the term has widened and has outgrown to function solely representing the right of one person to self-determination.[9] Up until today, this definition has also incorporated the manifestation of that right: the free flow of opinion, the receipt of a free link to public opinion, and the right to comment on public opinion.[10]

The inverse definition of free opinion is considered to be censorship. This antonym usually faces a negative connotation after the totalitarian regimes of the XX. century. John Stuart Mill, Montesquieu, and other philosophers agree that the freedom of expressing an opinion is not an unlimited right of an individual and has to be limited in certain cases as it can mean potential harm to individuals and communities of society.[11] Hence, filtering content is inevitable even in the modern ages, especially in the modern ages. Digital censorship incorporates limiting and denying access to certain IP (Internet Protocol) addresses. Content and information deletion and monitoring are justifiable in case the posted content is unlawful or threatening which can harm the community and other internet users. Such content and sometimes even the uploader become filtered or blocked from the Internet.[12] The issue of filtering always brings up the boundaries of freedom and where a line can be drawn between what falls under the definition of free opinion and what does not. International social media enterprises try to outmaneuver national and international legislators and determine their own policies when it comes to free speech.[13] The Facebook Community Standards for Meta serve this purpose as well.

Although different community standards tend to vary across different platforms, it is possible to find similarities in their structures and purposes. Most community standards can be described as a “written policy” and include the definitions of contents which are compliant with these standards and those which are likely to be removed from the sites temporarily or permanently.[14] The term Community Standards at Facebook was first explicitly used in 2016; however, the first edition of its current standards appeared in 2018, when Facebook posted its standards’ enforceability.[15] In the introduction of the Facebook Community Standards, it is mentioned that its aim is to create a safe space where the users do not feel limited in sharing their opinions. However, like most international treaties, the Standards declare that it is necessary to draw the boundaries of freedom of expression but, at the same time, the users that share a minority opinion need protection against the majority because their opinions are usually forced to the peripheries. According to Facebook, the standards were developed based on people’s feedback fundamental human rights, and on the basis of protecting diversity among people.[16]

Screening content according to these standards is operated via an AI (Artificial Intelligence) algorithm, which tries to filter unlawful or problematic content on the site. Although this process creates unbiased criteria for blocking content, it eliminates the possibility of individual judgments according to the context of the content. With that, the system became rigid and solely based on the inputs of a computer, and this has frequently resulted in the unlawful blocking of an account or a post.[17] To overcome the issues generated by the unhuman objectivity of the algorithm, the Oversight Board was established as a “court of appeal” to be able to review complaints regarding past decisions.[18]

Contrary to most international regulations on freedom of expression, Facebook implements a positive criterion system and does not mostly focus on the negative, restrictive norms. These are usually positive values according to which the screening is programmed.[19] That does not mean that such values do not appear in legislation like the Digital Services Act (DSA) as well. However, while the Community Standards emphasize protecting the diversity of opinion and individuals, the DSA rather highlights protection from causing harm.[20]

The article has also shown that defining objective criteria for drawing the borders of freedom is not an easy task. With the increase of social media usage, the law seems to follow reality only slowly, which gives significant relevance to different guidelines such as Facebook’s Community Standards that intend to draw the line between free and unlawful opinions. Enforceability is strong with these standards as the site has the power to restrict content that are not compliant with their Standards. Therefore, standards such as Meta’s community guidelines serve as a relevant comparable when it comes to international legislation on freedom of expression.

[1]   Kolarević, Emina: The Influence of Artificial Intelligence on the Right of Freedom of Expression. In. Pravo. Vol. 39, no. 1. 2022. p.1. (

[2] Lassányi Tamás: A véleménynyilvánítás szabadsága az Interneten. In. Az információs társadalom felé. Tanulmányok és hozzászólások. In. Replika Kör, 2001. Budapest, p.112.

[3] Ling, Jiang and Yue, Zhang: Research on the Displacing Effect of the Internet on the Traditional Media. In. International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, Vol. 5, No. 7, July 2015, p.594.

[4] Koltay András: A véleménynyilvánítás szabadsága. In. Jakab András – Fekete Balázs (Edited): Internetes Jogtudományi Enciklopédia, 2018, p.78. (

[5] Lassányi Tamás: A véleménynyilvánítás szabadsága az Interneten. In. Az információs társadalom felé. Tanulmányok és hozzászólások. In. Replika Kör, 2001. Budapest, p.132.

[6]  EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: Article 11 – Freedom of Expression and Information. 2015. Accessed on 27 June 2023. (

[7]   Brüssow, Harald: On opinion, freedom of speech and its responsibilities. Published on 13 July 2022. (

[8]   Brüssow, Harald: On opinion, freedom of speech and its responsibilities. Published on 13 July 2022. (

[9]  Ádám Antal: A tömegközlés alkotmányi szabadsága.In. Acta Humana. Emberi jogi közlemények, 1998, Vol. 30. pp.5-20.

[10] Lassányi Tamás: A véleménynyilvánítás szabadsága az Interneten. In. Az információs társadalom felé. Tanulmányok és hozzászólások. In. Replika Kör, 2001. Budapest, p.130.

[11] ARTICLE 19: Freedom of Expression Unfiltered: How blocking and filtering affect free speech. 2016. Accessed on 26 June 2023. (

[12] Internet Society: Internet Society Perspectives on Internet Content Blocking: An Overview. 2017. Accessed on 27 June 2023. (

[13] Magony Gellért Imre: A Facebook-on közzétett tartalmak szabályozása. In. Comparative Law Working Papers, 2021, Vol. 5., No. 3. p.1, Accessed on 20 June 2023.

[14] Beteman, Jon, Thompson, Natalie and Smith, Victoria: How Social Media Platforms’ Community Standards Address Inflluence Operations. 2021. In. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Published on 1 April 2021.

[15]Meta: Our Commitment To Safety. 2020. In. Facebook Business. Accessed on 28 June 2023.

[16]Meta: Facebook Community Standards. 2023. Accessed on 28 June 2023

[17] Nagy Krisztina: Facebook files – gyűlöletbeszéd törölve? A közösségi médiaplatformok tartalomellenőrzési tevékenységének alapjogi vonatkozásai. In. Pro Future, 2018, No. 2., p.127.

[18] Magony Gellért Imre: A Facebook-on közzétett tartalmak szabályozása. In. Comparative Law Working Papers, 2021, Vol. 5., No. 3. p.6, Accessed on 20 June 2023.

[19] Meta: Facebook Community Standards. 2023. Accessed on 28 June 2023

[20]  EUR-Lex: Regulation (EU) 2022/2065 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 October 2022 on a Single Market For Digital Services and amending Directive 2000/31/EC (Digital Services Act). 2022.  Accessed on 6 July 2023.

Dorina BOSITS is a law student at the Széchenyi István University of Győr, Hungary, and an international finance and accounting graduate of the University of Applied Sciences of Wiener Neustadt, Austria. The main area of her research includes freedom of speech, digitalization, data protection, and financial law. She is a student at the Law School of MCC and a member of ELSA Győr.

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