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The University of Southampton

LAWS6148 Free Speech and Privacy on the Internet

Module Overview

The Internet has been described as the ‘most participatory marketplace of mass speech this country – and indeed the world – has yet seen’ with an enormous democratising effect on communications. It has given the ordinary person on the street the potential to speak to a world-wide audience, and in this lies both its great potential and, arguably, its threat. This module examines the difficult tensions of the human right to freedom of expression in its application to online communications, and how these tensions have been resolved differently in various jurisdictions, with particular focus on the EU, UK and the US. Whether it is trolling, hate speech, fake news, terrorist speech or defamatory comments, the boundary between legitimate speech restrictions and illegitimate censorship is fine, and this boundary cannot be avoided by shifting the take down obligations to private online actors. The module will also examine the conflict and complementary between freedom of expression and privacy.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • A1. The legal framework at national, regional and international level that protects freedom of expression albeit not as an absolute entitlement
  • A2. The legal tensions to which online communications have given rise in the context of problematic speech such as hate speech or fake news and how these tensions have been addressed in different jurisdictions
  • A3. The conflicts and complementary of freedom of expression and privacy in the context of online communications
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • B1. Analyse and interpret legal materials, identify key legal principles and issues and, where appropriate, make constructive criticisms of the application of the right to freedom of expression to online communications
  • B2. Communicate effectively knowledge of the tensions of freedom of expression and other interests and values and their resolutions in different countries and present reasoned arguments
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • C1. Undertake independent research and access primary and secondary sources effectively
  • C2. Analyse complex texts
  • C3. Communicate arguments in writing and reference sources appropriately


The syllabus will be structured around the following four topics: (1) Background: Freedom of Expression at national, regional and international level and competing interests such as the rights of others or national security (2) Freedom of Expression: Private or Public Censorship? The role of online intermediaries in the regulation of Online Speech (3) Freedom of Expression examined though Case Studies, such as: a. Hate Speech b. Fake News c. Terrorist Speech (4) Freedom of Expression versus Privacy? a. Anonymity b. The Right to be Forgotten

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods: One 2-hour seminar per week Learning activities include: - Directed and additional reading, as per distributed reading lists reproduced on Blackboard; - Engagement with media business reports so that you can relate the materials being discussed to contemporary controversies.

Independent Study130
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list






MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4500 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4500 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4500 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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