Legitimate Influence or Unlawful Manipulation?

Is technology controlling your thoughts? This project on freedom of thought explores the thin line between lawful influence and unlawful manipulation in the digital age.


In our rapidly evolving digital landscape, technology is more than just a tool — it is a powerful force influencing our deepest thoughts and choices. From big data’s manipulation of elections to the prospect of brain implants reading our minds, technology’s impacts are far-reaching. The now widely publicized instances of how targeted advertising and content incite risky behaviours and distort self-perceptions among teenagers are particularly alarming. This all underscores the urgent need to address the threat that technology can pose to our autonomy, to our relationships and to societal cohesion.

Although international human rights law protects our inner thoughts and opinions, there is a gap in addressing these emerging threats. We need stronger safeguards to ensure our thoughts remain private, free from manipulation, and that no one is subjected to penalties based solely on their thoughts.

The Legitimate Influence or Unlawful Manipulation? project, led by Susie Alegre and Aaron Shull, brings together experts in internet governance and human rights. The project has three objectives:

  • Illuminate the issue: Provide a detailed overview of modern-day freedom of thought.
  • Forge solutions: Propose strategies to protect the “forum internum” from technological intrusion.
  • Champion change: Advocate for a comprehensive general comment at the United Nations, to provide much-needed clarity on the scope of these rights in the digital age, with the aim of fostering a global response to safeguard mental autonomy against technological threats.

The Legitimate Influence or Unlawful Manipulation? policy brief series is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Canada.