IGF 2022 Lightning Talk #43 LEXOTA - Laws on Expression Online: Tracking and Analysing Responses to Online Disinformation in Sub-Saharan Africa

Wednesday, 30th November, 2022 (12:55 UTC) - Wednesday, 30th November, 2022 (13:25 UTC)
Speaker's Corner

The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria (CHR) and Global Partners Digital (GPD) are the main session organizers along with our other partners - Article 19 West Africa, Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), PROTEGE QV  - who helped bring LEXOTA to life. 


Marystella Simiyu from CHR and Jaqueline Rowe from GPD will be the main speakers during the session. Input may also be provided from Avis Momeni from PROTEGE QV to share the experience from Cameroon of utilising LEXOTA. 

Onsite Moderator

Jacqueline Rowe, Global Partners Digital

Online Moderator

Marystella Simiyu, Centre for Human Rights


Yasmine Rachidi, Global Partners Digital



Targets: 16.3: Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all In the Lightning Talk, speakers will highlight the research and analysis of national-level laws that disproportionately impact human rights, specifically rights to freedom of expression and privacy, that can be found on the LEXOTA platform. Participants will be encouraged to examine these laws, and think about ways that countries can propose rights-respecting alternatives that are in accordance with international human rights law, and promote the rule of law and access to justice at national level. LEXOTA’s research is actively being used as an evidence-base for stakeholders to conduct advocacy at national and regional level to promote rule of law, and the session will raise-awareness about this use-case and encourage others to do the same. 16.6: Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels In the Lightning Talk, speakers will present on how government institutions - particularly those in the region of Sub-Sarahan Africa can be more effective, accountable and transparent. Attention will be paid to law enforcement agencies, as LEXOTA has identified 69 countries with instances of questionable enforcement actions. 16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels Speakers will address the role that all stakeholders - particularly civil society, human rights defenders, journalists and marginalised groups - can play in policymaking and advocacy to ensure processes are open, inclusive and transparent. The session will also call on policymakers to be responsive to this. 16.8: Broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance According to the World Bank designation of developing countries, four of the session organisers represent organisations based in developing countries. By their participation at the UN organized IGF, the visibility, legitimacy and capacity of these groups at the global level is strengthened. Furthermore, the LEXOTA tool and this session seeks to bring regional trends in policy in Sub-Saharan Africa to the attention of other regional and global audiences to probe for similarities and work towards common policy solutions to strengthen the overall landscape of proposing rights-respecting approaches to countering disinformation. 16.10: Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements Speakers will highlight how LEXOTA uses a methodology grounded in international human rights law to analyse policies. This methodology can be replicated and further leveraged to ensure that national legislation is aligned with international standards.


Presentation with three speakers and questions and interaction with the audience at the end.

Duration (minutes)

This Lightning Talk will highlight LEXOTA (lexota.org) - an open, iterative online tool launched by Global Partners Digital, the Centre for Human Rights University of Pretoria (CHR), Article 19 West Africa, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and PROTEGE QV. LEXOTA offers a comprehensive overview of laws, policies and other government actions on disinformation in every country in Sub-Saharan Africa. The tool is powered by multilingual data and context-sensitive insight from civil society organisations and uses a detailed framework to assess whether government responses to disinformation are human rights-respecting. A dynamic comparison feature empowers users to examine the regulatory approaches of different countries and to compare how different policy responses measure up against human rights standards, providing them with insights into trends across the region as well as the option to examine country-specific analyses.

The session will introduce the tool and involve session participants in helping to update it with new data sources and features. There will also be time for a brief discussion on trends across the region, such as how governments are increasingly responding to the spread of disinformation online through legal restrictions, increased surveillance and internet shutdowns.Lessons will be shared on how human rights defenders can advocate for rights respecting approaches and calling for policymakers to be receptive to these approaches. Country case studies from LEXOTA that answer the question: “When governments impose harsh criminal restrictions on sharing disinformation online, what are the consequences for human rights?” will be utilised. By the end of the session, participants will be invited interactively to provide input on how LEXOTA can continue to be a useful tool for all actors - from human rights defenders, civil society and policymakers.

