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Theory and Practice of Freedom of Expression


Event Summary

One of the thorniest faces of free speech debate is the tension between free expression as an abstract principle and kinds of speech that harm, such as hate speech, incitements to violence, or uses of information which can cause economic damage or threaten security or privacy. And technologies change how information can move, and harm. In this discussion, a historian of the earliest post-printing-press debates over free speech engaged in dialogue with a historian of the information practices of hate groups in America.

This discussion was part of a public dialogue series, supported by the Censorship, Information Control, and Information Revolutions from Printing Press to Internet research project at the Neubauer Collegium, which brought together scholars of print revolutions past and present with practitioners working on the frontiers of today’s information revolution. These events were not formal panels with presented papers, but free-form discussions in which experts bounced ideas off each other, discovering rich parallels between their work and sharing them in real time. Taking place from October through November, the eight dialogues united historians, editors, novelists, poets, and activists, and was be filmed and shared online to let the public enjoy and continue the discussions.


Kathleen Belew (University of Chicago): Hate groups’ use of information technologies

David Copeland (Elon University): History of free speech debates

Cory Doctorow (Author and blogger): Digital information policy

Kate Klonick (St. John’s University Law School): Internet law