Digital Authoritarianism: The Role of Legislation and Regulation

CIGI Policy Brief No. 182

January 8, 2024

A unique relationship has emerged between states and private companies as they attempt to manage harmful speech within an ever-evolving information ecosystem. A growing number of illiberal and authoritarian regimes are deploying legislation and regulation as tools of digital authoritarianism; legislative and regulatory practices are also emerging among democracies, which complicates the discussion. International human rights law and initiatives can serve as a normative framework to confront digital authoritarianism. But the paucity of enforcement mechanisms, as well as tech companies’ unique attributes, have limited their reach. Democratic governments, independent researchers and subject matter experts, as well as civil society groups, should collaborate to confront digital authoritarianism, including by working within multilateral bodies and emerging global tech initiatives. This policy brief defines digital authoritarianism and its practices, then cites case studies as an exploration of the relationship between national regulations and digital authoritarian practices. It also examines the applicability and limitations of existing human rights norms, laws and initiatives to resist digital authoritarianism.

About the Author

Marie Lamensch is the project coordinator at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University.