All posts tagged: free speech

Reasons to Be Fearful

Editor’s note: The following excerpt is abridged from Chapter One of The Tyranny of Opinion: Conformity and the Future of Liberalism by Russell Blackford (Bloomsbury Academic, October 18 2018, 240 pages).  I’m afraid. Like many people, I’m afraid to speak up and say exactly what I think. I’m afraid to contribute to public debate with total frankness. I’m more afraid of my allies than I am of opponents, since the latter can do me less harm (though if they’re so minded they can probably do enough!). I’m not afraid of my closest friends, the people who love me, who have my back and will keep my secrets, but it gets more frightening as soon as I step out into wider circles of colleagues and acquaintances. I come from a working-class family, and I grew up in an industrial city in Australia that was dominated at the time by its steelworks. I’m the first person from my family ever to attend university. I still have those connections, and I’ve inherited some blue-collar, trade-union values. But my social …

The Comment Awards Fiasco

The issue of press freedom has been making headlines in recent days—for all the wrong reasons. Murdered journalists are a visceral reminder of the risks that many around the world take to tell the truth. It is one of the reasons that whenever I am asked to judge media awards, I say yes. Over the years, I have judged the Foreign Press Association Awards, the Society of Editors’ National Press Awards and, most recently, Editorial Intelligence’s Comment Awards, now in its 10th year. I am happy to read dozens of articles, to spend time really thinking about who should be shortlisted, get the accolades and so on because it seems important to honor great journalism, to give credit to those scribblers who make a difference through their writing.  Mainstream media (MSM) and, indeed, many new media outlets are a crucial part of our public square. It is true that, in recent years, the much derided MSM regularly stands accused of self-congratulatory smugness. All the more reason to shake up any complacency by congratulating those whose …

Alex Jones Was Victimized by One Oligopoly. But He Perpetuated Another

This month, Twitter joined Apple, Facebook, Spotify and YouTube in banning the popular right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from its platform. Like the other bans, Twitter’s decision was announced as a fait accompli, with opaque justifications ranging from “hate speech” to “abusive behavior.” The seemingly arbitrary nature of these bans has raised fears from all political quarters. Alexis Madrigal, writing in The Atlantic, cited the development as proof that “these platforms have tremendous power, they have hardly begun to use it, and it’s not clear how anyone would stop them from doing so.” His sentiments were echoed by Ben Shapiro in the National Review, who expressed alarm at “social-media arbiters suddenly deciding that vague ‘hate speech’ standards ought to govern our common spaces.” Even some on the left displayed concern. Steve Coll wrote in the New Yorker that “practices that marginalize the unconventional right will also marginalize the unconventional left,” and argued that we must defend even “awful speakers” in the interests of protecting free speech. Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union described …

When Censorship Is Crowdsourced

Editor’s note: The text that follows is adapted from a speech delivered recently by the author to the Montreal Press Club.  On the op-ed page of The New York Times, former Central Intelligence Agency general counsel Jeffrey Smith recently argued that Donald Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan “violated Mr. Brennan’s First Amendment right to speak freely.” It’s an intriguing thesis. And, being a former lawyer who once wrote long law school essays about constitutional freedoms, I read it with keen interest. But I also felt a twinge of nostalgia as I parsed Smith’s lawyerly arguments. Notwithstanding the nature of Mr. Trump’s treatment of Mr. Brennan, the gravest threats to free speech in democratic countries now have little or nothing to do with government action (which is what Constitutions serve to restrain). And with few exceptions, public officials now sit as bystanders to the fight over who can say what. Last month, Facebook, Apple and Google deleted gigabytes of video, audio and text content from Alex Jones’ Infowars …

Can Heterodoxy Save the Academy?

“When we decided to do a conference, we weren’t sure if we would get 25 people in the audience—and here we filled the Times Center,” says Debra Mashek, executive director of Heterodox Academy during an interview in midtown Manhattan. “There is broad consensus there is a problem on campus in terms of open inquiry and viewpoint diversity.” It’s understandable why Mashek was uncertain about attendance. Academic conferences usually are organized around particular areas of study or well-defined ideological viewpoints. But by its very nature, Heterodox Academy doesn’t provide any such organizing principle. Begun in 2015 as a blog, and now a network comprising over 1,800 academics, HA asks members to endorse the proposition that universities and colleges must uphold and protect political and ideological diversity. But the times we inhabit make championing viewpoint diversity an urgent project. And last Friday’s one-day inaugural conference near Times Square attracted a full house of about 350 academics, university administrators, students, and journalists. The event featured speeches and panel discussions from speakers who addressed the crowd from all points …