Author: Jacob Mchangama

The Death of the First Amendment in Cyberspace

In 1996, cyber activist John Perry Barlow addressed national governments in his Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace; a radical call for complete online freedom. “I declare,” he wrote, “the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us.” In the early 2000s, it seemed as if Barlow’s Declaration was becoming a reality. In 2006, Time magazine named “You”—that is to say, all of us—as their Person of the Year: It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes. The tool that makes this possible is the World Wide Web. Social media became instrumental in the toppling of dictators in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen and, in 2010, it was Mark Zuckerberg’s turn to be awarded Time‘s Person of the Year. A couple of years later Twitter confidently declared itself  ”The free speech wing of the free speech party.” This commitment to the global spread of radical free …

The Feminist Case for Free Speech

“I will teach you to learn your place as a woman in this world. Then you will eat my cum.” “SHUT YOUR WHORE MOUTH… OR I’LL SHUT IT FOR YOU AND CHOKE IT WITH MY DICK.” “WOMEN THAT TALK TOO MUCH NEED TO GET RAPED.” These were just a few of the tweets sent to British journalist Caroline Criado‑Perez when she campaigned to include women on British banknotes. Criado-Perez is hardly alone. On average, American men receive (and send) more online abuse than women. But gender-based online abuse targets women twice as often as men. In the UK, prominent female journalists receive about three times as much abuse as their male colleagues. Understandably, many women feel deeply uncomfortable participating in public debates in which ‘arguments’ consist of abusive messages, including threats of rape. The problem of online misogyny may be among the reasons why significantly more American women than men favor online safety over freedom of speech (63 percent vs. 43 percent). Women are also less supportive of tolerating hate speech than men (51 percent …

Why Free Speech Matters

From 1980 – 2003 the number of countries with a free press grew from 51 to 78. This increase was also proportionately significant. In 1980 34% of the world’s then 161 countries had a free press. In 2003 41% of the world’s 193 countries had newspapers free to criticize their own governments and inform their citizens without censorship. Those of us growing up in that period thought we belonged to a generation that could take free speech for granted and see this principle become universally entrenched. But 2004 would mark the beginning of a constant decline in global press freedom lasting until this day. From the high-water mark in 2003, we’re down to 31% of the world’s countries where journalists don’t have to worry about being imprisoned (262 reporters were behind bars in 2017). Or put differently: Only 13% of the world’s 7.4 billion people enjoy free speech. 45% live in countries where censorship is the norm. Venezuela, Russia, and Turkey are among the worst offenders. But In liberal democracies, free speech has also become a …

Fake News is Old News

“Fake news,” disinformation, and propaganda is saturating social media and driving the content of important political conversations among citizens in otherwise enlightened democracies. News and information thus become weaponized and aimed against the very institutions and values that free speech was supposed to protect. That, at least, is the fear among many politicians and pundits. These fears have been given impetus by the role of alternative and social media in the 2016 American Presidential election and by a number of studies exploring the “eco-system” of alternative media and the misinformation sown, grown, and distributed by such outlets. This scenario has precipitated a collapse of public trust in democratic institutions, and governments fearful of populist nationalism have scrambled to find policies aimed at combatting fake news. Germany recently adopted legislation obliging social media companies to pay fines up to EUR 50 million if they fail to delete illegal content within 24 hours. While ostensibly aimed at hate speech and defamatory slander, German minister of Justice Heiko Maas has blurred the lines between these categories and the ill-defined concept of “fake news.” Italy introduced a bill aimed at “preventing the manipulation …