Skip to content
Department of Law

Law theses of the month: Francisco de Abreu Duarte

In the 'Theses of the Month' series, the EUI Law Department presents the remarkable work of its researchers and their contributions to the field of law. This month, the Department features Francisco de Abreu Duarte who defended his PhD thesis on 26 March 2024 under the supervision of Professor Deirdre Curtin.

03 April 2024 | Research

Duarte_Law theses of the month

Francisco de Abreu Duarte is a Portuguese lawyer holding a law degree from the University of Lisbon and a LLM from New York University (NYU). Francisco has worked as an academic and legal advisor for different levels of government, including the Portuguese Government, the United Nations (Codification Division), the European Parliament (APA) and the World Health Organization (Consultant). At the EUI, Francisco developed a thesis on the regulation and limits of online speech, mapping the last 25 years of online speech regulation in the European Union. He concluded that online speech regulation in the EU has been characterised by different stages of regulatory equilibrium, what Francisco has called Digital Equilibria, which have been the result of different bargaining games between public, corporate, and individual power.

In his thesis, Francisco concludes that we should rethink how online speech regulation has occurred in the EU and avoid past mistakes. By tracing back the last 25 years of this regulation, his thesis proves that the EU went through moments of regulatory equilibria and disequilibria, in which the EU managed to either delegate or coerce online platforms to execute certain speech mandates. However, as the thesis remarks, the bargaining game to achieve these digital equilibria was done primarily between public and corporate actors, to the detriment of individual users. Francisco’s proposed model for the future of online speech regulation – the so-called Curators Model – attempts to give back algorithmic choice to users by empowering them as user-consumers to select between different content curation options within each of the online platforms they use.

Different scholars and schools of thought influenced Francisco’s work. Prominent thinkers such as Albert Hirschman and Joseph H. Weiler played a key role in shaping Francisco’s ideas of equilibrium and bargaining games, while economic theory in the field of game-theory (e.g. Von Neumann or Nash) helped build the models for the different stages of Digital Equilibrium. In the field of online speech, Francisco’s thesis is deeply influenced by the works of Yale’s Professor Jack Balkin, his models of a New School of Speech Regulation, and Professor Miguel Poiares Maduro's notions of constitutional pluralism. In addition to these thinkers, Francisco actively participated in the growing movement of Digital Constitutionalism, with prominent scholars such as Giovanni de Gregorio, who largely shaped the notions of Law & Tech in this thesis.

When asked what the main scientific challenges he encountered during his research were, Francisco replied that one of the main obstacles he found in mapping these last 25 years of online speech regulation was the immensity of literature and information that was available on the topic but that was not systematised into a coherent chronology. It was particularly difficult to find the trends and main moments of equilibrium/disequilibrium among sources which varied from legal texts to policy, news, terms of service, and even interviews with the key players involved in the bargaining process.

Francisco’s thesis and his Curators model is highly prescriptive. He suggests a complete rethinking of the players and business models involved in the regulation of online speech. His model proposes to give true algorithmic choice to individual users by separating online platforms from their infrastructural dimensions (e.g. posting or messaging) and their content moderation/curation (e.g. ranking or recommendation systems). Ultimately, following Francisco’s recommendations, users could continue using the platforms they love but then choose what kind of content they want to see in each platform (e.g. sports-related or literature-oriented content). This would require creating a whole new market of content-curation companies (the Curators) responsible for intermediating between online platforms and individual users, which should be ex-ante certified by an EU Agency to be able to provide their services.

Francisco will now continue his academic career at Católica Global School of Law, in Lisbon, Portugal, teaching courses on Law & Technology. He has also founded a new legal edutech startup called The Legal Place, which is using AI and text-to-video technology to innovate how individuals and companies access legal education in Europe and Brazil. Furthermore, he is the CEO of The Legal Place, an innovative online platform for legal education using avatar text-to-video technology to teach clients across Europe and Brazil.

Last update: 04 April 2024

Go back to top of the page