If you are a human rights defender, journalist or policymaker come along to this session to learn more about LEXOTA and how you can use it in your work. Participants are encouraged to ask questions throughout by using the chat function and there will be dedicated time at the end of the session where participants could ask a question to the session organisers and others present who have practically used LEXOTA in there work. 

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

#1 The LEXOTA tool fills an important gap in research and analysis on laws and policies against disinformation in Sub-Saharan Africa, many of which raise concerns from a human rights perspective. There is a clear need to advocate for more rights-respecting responses to disinformation, requiring collaboration between civil society organisations, human rights defenders, lawyers and governments in this region. #2 More research and analysis is neede

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

IGF 2022 Lightning Talk 

#43 LEXOTA - Laws on Expression Online: Tracking and Analysing Responses to Online Disinformation in Sub-Saharan Africa

Time: Wednesday, 30th November, 2022 (12:55 UTC - 13:25 UTC)

Location: Speaker's Corner

Theme: Connecting All People and Safeguarding Human Rights




Moderator: Jacqueline Rowe

Panellists:  Jacqueline Rowe, Marystella Simiyu 

Rapporteur: Yasmine Rachidi

The objective of the session was to discuss the purpose of LEXOTA, an interactive tool to help human rights defenders across Sub-Saharan Africa challenge laws and policies against disinformation which pose risks to human rights. LEXOTA tracks and analyses laws, policies and other government actions on disinformation across the region in line with international human rights law and aims to be a reference point for civil societies and researchers to engage positively with state actors to ensure that approaches put in place to address online disinformation  are rights respecting. The tool is powered by data and insight from a Consortium of civil society organisations; Article 19 West Africa, the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, CIPESA, Global Partners Digital, MISA Zimbabwe and PROTEGE QV. 

This panel was convened in order to further promote the tool amongst civil society organisations, internet freedom actors and human right defenders who may wish to incorporate LEXOTA in their research and advocacy on  rights-respecting responses to disinformation. 

The session was dynamic and interactive through the use of a Mentimeter poll which was used in order to discuss 2 main questions: 

  • “Is imprisonment an appropriate punishment for spreading disinformation online?” [Yes/No/It Depends]
  • “What does a rights respecting response to disinformation look like?” [open ended] 

Marystella Simiyu addressed the impact of disinformation in elections, public debates, and promoting hateful conspiracies leading to violence and deaths. She also highlighted the impact that disproportionate responses to disinformation have on freedom of expression, media freedoms and public discourse on political issues. 

Jacqueline Rowe gave a demonstration on how to navigate the LEXOTA website across the 48 countries that are currently present online as well as the methodology behind the development and analysis that LEXOTA uses for each country analysis following 6 main questions:

  1. Is there clarity over the precise scope of the law? 
  2. Is speech or content restricted online where it is in pursuance of a legitimate aim? 
  3. Do any restrictions in the law account for instances where the individual reasonably believed the information to be true? 
  4. Are determinations of whether speech or content is disinformation made by an independent and impartial judicial authority?
  5. Are any responses or sanctions proportionate? 
  6. Are intermediaries liable for third party content? 

After the demonstration the moderators opened the floor to participant input regarding rights-respecting responses to disinformation. One in-person participant highlighted the connections with her own work and research on intermediary liability and noted the importance of having a tool that focuses on the Sub-Saharan Africa region. She also highlighted  the challenge of being objective when analysing abstract or unclear legislation. 

Panellists highlighted the need for other, complementary tools alongside LEXOTA to review case laws on this topic and provide extra clarity on the practicality of the laws; they also encouraged everyone to share further information on the various countries that the LEXOTA tool covers as a way to help keep the website accuracy as updated as possible. 

Two other civil society organisations shared their insights on how LEXOTA is being used as an advocacy tool in their work focusing on.

Another online participant raised an interesting question around how to define the concrete harms caused by disinformation in order to understand whether governments’ responses are proportionate. A reference to the “Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” as a relevant source, was also made and gave ‘food for thoughts’ about other resources to supplement the data in the LEXOTA tool.

Attendees of the session also mentioned relevant restrictions and trends in Nigeria,  pointing out how the Nigeria Twitter ban was motivated in part by concerns over the spread of disinformation.