Thesis Title
Freedom of Speech in the Age of Social Media: A Comparative Analysis of the Regulation of Antidemocratic Social Media Expression

Research Description
Phoebe’s thesis asks why and how antidemocratic social media communication ought to be regulated. As indicated by the research question, this thesis makes two major enquiries. The first examines the reasons for regulating antidemocratic social media communication. Her central argument is that the falsity and deception which characterises antidemocratic social media communication undermines the autonomy of listeners in democratic deliberation. Truthful and accurate information is an essential requirement for democratic decision-making. Beyond merely exercising free judgement to reach a false belief, antidemocratic social media communication involves the active manipulation of the citizenry to undermine democratic legitimacy. It is this act of undermining personal autonomy which erodes democratic legitimacy and the preconditions necessary for effective democracy.

In light of the democratic harm caused by this form of expression, this thesis proceeds to examine how antidemocratic social media communication could be regulated. In this regard, there are two primary options available. The first, social media self-regulation, has been preferred as a consequence of traditional arguments against state-regulation of speech, premised on a distrust of government control over public discourse. Accordingly, to avoid state determinations as to the limits of free expression, these decisions are shifted to social media companies, raising important questions about the power of such companies and their suitability as arbiters of speech. The alternative, legal regulation, (through, for example, constitutional and human rights frameworks) has thus far attracted less consideration based on the traditional fear of state regulation of speech and relatedly, the limited avenues available for such regulation in certain jurisdictions. This thesis considers the possibilities for regulating antidemocratic social media communication under constitutional and human rights frameworks that protect political speech, drawing on militant democratic theory.

Prof Andrew Kenyon, University of Melbourne
Prof Megan Richardson, University of Melbourne