Free speech in the online ‘marketplace of ideas’
in The free speech wars
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The rise of the internet and social media has been hailed as the ultimate embodiment of the long-promised ‘marketplace of ideas’. Like the notion of the free market, this metaphor has long been a seductive one in Western political philosophy, implying the free exchange of views and information between equals. The metaphor has been applied to diverse domains of public life, from science to the media, arguing that they – and this free exchange of ideas – are fundamental to healthy democracy. Social media platforms have become one such domain, championed for enhancing the marketplace of ideas by extending it to encompass more participants, longer discussions, and far greater exposure to new ideas and information. Yet many of us who use social media platforms on a regular basis do not experience them as anything resembling this idealised marketplace of free expression. This chapter will argue that the metaphor of the marketplace of ideas is unhelpful, as it obscures the multitude of ways in which our speech is not free. This argument highlights the internal contradictions of understandings of democracy and free speech in liberal democracies as well as undermining hyperbolic claims about the democratic potentials of social media platforms.

The free speech wars

How did we get here and why does it matter?

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