Phoebe Galbally

PhD Candidate

LinkedIn LinkedIn
Twitter Twitter

Phoebe Galbally is a PhD candidate at Melbourne Law School, under the supervision of Prof. Adrienne Stone and Prof. Andrew Kenyon. She has completed an LL.M degree from the Melbourne Law School in 2016, and subsequently worked as Unit Convenor (Lecturer and Tutor) at the Swinburne Law School, teaching Law and Social Science and Crime and Punishment in the International Context. Phoebe has published in peer-reviewed journals on topics including defamation law and international human rights law. Her PhD research examines the legal regulation of antidemocratic social media communication drawing on a comparative method, and bridges the fields of constitutional law and media and communications law.

Thesis Title

Freedom of Speech in the Age of Social Media: A Comparative Analysis of the Regulation of Antidemocratic Social Media Expression

Thesis Summary

This thesis asks whether antidemocratic social media expression ought to be restricted to safeguard the democratic process. Antidemocratic social media expression is defined in this thesis as false or deceptive expression, disseminated by foreign or domestic entities via social media platforms, with the intent to harm democratic processes. Depending on the context, intent to cause democratic harm includes seeking to shift public perceptions in the legitimacy of democratic processes or institutions, manipulate or suppress voting decisions to change electoral outcomes, and exacerbate existing political polarisation in the electorate. I argue that antidemocratic social media communication harms democratic legitimacy even where such intentions do not lead to manifesting the intended electoral consequences.

My central argument is that the falsity and deception which characterises antidemocratic social media communication undermines the autonomy of listeners in democratic deliberation. I argue that the democratic system is premised on the autonomous sovereignty of voters, requiring positive acts by the state where necessary to ensure voters are capable of exercising independent judgement on matters of self-governance. Truthful and accurate information is an essential requirement for democratic decision-making. Beyond merely exercising free judgement to reach a false belief, antidemocratic social media expression involves the intentional manipulation of the citizenry to undermine democratic legitimacy. It is this act of undermining personal autonomy which erodes democratic legitimacy.

Drawing on militant democratic theory, I argue that the legitimacy of the democratic state requires restricting antidemocratic social media communication to preserve democratic legitimacy and voter autonomy. This argument rests on a positive approach to freedom of speech, based on the view that enabling democratic expression on social media platforms requires state intervention. I therefore analyse whether democratically defensive legal solutions would unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression, by applying the harm principle to assess the costs and benefits of restricting antidemocratic social media communication.


  • Comparative Constitutional Law
  • Freedom of Speech Law