Free speech and its consequences

The paper traces the influence of the standard account of liberalism in human rights law. The standard account sits comfortably with a wide range of invasive and punitive private sanctions towards private actors: notably including no-platforming and indefinite exclusion from social media platforms. Influenced by this account, free expression guarantees focus squarely on protecting a private sphere of social and legal autonomy from state interference: what happens within that sphere is only of peripheral concern. This approach is deeply unsatisfactory, given the significant threats emanating from private platforms that shape the conditions under which individuals exercise free expression. Human rights law should take these platforms seriously as a source of threats, without abandoning the valuable differentiation of obligations between private actors and the state. The paper argues that private platforms have some direct obligations under freedom of expression towards private actors.