27 November, 2014

PLAY AND LEARN! Freedom Unlimited

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Category: Activism, Educational activity, Human Rights
Community Manager
1 pm

front bookmarks The Movement is recommending this group exercise to experence and leran about the importance of Human Rights online with a group of young people as a celebration of the International Human Rights Day on 10th December and around. The following exercise is from BOOKMARKS, the Manual for combating hate speech through Human Rights Edication of Council of Europe.

 You can download the full manual for free here.

Online Quiz version of the exercise is available here. 

Freedom Unlimited?

Participants explore the idea of freedom of expression using a number of case studies. They need to decide what to do with comments or communications which are controversial, abusive or potentially dangerous.

Themes: Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Participation, Human Rights
Complexity Level 2
Group size 12-20
Time 45 minutes

  • To explore the concept of freedom of expression
  • To understand why freedom of expression is important – for individuals and for society
  • To look at the reasons why limiting freedom of expression may be needed to protect human rights, particularly where hate speech is involve


  • Flipchart and marker pens
  • Copies of the case cards below (as preparation make copies of these case cards enough for each small working group)

1. Ask participants what ‘freedom of expression’ means to them. Collect ideas on a flipchart, inviting discussion of some of the following points if they are not raised by participants:

  • Does freedom of expression mean we can say whatever we want?
  • If you think certain ‘expressions’ should not be permitted, how could we decide what needs banning? Who should decide?
  • Apart from through speaking or writing, what are the other ways we ‘express’ ourselves (music, drama, images, body language, etc.)?

2. Do not attempt to ‘resolve’ the issues at this moment: gather some opinions and explain that these are often controversial questions which will be explored in more detail through the activity.

3. Ask whether anyone has ever been prevented from saying something they wanted to – at home, school, or in public. How did it make you feel? Why was it important to you to be able to express your point of view?

4. Provide some brief information about freedom of expression. Use the information below, or add to it from the background materials.

Freedom of expression
The right to be free to express our thoughts or opinions is an important human right, and is part of international human rights law. The right is valued both because our thoughts, opinions and ability to communicate are a central part of what it means to be human, and because communication and discussion are essential in building an effective democratic society. Understanding and living side by side with others depends on open and free communication – even if we sometimes have to hear opinions we don’t agree with. Nevertheless, freedom of expression is not an ‘absolute’ right which always applies, without limits. It is a right which has to be balanced against the rights of others, or against the good of society as a whole. When expression is either extremely damaging to certain individuals or is likely to be damaging for society, it can be limited.

5. Tell participants that they will work in small groups (4 – 5 people) and will discuss a number of cases in which people post things online which are harmful to others and their human rights. The groups need to decide whether this is a case where any of the material should be taken offline – in other words, whether freedom of expression should be restricted.

  • If they decide it should: what should be taken offline, and why?
  • If not, why not? What else can be done and by whom?

6. Divide participants into groups of 4 or 5 people and give each group a copy of the cases below. Give them about 20 minutes to discuss each of the cases. They should try to provide reasons for the decisions.

Go through each of the case studies asking for groups’ responses. Discuss briefly the reasons behind the decisions they took. Use some of the following questions to draw out other key points:

  • Were there any cases where you could not reach agreement in the group? What were the key differences in opinion?
  • Did it make a difference who was responsible for the posts? Did it make a difference how many people responded, or how they responded?
  • Did you arrive at any general principles to decide when freedom of expression can (or should) be restricted? What are the dangers in being over-restrictive? What are the dangers in being overpermissive?
  • Do you think that closing down websites or removing harmful posts is an effective way of combatting hate speech online?
  • In your country, are there restrictions on what people are allowed to say – online or offline? Do the rules differ for online expression?

Tips for Facilitators

  • When participants discuss the cases, remind them to consider how much material they would take offline, if they decide to do so. For example, they could decide to remove the whole site (or profile) or they could remove a single post / video, ban the user who posted, and so on.
  • It may be worth reminding participants that the European Court of Human Rights considers any restriction of freedom of expression as a very serious step! It should only be done when there is strong justification.
  • You may want to explore with participants the extent to which the discussions themselves were useful in helping them to form their opinion, and what this may tell us about freedom of expression.
  • If necessary, or if time allows, you may want to explain that human rights law, and freedom of expression, is really about how governments should behave. Limiting expression on the Internet is often more complicated because much of the Internet is ‘owned’ by private companies (e.g. private hosting providers, news sites ‘owned’ by companies, etc.). There are questions about whether or how much governments should and can regulate speech on the Internet. Have a look at Chapter 5, Background Information, on freedom of expression.
  • Try to find out before you start the activity whether any of the cases would be illegal under your national laws.
  • It may be useful to end the activity by considering other ways of responding to the cases. Refer to the material on the campaign No Hate Speech Movement in Chapter 2 for some suggestions. Remind participants that removing offending material, or the site, is not the only response! It can also be very difficult to implement practically, given the amount of material posted online.

The case studies could be performed as a role play: each small group could prepare one of the scenarios and perform it to the others. Discussion about the most appropriate response would then take place in the group as a whole.

Ideas for action
How much do participants know about their parliamentary representatives? They could do some research into public statements they have made about minorities or other vulnerable groups, and then write to express their support or their disagreement. An individual letter from everyone in the group might even prompt a response!
Discuss with the group possible actions to take if any of the participants encounters racist posts online.
Develop together some arguments and short messages that participants can use whenever they find hate speech examples online.

Cases for discussion (case cards to be printed)

1. A group called ‘Reclaim our nation’ sets up a website proclaiming ‘traditional values’. Many of the posts are racist. The site attracts a large number of comments and a heated discussion. Some of the discussion contains very abusive language, but there is a large community of commenters who object to the racist ideology of the site.
Should anything be taken offline? If so, how much and why?
• If not, what else could be done?


2. Nikolay, a politician uses his personal website to call for the eviction of a Roma community in his constituency, and blaming them for high crime levels. Following his calls, there are a number of attacks on Roma around the country. Much of the media begins printing stories which feature crimes committed by Roma – but not the crimes committed against them.
Should anything be taken offline? If so, how much and why?
• If not, why not? What else could be done?


3. On a personal blog, Rory posts a cartoon showing a well-known politician with blood dripping from his fingers, and dead bodies all around. Many people comment, mostly supporting the cartoon.
Should anything be taken offline? If so, how much and why?
• If not, why not? What else could be done?


4. Ella posts a video on her public profile which makes fun of disabled people, portraying them as incompetent ‘alien’ beings. Site statistics show that almost no-one has viewed the video, and there are no comments from visitors.
Should anything be taken offline? If so, how much and why?
• If not, why not? What else could be done?


5. A journalist sees the video (in example 4) and starts a campaign to have Ella’s profile removed from the social media site As a result the video gets thousands of hits. People start commenting that this is “the best video ever”, “we should start being realistic about disabled people”, and so on.
Should anything be taken offline? If so, how much and why?
• If not, why not? What else could be done?


6. Ditta, a well-known celebrity, posts an article on an online news site claiming that transgender women are “an abuse against humanity”. A website is set up to ‘bring down Ditta’ with details about her personal life. She starts receiving hundreds of personally abusive emails and tweets. Some include threats.
Should anything be taken offline? If so, how much and why?
• If not, why not? What else could be done?


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