By Francesco Luigi Gatta, Research Fellow, UCLouvain, member of EDEM (Equipe droits européens et migrations)
In the era of the internet, social media and e-mails, the Strasbourg Court has been called to keep up with these ‘new technologies’. The ECtHR itself, for example, has an official Twitter account, used to give information and updates to the public. During the Covid-19 emergency, moreover, telework and electronic communication have enabled the Court to continue its essential activities (see the ECtHR’s press release: here and here).
Despite its undeniable usefulness, at the same time the use of internet has raised issues in terms of compliance with human rights. The Court has been dealing with an increasing number of questions relating to the freedom of expression, the right to respect for private life or the prohibition of discrimination, thereby developing its ‘new technologies’ case-law. Within this context, the social media-human rights nexus has also come to the attention of the Strasbourg judges, involving various issues such as hate speech (e.g. Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania, which concerned the discrimination, on the grounds of sexual orientation, of two men because of the authorities’ refusal to investigate homophobic comments posted on Facebook. For an analysis of the judgment, see here; for the issue of offensive comments on-line, see here).
But social media may have a direct impact on human rights also in terms of access to the ECtHR, as they may be used as a medium to lodge an application and/or to establish and maintain contact between the applicant and their representative. Accordingly, the Court has dealt with social media not only on its merits, but also from a procedural point of view, assessing the use of such modern and informal means of communication with regard to the admissibility of an application.
The topic of social media in the litigation before the ECtHR is addressed in this blogpost from two angles: the admissibility of the use of social media as a means to initially lodge an application to the Court (i), and to subsequently maintain the lawyer-applicant contact during the proceedings (ii). In each case, the legal framework is first briefly outlined, then some examples are provided. These are drawn from the ECtHR’s migration-related case-law, as situations involving migrants may typically pose major issues, given their often vulnerable and precarious conditions, for lawyers in terms of maintaining contact with the applicants. Continue reading