Speech: Freedoms and Filters

Free speech is the discourse of the moment in the wake of the major social media platforms suspending the POTUS-45’s accounts, in some cases, like Twitter, indefinitely. Further down the tech stack, Parler was de-platformed in an unprecedented coordinated action between Googe, Apple, and Amazon. The reason given was to avoid further coordinated political violence

For many, these actions violated our hallowed norm of “freedom of expression” enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Both sides of the political divide have come to scrutinize Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which provides a “safe harbor” liability protection for online platforms, but each side for different reasons.

Join Michael Porcelli and me as we take a step back from the breathless rhetoric and hand-wringing around “hate” speech and the “unchecked” power of tech platforms. We take a deep dive into the underlying social dynamics and ethical principles underlying the debate.

Though free-speech advocates take this norm to be absolute, we know there are legal limits to speech, including exceptions to the First Amendment. Platform operators currently work around the clock to rapidly take down illegal content.

Platforms have the power to amplify speech using their algorithms behind news feeds and search results. They also have the power to use their algorithms to automatically filter speech. Whether we like it or not, these two features go together. We cannot have one without the other. There’s simply too much information on the internet for us to both find and filter things manually as independent citizens. Yet an ever-increasing amount of our public discourse takes place online and is mediated through these platforms.

Indeed, these are thorny issues. We try to leave no stone unturned, from John Stuart Mill to Neuro-Linguistic Programming as we try to grapple with this central issue of our time.

Here are some handy references for exploring these issues further:

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