Algorithmic Speech and Freedom of Expression

By: Alan M. Sears


PDF: Algorithmic Speech and Freedom of Expression


Algorithms have become increasingly common, and with this development, so have algorithms that approximate human speech. This has introduced new issues with which courts and legislators will have to grapple. Courts in the United States have found that search engine results are a form of speech that is protected by the Constitution, and cases in Europe concerning liability for autocomplete suggestions have led to varied results. Beyond these instances, insight into how courts handle algorithmic speech are few and far between.

By focusing on three categories of algorithmic speech, defined as curated production, interactive/responsive production, and semiautonomous production, this Article analyzes these various forms of algorithmic speech within the international framework for freedom of expression. After a brief introduction of that framework and a look towards approaches to algorithmic speech in the United States, the Article then examines whether the creators or controllers of different forms of algorithms should be considered content providers or mere intermediaries, the determination of which ultimately has implications for liability, which is also explored. The Article then looks at possible interferences with algorithmic speech, and how such interferences may be examined under the three-part test—particular attention is paid to the balancing of rights and interests at play—in order to answer the question of the extent to which algorithmic speech is worthy of protection under international standards of freedom of expression. Finally, other relevant issues surrounding algorithmic speech are discussed that will

have an impact going forward, many of which involve questions of policy and societal values that accompany granting algorithmic speech protection.