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The internet, social networks and mobile phones enhance human freedoms to come together around social, political and economic issues, to build associations and networks, and to assemble online to advocate for and to defend human rights. This has been reflected in demonstrations and protests in the middle-east and North Africa; anti- austerity protests in Greece, Italy and Spain; “Occupy” protests; advocacy and protests against the Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) and PROTECT IP (PIPA) bills in the United States; student protests in Quebec and Chile; and protests against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
At the same time, responses by governments to the exercise of these rights including online crackdowns; violent crackdowns in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Syria; and new anti-protest legislation in the US and Canada have highlighted new threats posed to the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.
What does it mean to assemble or form associations online? How is freedom of assembly and association exercised on the internet? How can the internet affect freedom of association and assembly? What online challenges are currently presented to the exercise of the rights to freedom of association and freedom of assembly? How can these freedoms be protected in both online and offline spaces? This paper aims to catalyse debate around these questions.
The internet can augment the opportunities and capabilities of citizens and netizens to form associations enhance the management and organisation of associations, and increase the membership and reach of associations. It provides new tools for those organizing peaceful assemblies, as well as the possibility of conducting assemblies in online spaces. In addition to being a powerful multiplier for the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, the internet can also pose new threats to the exercise of these rights.