In a diverse society, is freedom of speech realisable?
in The free speech wars
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Recently in Bristol, the rights and liberties of LGBT+ communities have collided with the traditions and beliefs of, predominantly, faith communities. On social media the narrative has quickly become polarised. At a time when strong leadership feels critical yet absent, politicians and programmers point to one another to take responsibility for regulation. The discourse continues to play out in the everyday and communities who look to statutory and sector agencies for clarity have been left confused, frustrated and wanting. Using scenarios that have arisen within our inner-city community arts centre as case studies, this chapter explores the everyday challenges of intersectionality approaches in defining and defending free speech. Drawing on influences including programmer and activist Richard Stallman’s distinction between ‘free’ and ‘open’, we seek to establish a set of ‘Free Speech Principles’ to assist in navigating intersectional contradictions of the Equality Act 2010. Analysing examples of ‘free speech’ within today’s political and social media landscape and comparing these to historical examples of civil rights movements that have disrupted traditional power structures, it asks if today’s weaponisation of free speech is free at all and explores what might be missing of the human among the law and the algorithm. Finally, it refines the principles of our programmers and lawmakers to provide greater clarity for everyday discourse, hoping to develop a simple toolkit for clarifying how organisations and programmers might respond in order to uphold our collective freedom of expression.

The free speech wars

How did we get here and why does it matter?

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